The Legend of Zelda isn’t a series that’s particularly known for its difficulty, which is pretty wild when you consider just how challenging the first game was. The enemies were brutal, dungeons were hard to find, and there was little to no guidance on how to use the different pieces of gear you find. Of course, some of that was the result of technological limitations rather than intentional challenge. But now, after all these years, The Legend of Zelda is challenging gamers again with the newest entry in the series, Breath of the Wild.
This game truly is tough. It may not be intentionally trying to kill you in the way that a game like Dark Souls is, but it will not give you any quarter. The cliffs are tall, the puzzles are challenging, and the water is full of annoying octoroks that will constantly pelt you with rocks while you are totally helpless. And with no free hearts lying around, this is not a Zelda game for the faint of heart. Today, I’m going to share what I have learned so far to help those who are charging into the wild for the first time.
Just a note: this guide will have mild spoilers in the form of game mechanics that were not revealed during the game’s marketing. There will be no story spoilers, though, so no worries there.
THIS IS STILL A ZELDA GAME
I think is important to acknowledge that at the end of the day, Breath of the Wild is still Zelda. With all the open-world features and destructible weapons and whatnot, it may be tempting not to treat it as such. For me, right at the very beginning I didn’t necessarily remember that I could still count on certain series conventions, and that had me playing the game in a different way.
Zelda has never just been a straight up hack and slash game. The enemies you face aren’t just giant targets to slash as many times as possible. They have strategies and it takes strategy to defeat them. This has always been particularly true with bosses, but even certain common enemies have to be approached in a certain way or they are going to get the better of you. This game is no different.
Many conventions you are familiar with are still around, just not as prominently displayed. You can charge up for a spin attack (or another kind of special attack, depending on your weapon) by holding down the attack button. You can also do a quick spin by quickly rotating the control stick and then pressing attack. If you jump into the air before attacking, you’ll perform a harder-hitting jump attack. You can also still backflip and sidehop away from attacks by using the jump button while locked on during combat.
The runes you gain in the first four shrines – Magnesis, Remote Bomb, Cryonis, and Stasis – are tools for you to utilize throughout the game, just like dungeon items in any other Zelda. They are your keys for solving puzzles and for finding clever ways to defeat enemies. In particular, I have found remote bombs to be very useful when dealing with enemies that are otherwise difficult to harm (freaking octoroks). Even the different weapons in your bag are more useful in certain situations. So don’t lose that old Zelda instinct of using the right tool for the job – that is still very much a part of the game.
Finally, remember that Breath of the Wild is the sum of many Zelda titles that came before it. Just like the original Zelda, the world is chock full of secrets. Don’t hesitate to get off the beaten path – exploring random areas is a great way to find new shrines, or other secrets that can net you quality equipment or materials that sell for rupees. Just like A Link Between Worlds, you don’t have to do missions in any particular order. If an area is giving you serious trouble, go explore another part of the world for awhile. With another heart container or the equipment found in other areas, you might be able to succeed where you once failed. And just like Skyward Sword, the environment itself is just as much of a puzzle as the dungeons or shrines themselves. There are multiple ways to tackle the same problem, so if one path seems impossible, try a different angle and see what happens.
Fighting in Breath of the Wild is really brutal. Even common enemies can carry weapons with serious hitting power, and being overwhelmed by numbers is infinitely worse in this game than it has been in other Zelda titles. This requires you to really use your brain when approaching enemies, and to use the techniques at your disposal effectively.
Don’t be afraid to play defensive until you know an enemy’s pattern. Use the jump button to sidestep or backflip away from enemy attacks. Hold up your shield by locking on and let it absorb incoming blows. Your defenses can be a great way to create an opening for yourself – pressing A just as an enemy strikes your shield performs a parry that leaves them vulnerable for a few moments. Jumping away from an attack at the last moment creates an opening for you to perform a flurry attack, striking multiple times in a moment and wearing the enemy down quite a bit. Often the best offense is a strong defense – I’ve particularly noticed this in boss battles, where a well-timed dodge or parry may even be the only way to really get an opening.
Melee combat isn’t always your best option, particularly when there are multiple enemies. Your bow is an important weapon and you should definitely take advantage of it. Bokoblins in particular tend to hang out around these nifty explosive barrels that you can shoot with a fire arrow to roast the whole camp without breaking a sweat. An arrow strike to the head deals critical damage and can sometimes stun enemies, leaving them vulnerable to a follow-up attack.
