When Nintendo first started talking about BotW, they called it an “open air” game. When I heard the term, I thought it was just Nintendo’s way of saying “open world”. I thought this would just be another Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess with a little bit of what they did in A Link Between Worlds. I was wrong. This is the biggest change in the series since Zelda II. Most Zelda games do a few things that set them apart, but they still keep a lot things that are in every Zelda game. BotW is different. Nintendo said they set out to break Zelda conventions and they meant it. It truly feels like they questioned why they do certain things in every entry and what really makes a Zelda game a Zelda game.
The term “open air” might sound like the Nintendo way of saying “open world”, but it’s much more than that. This game is all about the great outdoors. Previous Zelda games had huge overworlds to explore with tons of secrets to find in them, but they were really there to connect all the dungeons together. The dungeons have always been the main attraction in Zelda games. BotW changes that. The overworld is the main attraction in BotW. This is where most of the game takes place. The overworld is filled with puzzles, secrets to uncover, villages, and even bosses. You might have heard the term PVE or player vs environment before, that term fits this game perfectly. This game doesn’t only challenge you with puzzles and enemies, figuring out how you’re going to glide and climb to where you want to go is a huge part of this game.
There’s still plenty of traditional puzzle solving to be had here. A lot of it is even underground. There are a handful of dungeons and 120 Sheikah Shrines. These shrines are where most of the traditional Zelda dungeon gameplay is found. The shrines are basically small dungeons with a few puzzles and enemies in them. Most take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Some shrines test your puzzle solving skills and some test your combat skills. Some shrines only have treasure in them and the puzzle is in discovering them. The Sheikah Shrines were my favorite part of the game, but I have to mention that some of these shrines contain one of the worst parts of the game. There are shrines with the “apparatus” name and these shrines are motion control puzzle shrines. There are only a handful of them in the game, but they can test your patience. I ran into some of these on my Wii U playthrough and I ended up having to switch controller and flip my Y axis aiming to get through them. The Wii U Pro Controller doesn’t have motion controls, so of course, I had to switch to the GamePad. Then I had to flip my Y axis aiming, because I play inverted and the game also inverts your motion control aiming if you do that.
The dungeons and the quests that lead up to them are where you’re going to get a lot of the story in the game. There are 4 main dungeons and each one is closely tied to each Hylian race and their city. Once you set foot near one of the main cities, cutscenes and quests given to you by NPCs will lead you to the dungeons. The dungeons are kind of like the Sheikah Shrines in what kind of puzzles they contain, but they’re much bigger and they each have a unique mechanic that you won’t find anywhere else in the game. I thought the dungeons were very good, but they’re really a small part of the game. There’s actually much more puzzle solving to do in the 120 shrines in the game.
Nintendo really made it a point to break Zelda conventions with this game. One of the big changes is the way you get items. Zelda A Link Between World already broke that convention, but it’s done differently in BotW. In BotW, you get all your items in the beginning of the game as runes for your Sheikah Slate. It’s kind of like getting an app for your tablet. In a lot of previous Zelda games, you couldn’t get to or get through some dungeons until you had a certain item. Since you have all the items at the beginning of the game, you’re free to go wherever you want. Well, at least wherever your skills will let you. While the game lets you go wherever you want, the enemies might still kill you in a single blow in some areas.
Another new element that changes how the game is played is the physics and cartoon logic of the game. You can cut down a tree and use it as a bridge. You can melt a giant block of ice with a torch. You can throw a giant rock down a hill and bowl down a group of Bokoblins. The game lets you tackle puzzles and combat situations in many different ways. YouTube is already full of crazy Zelda videos to watch. The latest thing seems to be making flying machines powered by the Magnesis rune.
Not all the new things they added equal fun, though. Nintendo added a few mechanics from other games, which I don’t think make the game any more fun at all. There have been areas where Link takes damage from the temperature in previous Zelda games, but this game takes it to the extreme. There are entire zones where you’ll either have to buy armor to protect yourself from the weather or make a food and potions to help you beat the heat or cold. It’s very much like something you would find in a Monster Hunter game.
