The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the much-awaited 19th installment in the long-running series, available on the just-released Nintendo Switch, which it launched with, and the almost-dead Nintendo Wii U. The game is a reinvention of the 30-year-old series, featuring a number of changes to the core gameplay that Nintendo has recycled throughout the years, only adding new elements here and there to keep things fresh. If you walked into Breath of the Wild expecting the same things seen in previous entries in the series, you'd be terribly disappointed.
Breath of the Wild begins with our half-naked hero Link awakening from a 100-year nap and is promptly told by a mysterious woman's voice to get his ass up and get some exercise. After grabbing the "Sheikah Slate" and putting on a pair of clothes questionably lying around within his proximity, Link sets off to get a breath of fresh air. But before getting a whiff of said fresh air, Link finds himself blocked by a wall. In order to bypass this wall of rock and dirt, Link needs to do one thing he has never done before in his 30 years of existence: jump and climb over the wall. As in a player-assisted jump, not an automatic one seen in previous Zelda games. This is pretty much the first indication that Breath of the Wild is not your typical installment in the long-running series.
Once you manage to get Link over the wall (it's really not that hard), you'll eventually encounter an old man down the linear path. Tradition dictates that you talk to this man to advance the story and start the game for real. If you've played way too many RPGs, you'll probably run up to him almost automatically, like a reflex. While playing around with the controls and wandering off a little bit to check the scenery, you'll soon realize that the game isn't pressing you to quickly make your way to the old man to get things started. You know, like a tutorial mode that guides you on what you should do for an hour or two. Breath of the Wild doesn't do that. You're free to do whatever you want right from the start.
Nintendo wasn't kidding when they said Breath of the Wild would be an open-world game different from all other Zelda games. It features a beautifully-created massive world where you can go wherever you want and do whatever you want with virtually no restrictions. Other than real-life responsibilities, of course. Link can climb over anything in the game, hindered only by his stamina, which you can upgrade as you go along (more on this later). The main quest involves conquering four dungeons and making your way to Hyrule Castle to beat the shit out of Calamity Ganon. However, unlike other Zelda games, you can do the dungeons in any order, and whatever happens in between is up to you.
There are more than a hundred Shrines in the game, which are sort of smaller dungeons that house puzzles or enemies (not all of them, though). Completing Shrines boost your maximum hearts and stamina, upping your chances of survival. Four of these Shrines are actually mandatory at the beginning, and it's only after completing these four early Shrines that the game truly opens up for total exploration. You'll spend the majority of your time looking for and completing these Shrines.
To explore the massive world and find and complete these Shrines, you need to master the art of survival first. You need to make your way through unfriendly monsters and brave through dangerous places that are anything but safe havens. The game features a temperature system (as well as a day and night cycle) that affects Link: cold areas require Link to be covered in warm clothing, while fiery areas require Link to wear heat-resistant clothing. You can also use items acquired via cooking - the item crafting system in the game - to help your case against harsh temperatures. Also, it's important to keep an eye on Link's stamina, as neglecting it could immediately mean his death, depending on the situation (i.e. losing stamina while climbing a mountain).
One of the biggest changes in Breath of the Wild is the weapon system. All weapons in the game break after a certain amount of use. And we do mean all weapons, from tree trunks to axes to swords. Yep, you can use tree trunks for other purposes besides making fire. The weapon system dictates that you use your weapons, which are collected in various ways, in a more reserved approach. If you use your powerful weapons on normal enemies all the time, you'll risk breaking it in the middle of a boss fight. This sort of prevents you from overpowering your way through outmatched regular enemies, forcing you to scale down to their power by using less powerful weapons against them. Don't worry, though; some weapons can be repaired after breaking. In general, just treat weapons like regular consumable items and manage them accordingly. To maximize each weapon, you would want to go for critical hits as much as possible. If you're using a ranged weapon, go for headshots. If you're using a melee weapon, attack enemies from behind.
Aesthetics-wise, Breath of the Wild doesn't exactly feature eye-popping graphics like games on PC and PS4. Which isn't really surprising, considering Nintendo has never been one to go after shiny graphics, prioritizing innovation and user experience instead. Nevertheless, Breath of the Wild is a thing of beauty, featuring an anime-like art style that blows every other Zelda game out of the water. Everything is incredibly detailed and immersive in the game.
Overall, it can be argued that Breath of the Wild is the best installment the series has to offer so far, leaping over Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Though it's still debatable whether Breath of the Wild is a good enough reason to purchase the Nintendo Switch (many are still holding out until the game library expands), it's definitely a must-play game not just for Zelda fans, but for enthusiasts of open-world adventure games as well.