Two years ago at E3 2014, we got our first glimpse at a game that we knew only as “Zelda Wii U.” I was crazy excited, because the Zelda franchise is one of my top favorites. My fiancee loved those games too, so I would tell her about all the stuff I saw at E3 and we would talk about our theories and the things that excited us about the game.
“Wait a minute,” my veteran readers might say. “Fiancee? Aren’t you married?” Why yes, yes I am.
That is how long it’s been since we learned anything about this game.
The last time Nintendo told us anything about Zelda Wii U, I was engaged, not married. I wasn’t a father. I still lived with my parents. In 2014, I was basically a different person. If you look back, adventurers, I’m sure that you can think of a lot of things that have changed for you in two years’ time. And in all that time, we knew only a very few things about Zelda Wii U:
– Link wears blue
– He has a bow
– He has a horse
– The map is big
– An octopus robot wants to laser his face
THAT was about the extent of knowledge we had about Zelda Wii U after E3 2014. And somehow, with the exception of some very small leaks, Nintendo managed to keep anything more substantial than that bottled up until E3 2016. In that time, the game has been delayed twice (three times, maybe? I lost count), added to the NX as potentially a launch title, and player speculation has run rampant.
“Will there be voice acting? Maybe Link can be a girl. I bet there’s real weather! I don’t think he will even USE a sword in this game.” Finally, on Tuesday, June 14th, we got some answers. And golly, were those amazing answers.
If you haven’t seen the trailer for what we now know is called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, click this Link (pun intended) and come back when you’ve basked in the glory of this game.
Did you watch it? You’d better not be lying.
Breath of the Wild is an incredible take on the Zelda universe. It is fresh while simultaneously returning to the roots of the series. This is what the creative minds behind Zelda envisioned when they were designing the first game. What hardware then would not allow them to accomplish, they can achieve now. And the result is something truly incredible.
For me to break down every single detail that Nintendo revealed during E3 would be a pretty gargantuan task. But I’m going to do my best to cover every major aspect of the game, both informing you about what Nintendo has shown and also expressing my opinion on the mechanics of the game. By the end, we’ll have taken a grand look at the world of Breath of the Wild – and done it a lot quicker than Nintendo Treehouse ever thought about.
Breath of the Wild gets its name not from a particular quest item like most Zelda games, but rather from the world that the game takes place in. This is not civilized, respectable Hyrule. This is gritty, naturalistic, wild Hyrule.
Before the events of Breath of the Wild, Hyrule had access to incredible technology. But something happened to wreck this advanced civilization, something called the “Calamity Ganon.” The calamity was sealed in Hyrule Castle, but not before the great kingdom was ravaged and torn asunder. When Link wakes up to explore this world, the ancient Hylian temples are in ruin, the technology within sleeping beneath crumbled stone.
When Link wakes up in a strange sleep capsule, he’s thrown out into this ruined world half-naked with nothing but a weird tablet (both the ancient and modern interpretations of that word) called the Sheikah Slate. There are technological wonders out there, tools to help Link stop the Calamity Ganon once and for all. But between him and success is a savage world of wild animals and hungry monsters.
I LOVE this setting. I’m something of an aspiring novelist and most of my stories blend two genres. Fantasy and sci-fi together is one of my favorite combinations, and I love seeing Hyrule as two things it usually isn’t: wild and high-tech. I loved seeing the ancient puzzle shrines with their turning gears and robotic enemies as much as I loved seeing the vast expanses of grass or sand or mountains, teeming with wildlife both friendly and foul. The variety makes the game more interesting and gives you more reason to explore the world. Speaking of exploring…
This is a huge part of Breath of the Wild. This game is open world within moments, allowing you to explore almost as soon as you pick up the controller. Like any good Zelda game, there is a large variety of environments: mountains, plains, snow, water, and desert all make appearances in the vast land of Hyrule. Navigating them isn’t easy – the world map is absolutely massive. Some fans have estimated the size to be something around 12x the size of Twilight Princess – I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that the section of the map they showed us at E3 looked like 10% or less of the full world map, and it took them five hours to stream most of the content inside that little circle.
Luckily, with so much terrain to explore the developers have given Link a lot of ways to cross that terrain. Walking and running are your most basic forms of travel, of course, but Link can also jump (GASP!) as well as free-climb any surface rough enough to provide handholds. That means trees, cliff faces, and even giant enemies are climbable in this game. Once you get up high, Link’s glider allows you to soar to new areas, and you can even strategically use fire to create drafts that help you get more distance when gliding. On the ground, if you don’t feel like walking, you can just run up to any horse you can see and jump on its back. Tame the beast and it’s yours to ride around the countryside. When there’s water in your way, hop onto a raft and pump some wind into the sail with a Korok leaf to propel yourself across the water. And when the time comes that you need to get to the other side of the map in a hurry, just fast travel to the shrine closest to your destination – assuming you’ve visited and completed that shrine, of course.
