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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Full Stream Analysis (Surprise! It’s an RPG)

Yesterday, Nintendo unveiled The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But it wasn’t just your typical E3 trailer with some gameplay, Nintendo ran a Treehouse stream showing off almost 3 whole hours of their new Zelda title. Knowing that you might not have the time to dedicate 3 hours to a single game with all the other crazy E3 announcements flying around, we here at Power Up Gaming have watched the Zelda stream in its entirety so that you don’t have to. So without further ado, here’s many of the details plucked from our first look at Link’s new adventure.

Not Quite Skyrim, But Close

Zelda maybe

The stream opened to a shirtless Link waking up to the same fully voice-acted woman heard in the trailer, beckoning him to open his eyes. Before quickly exiting the Shrine of Resurrection, Link accessed a chest containing a pair of trousers and a shirt. Soon after entering the open world, he also picked up a tree branch, and later a Woodcutter’s Axe. Our first thought was that this was Zelda allowing Link to access a few carry-on items before getting a real weapon to work his way towards the Master Sword. That was until we saw the stats attached to every weapon that Link picked up.

Breath of the Wild is going near full RPG when it comes to equipping Link with items. Every weapon and bow has attack power stats attached to them just like any other modern day role-playing game. What’s more is that every item deteriorates, which seems to align itself well with the game’s combat. Equipment breaks quickly, as seen over half a dozen times in the stream. But when fighting the several groups of Bokoblins encountered throughout the demo, slaying them will drop various items, including weapons such as spears, claymores, and clubs. Link can even pick up shields from them as well. There was a constant switching out and tossing weapons and shields for new ones looted from fallen enemies on the stream.

Zelda rpg

Other items that can be looted were crafting items that can be used prepare meals and brew potions. Single food items such as steaks, mushrooms, and apples can restore a little bit of health. However, when cooking them or combining them over a campfire and stone pot, they turn into meals that can restore even more health, along with granting several other status effects. Some meals can make Link impervious to cold, while others give him a health boost.

Potions grant different buffs from food items for the most part, and are brewed from miscellaneous items such as Bokoblin Horns and Crickets. There were occasions in the demo where they were used to restore Link’s stamina more quickly (more on that later), while others raised his attack power, speed, and even dampen his footsteps. There weren’t any recipes shown in the gameplay, nor were there set potions or meals that can be concocted instantly once you have the right ingredients, so it’s unclear as to how players will keep track of what’s required to craft items. With all of that said, no, you wont get hearts from cutting grass or smashing pots, nor will you get rupees either. Rupees can actually be earned (again, like modern RPGs) by selling items at shops.

This new Legend of Zelda game has taken on an entirely new survivalist identity, which is by far the most radical change the series has ever seen since The Ocarina of Time. This survivalist direction extends to building simple campfires as well. Chopping down trees gives you firewood. Once you collect some flint from the environment and place it next to the wood, striking it with your sword sparks a fire that will allow you to prepare all the aforementioned items. It’s small elements like this that make Zelda exciting again.

Slaying Bokoblins With Style

Zelda Bokoblin

With the brief glimpses of Link in action, there’s not much difference that can be discerned regarding the way he fights. But spending more time with the game will give you a more comprehensive idea at the various ways Link can slay his enemies, or how his enemies can slay him.

The traditional lock-on system remains the same; and it should, as it was perfected the second The Legend of Zelda went 3D. However, Link has a few new tricks up his sleeve that give him an edge in combat, starting with slow motion. Like more recent character action games, if Link pulls off a well-timed dodge, time slows down, giving him the opportunity to land several blows à la Bayonetta. Another trick Link can pull off is if he draws his bow while in mid air, time also comes to a crawl where he can fix a well placed shot. Folks may remember this attack from Breath of the Wild’s initial trailer back in 2014 when Link drew that special mechanical bow and shot it at what we know now as a Guardian.

Guardians are a new threat to the Zelda franchise. The demo showed roughly four or five encounters with the Guardians which, admittedly, weren’t very interesting. The coolest moment we saw with the Guardians, however, was in some pre-recorded footage of the game that was taken by a much more skilled player than those running the demo. It showed the player riding on horseback in a wide open field, shooting explosive arrows at a Guardian and a Bokoblin giving chase. They later took down the Bokoblin before riding up to the Guardian and pulling off one of those slow-mo arrow shots right into its eye, destroying it instantly. Its worth mentioning how stunning Breath of the Wild looked in this battle. It was nothing less of a water-color action scene coming to life that was ripped right out of the very first trailer of the game, and was a perfect teaser for what players can expect from Breath of the Wild’s full release.

Zelda Sneak

The most intriguing combat element we saw was how unusually smart the Bokoblins were. Once alerted, they ran to their weapons that were strewn about their camp, which after recognizing how Link can pick up any item, indicated that you can possibly pick up those weapons first. This of course means that should you disarm them, they’ll go for anything that’s laying close to them. However if there’s no weapons that can be found, they’ll even resort to digging rocks out of the ground and throw them at you. The amount of solutions that these enemies take into consideration reminded me of how I felt when I first played Halo, and seeing an Elite run towards a Ghost to run me down.

But the most exciting element of Zelda’s revamped combat system was the new stealth mechanics incorporated into it. Yes, like your regular Sam Fisher, Link can sneak up on his enemies and effectively assassinate them. Looking at the bottom right corner of the screen, there’s a sound gauge that’s constantly reacting to Link’s movements. When he crouches, it evens out, indicating that Link is near silent when approaching enemies. As expected, enemies now have different alert stages from suspicious to full combat mode. It’s difficult to shake off the novelty of watching Link sneak up on enemies, but is a welcome addition considering the open nature of the game.