BotW also has hundreds of materials such as mushrooms, fruit, fish, meat, insects, monster parts, and ore for you to collect and use in cooking, potion making, and to upgrade your armor. This is also very much like something you’d find in Monster Hunter or The Witcher series. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does it make the game more fun? Is it more fun than just collecting rupees and buying some potions from a witch in the woods? I don’t think so.
The worst offender of these systems they’ve added is the weapon durability system. All your weapons will break at some point. You’ll have to keep a stash of weapons with you at all times and collect whatever weapons you can find on enemies you kill along your way. It’s by far the most complained about thing about the game. I just don’t see what it adds to the game.
The game's graphics are probably the best on Wii U and definitely the best in the Zelda series. The world is very colorful and full of detail. Just going into someone's house, you'll find little things, like books, lamps, dishes, clothes, and pictures. Around the houses in town, you might find the owner's farming tools, their crops, and maybe even a shrine for the goddess Hylia. The overworld is also full of little details, like grass, leaves, and little rocks everywhere. You'll also see bugs, wild animals, fish, and birds all around. The game also has a bunch of weather effects. There’s fog, rain, snow, smoke, and a full day and night cycle. The art style of the game kind of looks like an evolved version of art style of the GameCube classic, The Wind Waker. It's very colorful and cartoon-like.
When the game first launched, there were a lot of framerate issues throughout the game, particularly while docked on Switch. A lot of that has been cleaned up with a recent patch and it runs at 30 fps most of the time while docked. The game always ran pretty well while undocked on the Switch and it runs even better now, after the patch. The Wii U version drops frames more often and even after the patch, there are still a lot of places where there is slowdown. The Wii U version also has lower resolution textures, lower draw distance, and less effects. The Wii U version doesn’t look bad, though. It actually holds up pretty well to the Switch version.
The music and sound effects are done somewhat differently than in other Zelda games. There’s a bigger focus on the sound effects and I think they’ve done a great job with them. There’s many different kinds of footsteps, weapon sounds, and sounds of weapons hitting different surfaces. The best sound effects are the sounds of the environment, though. You can hear the wind blowing, the water and lava flowing, waves crashing, crickets chirping, birds singing, deer running, etc. It all comes together to create a beautiful song of the wild.
Nintendo really put the emphasis on ambient sounds over the music in this game. There is still plenty of beautiful music in the game, though, including a few new versions of classic Zelda themes. However, these songs are more infrequent, subtle, and low key than they are in other Zelda games. You won’t hear much music while exploring the world. While in the overworld, you might hear a few notes here and there and then the music might go away for a while. The game reserves the music for specific places and situations. Each town has a musical theme, stables play a new version of Epona’s song, and there’s a new battle theme that plays when you run into an enemy in the wild.
The story in BotW is told in a way in which only a game can. How do you tell a story when the player can go anywhere whenever they want? As you probably know, Link has been dead for 100 years. At some point in the game, Link will get a quest to recover his memories. As Link travels around Hyrule, he will trigger cutscenes which tell part of the story. The game lets you rewatch all these cutscenes whenever you want, so you can put it all together whenever you want. It’s a new and unique way to tell a story in a Zelda game and I think it worked very well.
Overall, I think this game is a masterpiece. I spent over 200 hours on it. I did just about everything in it, which I don’t usually do in games. I just wanted to keep on playing. I pretty much did nothing but play this game until I did everything in it. I did every dungeon. I did every quest. I did all 120 shrines, found all 900 Korok seeds, killed all world bosses, and filled out the picture album. I did everything except upgrade every piece of gear in the game. It was addicting. It was engrossing. I was completely hooked and wanted to do nothing but play this game. If you have a Wii U or Switch, buy it.