So what exactly are these “shrines?” Are they dungeons? Nope. Zelda Dungeons, as we understand the concept now, are still going to be present in this game. Shrines are smaller-scale challenges that reward you with something called spirit orbs. What these do was a huge secret during E3, so we’ll have to wait for the game itself to learn the purpose behind these little things. But many shrines also have good weapons and supplies, or powerful runes to learn. We got to see a total of six shrines at E3, and each one utilized a different puzzle mechanic. Each individual shrine seems to be pretty unique, which is definitely good because there are supposed to be at least one hundred of these things. I particularly enjoyed the rune shrines because they reminded me of the traditional Zelda formula: enter scary place, get cool thing, puzzles in scary place teach you to use cool thing. Shrines are the one thing about this game that really worry me – I certainly got bored of the cookie-cutter dungeons in Skyrim after awhile, so I’m hoping that all of the shrines will feel unique and will challenge your brain in different ways.
If you didn’t see the E3 coverage of Breath of the Wild, you may be wondering what runes are. Well, they are effectively “apps” for your Sheikah Slate – if apps were awesome superpowers. They seem to be filling the role of “dungeon items” from other Zelda games, allowing you to manipulate the environment in specific ways in order to solve puzzles or defeat enemies. We got to see four different runes at play during E3, so let’s take a minute to talk about those.
Magnesis – This rune allows you to pick up and move telekinetic objects without actually touching them. You can manipulate one object at a time. This object can be something as heavy as a large steel ball on a chain or massive cube, as light as a sword, or anywhere in between. This not only has puzzle purposes by allowing you to create new pathways or remove obstructions, but can also be used to crush enemies beneath large metal objects or to swing a melee weapon at them from a safe distance.
Bomb – This rune is perhaps the most straightforward and the most “classic Zelda.” You can make a bomb and make that bomb blow up. There are both spherical and square bombs, but from watching the Treehouse footage I honestly could not see much of a difference between them. These bombs are useful because you detonate them remotely, allowing you to control when they’ll blow up – mostly.
Stasis – Perhaps my favorite rune shown off at E3. This rune stops an object in time for a few seconds, completely preventing it from moving. This is great on mechanical stuff like gears, allowing you to stop large mechanisms in order to dart through the machinery. You can also use the ability to steady something unbalanced, like a platform that tilts when there’s too much weight on it. However, you can also repeatedly strike an object in stasis to build up kinetic energy, and when the stasis wears off the object will go soaring. It not only looks awesome, but can be highly destructive.
Cryonis – This rune creates a large, climbable block of ice out of a water source. Even a water source shallow enough to stand in still provides plenty of water for this rune, and the pillars are not only useful for climbing to places you cannot reach. They obstruct enemy attacks, working as cover against incoming fire, and they can also lift obstructions like gates up off of the ground so you can move past them.
Once you have a rune you can use it pretty much anywhere, as long as you have a legal target. Most of them are governed either by a cooldown bar or by their natural limitations (like not being able to magnetize wood or make a block of ice with no water). The runes are a really cool new way of handling “dungeon items,” and I look forward to experiencing all of the runes and seeing exactly what they can do.
Now I mentioned that runes could be used to help you fight monsters. So how does fighting work in this new Zelda? Well, in some ways combat will seem pretty familiar. Link has two main weapons – a melee weapon of some type and a bow and arrrow. The bow comes with different types of arrows such as explosive or fire that can be used in a variety of situations. When it comes to melee weapons, you have a lot to choose from: one handed, two handed, bladed, blunt, long, short, metal, wooden – options are everywhere. Each weapon functions differently in combat so you need to experiment to find what style works for you. One-handed weapons work in conjunction with shields, allowing you to block enemy attacks in order to protect yourself. You know, the usual Zelda fare. Combat isn’t about just charging blindly, though – some enemies may be too tough for you at the start, forcing you to run away and rethink your strategy. The stealth approach is also a viable option in this game, and you even have a meter that tells you how much noise you’re making when you move around. Sneaking up on enemies makes it easier to set up the perfect strike. You actually have weapon and armor ratings this time around, but some combat features are the same – your health bar, for instance. Hearts are still measured in quarter-portions when it comes to damage or to healing. Of course, healing doesn’t work the way it always has.
Other than the new ways to explore and the open world, this may very well be the biggest change to the Zelda formula. No longer do you just pick up hearts when your HP runs down. No longer do you swing around the same weapon willy-nilly forever. Link gets hungry, stuff breaks, the weather matters, and the world is a harsh one that requires you to fight to survive.
Hunting, gathering, and cooking are now your main methods of healing. You can forage for mushrooms, nuts, berries, fruits, and veggies in the wild. If you hunger for something a little meatier, try hunting one of the large elk or boars throughout the environment. Meat and potatoes are okay for healing normally, but cooking them is where the magic really lies. Prepared dishes not only heal more heart segments, but they also have beneficial side effects like giving you temporary hearts to bolster your strength or allowing you to resist extremely cold temperatures. Link is affected by cold (and potentially heat, though that was never demonstrated) and must dress appropriately for his environment or take damage. In addition to extreme natural environments, weather can present a hazard by effecting visibility, winds, and dropping a torrential rain or a few lightning bolts on our noble hero. Weather is random, so you’ll have to adapt to whatever it happens to be in the moment.