When fighting, take the time to consider what weapon is most effective for the situation. In past Zelda titles, most enemies have a weakness or a particular weapon that’s most effective against them. Breath of the Wild continues that tradition; it’s just a little less straightforward. Two-handed weapons like claymores or boko bats are slow, but they knock the shield right out of your opponent’s hand. Using a claymore to create an opening and then switching to a faster weapon can be an effective strategy, and it preserves durability because you aren’t using four or five strikes of a light weapon to knock the shield out of the way. Be aware, though, that two-handed weapons don’t allow use of your shield, and their slowness is ineffective against fast enemies. Enemies with spears can present a serious problem when you try to fight them with a shorter ranged weapon – having a spear of your own helps you keep them at bay and fight on equal terms. Or you can turn the tables by using long spears against enemies with small clubs or swords, keeping them out of attack range entirely. The big thing to remember is not to let your inventory fill up with too much of one weapon type, because having the wrong weapons for a specific opponent can be truly detrimental to survival.
Stealth is an important element of combat in Breath of the Wild. When you come upon a sleeping enemy, a sneak strike is pretty much a guaranteed knock out. And when approaching a large camp full of opponents, being able to pick off the lookout and then ambush the rest of the squad really helps your chances of success. Stealth and your bow and arrow are a particularly strong combination, so don’t sleep on them.
Finally, durability. Weapons only have so much, and the idea of having limited weapons can seem scary if you’re thinking you could potentially run out and be totally unarmed. But as long as you are making sure to collect weapons and not foolishly wasting them, you really don’t have to worry about running out. So when a weapon gets down to its breaking point, throw it at the bad guy. Thrown weapons deal more damage, but they always break on contact. But that’s not an issue if the weapon is already breaking, right? Throw a weapon on its last legs to deal extra damage and really set the enemy back. Enemies hit with a thrown weapon tend to get thrown themselves, giving you the time to change gear while they’re struggling to their feet.
Just like real life, a proper diet is essential to survival in Breath of the Wild. And you can’t eat right if you don’t know how to cook a nice meal. Oddly, the cooking tutorial is pretty easy to miss in this game. So if you aren’t quite sure how to start, just find a fireplace with a cooking pot. If the pot isn’t lit, either use a torch to carry another flame to the pot or drop some wood and flint beside it and then strike the flint with a metal weapon. You can get wood by chopping down trees, and flint by breaking up ore deposits. Once the fire is going under the cooking pot, go to the inventory menu and press X (on the Switch, at least) to activate the hold ability. You can hold up to five items at once. When you exit the menu, drop the items into the cooking pot and watch as a meal is prepared before your eyes to a catchy tune. You can also drop items onto an open flame, but they won’t cook together as one meal and the individual benefits won’t be nearly as good.
Cooking is pretty straightforward in this game; most ingredients explain what effects that they have when you cook them. Effects of food include things like restoring hearts, restoring stamina, giving a temporary increase to maximum hearts or stamina, temporarily increasing stats like attack, defense, movement speed, or stealth, or increasing resistances to specific elements.Generally speaking, combining different effects leads to lackluster recipes while combining like effects leads to effective recipes. However, ingredients that restore hearts tend to combine well with everything.
Prepared meals are important for more reasons than just healing. A good meal is the ultimate weapon against a capable boss enemy. In particular, food that increases your maximum hearts gives you necessary artificial bulk to increase your survivability. I also recommend having foods that give boosts to defense, as even some common enemies deal incredible damage and can sweep through four or five hearts in one blow. Particularly in the early game when you haven’t acquired many hearts containers, cooked food is pretty much a requirement to survive against stronger enemies.
So how exactly do you find ingredients? First off, just wandering around for a bit is generally the best way. Ingredients tend not to be on the main roads, so venturing into a nearby grouping of trees or climbing a cliff face may be the best way to find ingredients early on. Additionally, you’ll want to draw your bow and do some hunting to get meat from things like boars, goats, dear, foxes, and various birds. Always be ready to do a bit of hunting. When it comes to seafood, you can either jump into the water and try to catch fish by chasing them, or you can employ my preferred method and bomb the heck out of them and scoop up the fish corpses after.
