Following the game's reveal, it was obvious that Nintendo was attempting one of its most ambitious projects with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The first cinematic showcased a sprawling open world with a new, large, and dangerous robotic spider-like enemy that pursued Link until the hero leapt off of his horse and took aim with a futuristic arrow. This told little of the plot, but it perfectly laid out the most appealing aspect of this newfound Hyrule – the seemingly random nature of the world itself. The end result is nothing short of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Zelda title to-date.
The narrative in Breath of the Wild is different enough from existing entries to stand out. While Princess Zelda is indeed being held captive once again, the story starts off with Link waking up 100 years in the future without a single memory of how he arrived there. It's up to players to help the protagonist regain his memories and gather up elements of his past in order to save Hyrule's future. It's a lovely narrative that is further built upon through the voice acting present throughout.
Each major character comes to life through this undertaking, and it's a standout feature for a series that's traditionally been filled with yells and grunts – albeit reserved exclusively for cutscenes. Admittedly, this is a little disappointing, given that there are additional side characters that would have benefited immensely from the added personality that voice actors provide. With that said, gamers are sure to become more tuned into significant points of the core story as a result, and the moments in which a character speaks breathes so much more life and meaning into a scene that otherwise may have fallen flat.
It's easy to see why Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma opted to forego worldwide voice acting though, as this post-calamity Hyrule is filled to bursting with characters good, bad, and in between. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for those that hope to acquaint themselves with the entirety of the populace, the world they reside in is absolutely immense and will take countless hours to traverse. Towers, Shiekah Shrines, enemy strongholds, and dungeons are littered across the environment, each with various treasures and (in the case of the towers) map-revealing incentives.
The various environments that all of these can be found in are also a huge pull, and the opportunities that each possess are some of the most engaging aspects of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Whether it's cruising through the Gerudo Desert's sand dunes on a shield while being pulled by a Sand Seal, scaling a giant mechanized elephant after an intense 'jet-skiing' session, taking on a fearsome monster to harvest its organs in a bid create a cure for a woman's terminally ill husband, setting up a perfect shot of a Blue-Winged Heron before watching two boulders tumble down a hill and flatten the thing, or scaling a 200-foot tower just to see how the light dances across Hyrule during a glorious sunset, there's no shortage of things that fans can do in this world. And, after over 24 hours with the game, I still feel as if I haven't even come close to discovering everything it offers.
Placing the theme of adventure at the forefront also means that the very premise lends itself to the combat featured within Breath of the Wild. Weapons aren't predetermined by destiny and a Master Sword isn't just waiting for gamers to receive after a certain number of cutscenes, the armor worn and the weapons utilized are limited to being strictly whatever Link happens to stumble across or intentionally seek out. Having the right equipment, prepping health-restoring meals with certain ability-altering attributes, and scraping together enough collectibles to upgrade equipment are imperative for those hoping to progress anywhere in the game.
Why are all of these so important? Because this title is one of the the most challenging Zelda entries ever conceived. Baddies of all breeds present legitimate threats, and players will have to implement stealth (there's actually a noise indicator featured on-screen), proper armaments, and smarts in order to get out of encounters with their lives. As Link rounds up more powerful gear, he'll slowly become more powerful himself – eventually throttling lowly Bokoblins with ease – but weapons and shields will break with use. This perpetuates the need to explore and discover stronger weapons, which only further ties into the title's aforementioned theme of adventure.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo's commitment to trying something new with a franchise that needed true innovation. It doesn't rely on the gimmicks of particular hardware nor does it attempt to simply churn out a familiar experience in time for the launch of a new console. It's a step forward for the IP on par with what Shigeru Miyamoto successfully attempted in 1998 with Ocarina of Time. This isn't Nintendo spinning its tires, this is the byproduct of a company that seriously took a look at where the genre had gone in recent years and pulled an iconic property forward through a simultaneously more modern and wholly unique approach.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn't just for longstanding Zelda fans, it's the pinnacle of an open-world experience that will appeal to anyone looking for a great game. An overall lack of voiced dialogue and an initially tricky menu layout are easy to come to terms with and overlook when compared to the sheer scale and fun found in Breath of the Wild. Anyone wondering how it stacks up, it's important to note that this could very well be the best Zelda has ever been, and it provides gamers of all walks with a Hyrule that's more than worth saving.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild arrives for Nintendo Switch and Wii U on March 3, 2017. Game Rant was provided with a physical copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch for this review.