Survival isn’t just about food and the elements, though. Your gear is limited, with both weapons and shields wearing down and breaking over time. The typical process is to charge a group of enemies, break your weapon in the process of beating them, and then pick up their weapons and start wielding those instead. Because your stuff wears out, you have to keep track of how many weapons you have at your disposal – or risk having to run away last-minute from a deadly foe. In these situations, your last recourse is often to use the environment against them.
The world of Breath of the Wild is highly interactive. Trees can be felled, boulders can be pushed, brush can be set ablaze, and barrels can be exploded. Because the environment is so dynamic and affected by your actions, it becomes a weapon you can use against enemies. One person during the Treehouse stream showed how you can set a brush fire and let strong winds blow it towards your enemies, hurting them and potentially setting any wooden gear on fire. Another showcased how a well-placed arrow into an exploding barrel can wipe out a wave of enemies without having to ever get close. And while chopping down a tree or shoving a boulder down a cliff can be tricky to aim, it can potentially harm your enemies or at the very least obstruct them while you figure out a better plan. Add runes into the mix and your options expand beyond imagination.
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE
Perhaps more fascinating than what was revealed are the things that were not revealed. For example, Link wakes up in a chamber called the Shrine of Resurrection, floating in some kind of weird sleeping pod. What the heck does that mean? Who is this Link? Who put him there? Why was he sleeping in a weird pod?
We also don’t know what the Calamity Ganon is, not really. Or who created the Sheikah Slate, and why. We know there are dungeons in this game, but not what they’ll be like. We know there are towns, but not how many or what sort of beings will inhabit them. In the artwork we see the blade of the Master Sword is decayed, rusty and broken. How did such a legendary and powerful weapon get to such a state? What does that mean? And how will we find and fix it?
With so many questions still left open, there’s no telling what Breath of the Wild still has in store for us. And as excited as I am by all the things we do know now, I’m just as excited to speculate about the things we don’t.
So here are some ideas I have either thought of myself, or have seen other people talk about and think make a lot of sense. None of this is confirmed, of course. But it all sounds pretty awesome.
-The presence of Koroks in the game makes it SEEM pretty certain that this game falls somewhere in the Adult timeline (where Hyrule is flooded and generations later a New Hyrule is established). But where? A popular opinion is that it is between Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, and that this game might represent what happened during that time. The idea I really like, though, is a fan theory someone else suggested (sadly I don’t know the original source) that this is actually another split in the timeline. The idea is that this game is what happens if Link DIES at the end of Wind Waker. Ganondorf returns Hyrule to the surface but is imprisoned by the king in Hyrule Castle, leaving the world in ruins, but dry. That may not be the case, but it seems to fit thus far and I really like the idea.
– Dungeons in this game may be massive. Now this information comes from an early interview with Eiji Aonuma, the head guy at Team Zelda, but I have no idea if any of it was actually incorporated into the game. This interview suggested that he really liked the idea of having truly massive dungeons that don’t have one defined entrance or even only one section. These dungeons would maybe be so vast and complex that one visit doesn’t do the trick – you overcome part of it only to find that you need to restock and come back later when you have more resources at your disposal. Finding the way into the dungeon is a puzzle in itself, but there are multiple ways in so if one doesn’t work for you, you can figure out another if you’re clever. I’m really drawn to this concept and I hope that it was incorporated into the game.
– I think the decayed state of the Master Sword is going to be a big plot point in this game. Or at least, restoring it is. Similar to Wind Waker or Skyward Sword. Getting the Master Sword back into fighting shape will be the key to overcoming the Calamity Ganon. However, there’s a small chance that something else will happen – once the Master Sword’s uselessness is discovered, a different weapon needs to be unearthed: the Silver Arrow. This Ganon-slaying tool has not been explored since the very first Zelda game, and with the developers being so interested in going back to that template, I feel like right now is the best time for that ancient item to make a comeback. Particularly with the emphasis on Link’s archery abilities in this game.
– The Sheikah have always been something of a mystery in this series. My hope is that in this game we’ll get a bit of a better look into their shadowy culture. After all, they created the Slate that allows Link to navigate the shrines of the world and to wield the power of runes. Even if we don’t learn every secret the Sheikah ever had, it’d still be cool to get a deeper look into their society.
Now I turn the conversation to you, adventurers. What parts of this game are you most excited about? What are your theories for what the story might be? Is there something you saw in the Treehouse demonstrations that I didn’t really touch on? Feel free to discuss the game in the comments to your heart’s content – perhaps it’ll keep us busy while we wait for Nintendo’s next reveal about this incredible title.