Once you get off of the plateau and start being able to really explore the open world, I recommend focusing on the main quest for a bit so that you can unlock some key gameplay features. Specifically, be sure you go to Hareto Village and gain the ability to take pictures using the Sheikah Slate. The camera feature allows you to add items to your Hyrule Compendium, basically a huge encyclopedia of all the items and creatures in the game. By upgrading your Sheikah Slate one time using some ancient springs, you can then use its sensor to hunt for specific ingredients. This feature is really useful and is a major boon when it comes to strategically planning meals. Use it to hunt down really useful ingredients like hearty radishes or heart truffles so you can whip up plenty of health-increasing meals.
While I imagine that as you go on in the game there are very specific and complicated recipes that allow you to make incredible dishes, in the early game simple is best. Put together two similar ingredients, one with a healing effect and one with another effect such as stamina recovery, defense boost, or max health boost. As you get further along and have a lot of ingredients in your pouch, stack as many items with the same effect as you can. Hylian Shrooms and Stamella Shrooms are simple ingredients to locate, and cooked together in a ratio of 3/2 respectively they make a very good quality early-game healing item. Raw meat combined with herbs or fruits/vegetables are also simple yet effective recipes.
Final note about cooking: SAVE ALL YOUR ITEMS THAT DON’T APPEAR TO BE INGREDIENTS. Just because it isn’t useful for fixing a meal doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Every item in the game is helpful, if not for cooking then for upgrading runes or equipment. So hold on to the apparently useless stuff as tightly as you hold on to ingredients!
THE ORDER OF EVENTS
Breath of the Wild is an interesting animal in that it is a blend of open-world and linear styles. There is an open world you can explore, going anywhere you want in any order and even skipping all of the main quests and just charging towards Ganon to try and beat him as quickly as possible. But you can also play this game by running from story point to story point, with only whatever exploration is required to get from point A to point B. The beauty of the game is in finding the balance of these approaches, exploring when you feel like it and playing the story when you feel like it so you don’t get burnt out and you get to experience the full joy of this wonderful game world.
So is there a specific order you should do stuff in? Ultimately, it’s up to you, but based on my own experience I do have a recommended pattern of doing things. This is a survival guide, so the path that I am suggesting is the one to most compliment the idea of surviving this difficult game. In the early game, stick to the quest points. Head to Kakariko Village after you get off of the Great Plateau, then go a bit north from the village and discover the Great Fairy Fountain. Then head to Hareto Village to unlock the Hyrule Compendium and the Sheikah Slate +. After that, the first of the four main quests you want to focus on is the eastmost one, in a region just northeast of Kakariko Village.
Here are the “whys” of all that. First off, on your way to Kakariko Village you are likely to encounter two rather important game mechanics: the stables and Hestu the Korok. The former allows you to tame horses and make them your own, which makes transportation in the game world a lot faster. The latter allows you to expand your inventory bag with the Korok Seeds you find throughout the game. The Great Fairy in this game uses the materials you find out in the wild or by defeating monsters in order to upgrade your armor and increase its protection, which is incredibly valuable for early-game survivability.
The Hyrule Compendium you get in Hareto Village is a valuable tool that allows you to register monsters, equipment, and materials in a sort of digital encyclopedia. When you combine that feature with the Sheikah Slate +, you get an upgrade to your Shrine Locator that allows you to hunt down specific items. Your Slate will guide you to the nearest location of that item. This is an awesome feature in general but it is particularly good for ingredient-hunting, and using it effectively will help you find the foodstuffs you need to gain extra hearts, defense boosts, and plenty of healing. As far as the reasoning behind doing the eastmost main quest first, that would be a spoiler (*wink*) but trust me when I say that the reward for completing your first dungeon gels very well with the concept of survival.
In the process of completing these tasks, do feel free to stray from the beaten path a little bit to explore the shrines you pass. The more spirit orbs you collect, the more heart containers you can obtain. You also receive a heart container for defeating a dungeon, so by the time you’ve gone through all the steps I recommend, you’ll have a few hearts built up and be able to survive a shot or two from tougher enemies. Combining this path with the combat and cooking skills described above will help you to keep together in this very challenging world.
