Let’s be clear here: the last Zelda I played was Windwaker on the Gamecube. The first one I played was The Legend of Zelda on the NES (Grey cartridge, not the gold one). But really, I’ve missed out on everything between Windwaker and Breath Of The Wild (BOTW).
In The Beginning …
Link awakens from a 100 year sleep, with no memories, and only a voice in his head to guide him. There are monsters everywhere and most things are in ruins. Slowly you find out that Link was put to sleep by Zelda 100 years ago in order to wake up once he was healed and try to save the world, which they screwed up last time.
That’s a great place to start, don’t you think?
Link finds a ‘Sheika Slate’ – a device that looks a little like a Smart Phone and has a few similar functions. In the beginning it simply allows you to access certain areas, most notably Shrines1. Eventually it holds a map of any region you’ve unlocked the map for and runes that help you do things such as creating small bombs, freezing objects in time, and even taking pictures.
It’s a pretty useful device.
BOTW somehow manages to feel like both a Zelda game, and not a Zelda game. The more linear progression of ‘go to this dungeon, find new weapon, use new weapon to kill boss’ is pretty much gone. Instead, you have an open world that you can explore as you like after you leave the ‘introductory area’.
There are many, many different weapons, but you won’t be finding the Master Sword very quickly. Weapons and shields degrade with use, and eventually break, so part of your game is spent always looking for the next weapon, or a more durable weapon. This also applies to shields and bows.
There are also many different types of armour, most of which give you some bonus in a specific area. Some help you resist cold, some heat, some help you move faster in water, some help you climb faster. That’s not even the full list.
The Blood Moon
Once you wipe out all the monsters in camp, they’re gone. Oh, until the next ‘blood moon’. The bad guy, Calamity Ganon2 finds a boost in his power during this, and manages to resurrect all the bad guys.
Not only is the sequence quite cool3, but it means you can’t empty the world of bad guys, so there’s always someone trying to kill you. And there’s always monsters to kill for body parts, that will become useful in time.
Body parts? Well, yes. In fact there’s a lot of things to collect. Many types of plants, fungi, animals, gemstones and more. Many of them can be combined in a pot over a fire to create cooked food or potions.
Many of the items you find have properties that can give you extra hearts (health), more stamina, better attack, more stealth … you get the idea. Cooking them by themselves often boosts that property. However, you can also combine various things to get foods that will refill your hearts and give you a boost for a while.
But you have to work most of this out yourself. The game encourages experimenting, and while you’ll easily work out a few recipes; sometimes you just end up with Dubious Food that probably won’t kill you.
You can also make potions, which are really your standard potion that gives one effect – like speed, stealth, healing or whatever. These are usually made by combining certain insects/amphibians with certain monster body parts (like horns).
Crafting is a must, crafting is huge, and it can be quite fun to play around too. On the other hand, when you deplete your stocks of potions and food, then cooking items one by one is … tedious.
The Bad Guys
Beyond Calamity Ganon4, there are four ‘minor bosses’ to go after: Divine Beasts. There are mechanical/magical constructs that were made to protect the kingdom, but were corrupted to serve Ganon. You have to work out how to get inside them, then once inside them, work out how to turn them back to the side of good.
Once you have those, you can probably take on Calamity Ganon – which will save the world.
However, you don’t need to do any of this if you don’t want. From what I can tell, someone of sufficient real world skill can go after Calamity Ganon without the help of the Divine Beasts. That doesn’t include me, though.
Using similar ‘ancient technology’ there are various guardians that were also corrupted. These are smaller mechanical/magical bell shaped things. Many are lying around, broken and good only for scavenging. Some are not mobile, but will still attempt to kill you with some kind of beam. Some are fully mobile, on spider type legs. These are bad.
Then, of course, you’ve got all the monsters. Quite a lot of them return from earlier installments: kokoblins, Lynels, Octorocs and more. There’s a very full set of these bad guys – and of course they come in all kinds of power ranges. There’s the basic mooks, through to those with powerful ranged attacks. This forces you to use more than just the one strategy with all of them and that’s before you even introduce powers like electricity attacks, fire attacks and …
This Zelda has a quite well developed ‘physics’ engine5. Fires can spread through trees and grass; rocks can be frozen in time so you can add momentum to them, allowing them to be shot into the distance with a lot of force; magnesis can help you lift metal things to help you get to places – or just drop on monsters. Bombs can blow things up, or merely send them flying.
Again, there’s a lot of experimentation you can do here. Stop things in time, freeze them, drop them, burn them, zap them. There are often many ways to solve puzzles and many ways to kill things other than resorting to weapons.
Also included in ‘physics’ are storms. When there’s a lightning storm around, beware the lightning. Oh, and don’t have anything metal equipped …
While you might view the Divine Beasts as some kind of dungeon equivalent to earlier Zeldas, it’s the shrines which tend to play that part more. Each shrine tests you in some way, whether it be your fighting prowess, your puzzle solving skills, your use of the Sheika powers or whatever. There are often chests scattered around each one that can give you various weapons, armour or merely treasure.
If you complete a shrine, you get an Orb. When you have four of these you can pray to a Goddess Statue and they’ll allow you to increase your health or Stamina. Believe me, you’ll want them both up high.
Hearts are obvious but Stamina? Well that brings us to …
Link is very agile and can climb pretty much anything. What limits him is not what he can climb, but for how long he can climb – this is one of the uses of stamina. If you’re climbing and you run out of stamina, you fall. So it’s good to have more stamina. You can use potions to refill, ore even boost, stamina, but of course the best idea is to have more of your own. Unlike hearts, stamina automatically begins to regenerate once you’re not using it. Stand on a less inclined surface, and it will regenerate. Don’t try just holding on where you are, that doesn’t use up stamina, but it doesn’t allow it to regenerate either.
Stamina also dictates how far you can run, and how far you can fly with your handy para-glider.
Did I mention the para-glider? No?
Once you’ve finished the starting area, you earn a para-glider. This is a little glider you can whip out any time you’re ‘falling’ so you can glide. You can put it away and pull it out again repeatedly to quickly lose height. The only limitation is that it doesn’t go up or straight ahead. There are places where you can get the wind to catch you and reach places you couldn’t otherwise, but mostly you glide. Often a combination of gliding and climbing will get you to higher places. Just remember that both use Stamina, so remember to give poor Link a rest!
Despite how long this entry has become, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game. People are still finding new little tricks to make the game easier/more fun even now. Even if you just look at the basic game, there’s a lot to see, explore and do.
Of course, big isn’t always better. In this case, though, it is. The land of Hyrule is huge. Really, really huge. There’s towns, ruins, lakes, ocean, mountains, deserts … There’s freezing weather, there’s hot and dry weather, there’s humid weather. It’s a constantly changing place, with a lot of different systems that all work together to provide small stories apart from the scripted ones. Then the scripted ones are there to keep you busy as well.
It’s a beautiful game in so many ways.
I am having lot of fun, especially now I’ve got back to this after playing Mass Effect: Andromeda to death. I’ve defeated Calamity Ganon, but have now gone back to an earlier save to just keep … going. Though I have yet to come close to catching up to my Wife who is currently on her way to beating the game a second time!