Finally, whenever you explore a new area, I recommend that you follow the roads to a waypoint FIRST. Some areas cannot be explored safely without specific equipment, or it needs to be approached from a very specific angle. I recently tried to explore unfamiliar territory by straying off the road and immediately found myself dying to serious environmental hazards. Cold temperatures and two different kind of heat (temperature heat and proximity-to-lava heat) are devastating hazards when you aren’t prepared, and often require specific equipment or elixirs to resist. When I doubled-back to the road, it led me to a stable where I was able to purchase these supplies that are tailored to surviving that environment. Once you know you’ve got the right gear to explore a specific region (and you’ve downloaded the area map at the guidance tower), then you can run around to your heart’s content. Be sure to talk to every NPC – many have valuable sidequests that can get you free gear for little effort.
DON’T JUST SURVIVE – THRIVE!
Here’s a tip for making money and gathering the materials you need to upgrade armor. Your map has this nifty function that allows you to create stamps that mark a specific location. USE THOSE STAMPS. This is something that, looking back, I wish I had done when I first started playing the game.
Frequently, you will find yourself needing a certain material and thinking “oh yeah, wasn’t there a bunch of that in so-and-so location? I remember there being some trees on the left, and…dang it.” Stamps are your way of remembering places you will want to return to later. I used them early on to mark Great Fairy fountains, which is certainly helpful, but what I wish I had marked was the location of important monsters like Hinox, Lynels, and Tallus. Tallus, in particular, are incredibly valuable because they drop lots of ore when they are defeated, ore that you can use to save up a crud-ton of rupees.
So here’s what you do. Develop a system for your stamps that you can remember. Assign a specific symbol to each type of place you want to mark. Then whenever you find a place with that thing, place the corresponding stamp at that point on the map. Whenever a Blood Moon rolls around and you’ve got some time to kill, fast travel to places near all your stamps and harvest what you need from the monsters there. I found that doing this helped me build up a huge collection of ore and monster parts pretty quickly. I just wish I had started sooner, as I know there are some places on the map I could have marked but didn’t think to do it starting out. Build good habits early and you’ll find yourself doing better than just surviving the wild.
That’s about it for this guide, adventurers! If you liked this guide then be sure to stick around here on Adventure Rules, as I am planning to do some more Breath of the Wild content in the coming weeks. In fact, now there’s a guide for the Captured Memories Quest so you can discover all that this game’s story has to offer! And a guide for locating Great Fairies and getting them to upgrade your armor! If you have any hints for other new players to the game, feel free to leave them in the comments below – but NO SPOILERS! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you found the content in today’s guide to be helpful.
This is an awesome guide! So, you know what’s funny? (In a sadly coincidental and not really funny way). The fact that this will literally be the only other Zelda game I’ve played, in addition to the original. I played the original when I was 5 years old, and I remember it being VERY difficult. For years I assumed my memory of it being so hard was due to my young age at the time of playing. When my husband and I talked about it the other day, he made me feel slightly better when he said that, no, it was just a hard game in general, for all the reasons you mentioned here. Not that I always want a game to be super easy, but I was hoping BotW would be easiER than I remember the original Zelda being. Looks like I made a great choice for re-entering the franchise, lol!
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It really is interesting that this is the first Zelda you’ve played since the original, since the developers have stated that they really wanted to get back to those roots. I think the challenge is worth it, though – it’s been super satisfying when I finally become good enough to overcome enemies or trials that I struggled with earlier in the game.
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I am really glad to hear you have liked it! I should get to start playing today, thankfully 🙂
Wow, this was a terrific read that obviously took a long time away from the game to write! 🙂 Bravo on just being able to pull yourself away from it!
I cautiously read through your advice of what routes to take and I wholeheartedly agree with getting the Compendium as soon as possible. Getting the camera was super cool and I love that I’ve become a sort of documentarian in the game world!
I finished my first dungeon (the one you recommended) and I thought it was pretty cool. Smaller than dungeons in previous games but the abundance of mini-puzzle dungeons (aka, the Shrines) more than make up for it.
If I could offer any advice to a new player, it would be to save your best weapons for your harder foes – no sense in burning through durability on a powerful sword only to have it break beating up weak trash mobs!
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The pulling myself away part was very difficult, haha. My wife helped by using the TV a lot, requiring me to play BotW on a timer since the Switch’s battery runs out at some point.
Definitely a great point about using your weapons wisely. I ran into problems with that early on so I started using them a bit more wisely. I’m probably gonna edit the post to add that watching your weapon balance is important – I just ended up facing an incredibly fast and dangerous dungeon boss with almost all two-handed weapons, and even when it was stunned it often recovered before I could swing the weapon once.
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