A Whole World to Explore

Zelda climb

Many who aren’t die-hard Zelda fans struggle to see how Breath of the Wild separates itself as an open world game from past Zelda titles. Whereas past installments sectioned off areas that were centered around a hub world (save for top-down Zelda titles such as A Link to the Past), this newest game is completely open from top to bottom, front to back. There were no loading screens transitioning you from one area to the next, and everything on the horizon can be accessed. Series producer Eiji Aonuma stated that the world is 12 times the size of Twilight Princess, and it’s possible that players can wander into an area where they can get completely crushed by much more powerful enemies.

Now if you haven’t heard the news already, hold on to your hat: Link can jump now. This may be a laughable development to the unfamiliar, but the Zelda series has always restricted jumping for the sake of protracted exploration. What’s more shocking is that Link can climb damn near any vertical surface in the game without obstruction. We got to see Link climb cliff sides, temple outer walls, bombed out ruins, it didn’t matter; if it went up, Link climbed it. Climbing is governed by a stamina meter that also keeps a number of Link’s other maneuvers in check. Sprinting uses stamina as does using the para-glider, which Link can deploy from any height and glide his way down. What isn’t governed by stamina is shield surfing. Yes, you read that right. When going down a slope, Link can now bring his shield under his feet and slide down hill. Moments in the demo showed Link surfing down a hill, whipping out his glider to catch some airtime, then landed and kept on surfing. Awesome.

Temples are the biggest draw to the Zelda franchise; and though there weren’t any in the demo, we got an in-depth look at four of the 100 shrines in the game. Shrines are smaller “dungeons” that reward you with Spirit Orbs that can be exchanged for special items. Link carries around a smartphone-looking device called the Sheikah Slate that has a ridiculous number of functionalities to it. On a basic level, it can mark waypoints on the over-world, and even scan enemies for their HP. However, before entering the four shrines seen in the demo, Link placed the Sheikah Slab on a kiosk that “downloaded” runes into it that granted Link significant abilities, so much so that it can be assumed that these runes may replace many of the standard Zelda items we’ve seen for the past 30 years.

Zelda overworld

Pick the Bomb Rune for example, which allows Link to conjure bombs from thin air, and toss them at weakened walls as he always did. But these bombs came in two versions: the traditional spherical ones, and cube bombs. which can only detonate when you trigger them to. Another rune enabled Link to move metal objects like Magneto. As you can well assume, this will be used to solve various puzzles, however the coolest implementation we’ve seen was plucking metal chests from underwater and opening them. The third was what the game called “Stasis”. This enables Link to freeze items for various purposes from bridges needed to be crossed, and traps needed to be temporarily deactivated. But Stasis also offers an additional perk. Once an item is frozen, Link can begin to hack away at it which will trigger a yellow arrow that points at a direction – it will eventually turn red once hit enough times. As soon as the item is released from stasis, the item will go flying in the direction the arrow was pointing in. The demo showed a large boulder being shot what seemed like 100 ft in the air before landing somewhere far in the distance.

Another interesting tidbit about exploration was the colder areas ventured in the demo. If Link reaches a certain altitude when climbing, or finds himself into a snow covered area, he’ll start to shiver and loose health. That can be quickly remedied by putting on warmer clothing, but you may not always have some in tow. To weather the elements, Link has several options. He can, as stated before, consume food or potions that will make him temporarily impervious to cold, even if he ran around shirtless. He can also hang about a campsite until he figures out what he wants to do. Or he can even walk around with a torch which will keep him warm for as long as he has it equipped.

Everything mentioned here almost completely redefines The Legend of Zelda’s identity as an adventure game, adding depth to virtually every aspect of its formula.

Link is a Pyromaniac 

Zelda fire

What’s easily one of the most impressive systems introduced to Zelda is fire. Breath of the Wild boasts one of the most sophisticated fire propagation systems we’ve ever seen. Wood and grass is completely flammable, and is extremely destructive and dangerous if you’re not careful.

On one occasion in the demo, we saw a Bokoblin pass by his campfire, which caused his club to be set ablaze. Though it was unclear whether the Bokoblin deliberately set his club on fire, flaming weapons cause extra damage nonetheless, which makes these encounters very interesting. On another occasion, we saw Link shoot an explosive arrow at a Bokoblin camp. The explosion triggered surrounding red barrels to detonate as well, setting a massive chain reaction that wiped out all enemies at the camp. When the scorched campsite was approached, wooden weapons that were engulfed in the blast were burning in flames, showing just how sensitive flammable items are.

But none of these instances tops the most emergent moment seen in the demo. As Link came upon an abandoned campsite, the wind started to pick up, pushing all the grass in one direction. He then began cutting down small plants that sprouted right next to a campfire. The fallen plants then blew into the campfire, and once ignited, rolled into the grass behind, setting it on fire. As the wind continued to blow, the flames spread further and further, alerting a group of Bokoblins standing upon a cliff. This form of environmental interaction is rare in video games, and it was nothing short of impressive to see it in a Zelda title of all games.

Other Fun Details

Zelda wolf

The Treehouse presenters showed off the amiibo support that was announced for the game a few months prior. What was shown was the Wolf amiibo, used to summon a wolf companion mid game that’ll assist Link in defeating any enemies that dare to come near.

Another interesting fact was the announcement that Breath of the Wild can be played entirely on the Pro Controller. It’s worth noting because this could very well speak to the type of controller the NX will, or at least won’t have. Back when we got a first demo of Breath of the Wild in 2014, there was a lot more interaction with the Gamepad than was seen here. It’s a suspicious change when considering that Zelda was delayed to exist on both Wii U and NX.

All in all, the Nintendo Treehouse Stream of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was showed off far more than anyone bargained for, with new features that almost nobody predicted. The way in which Zelda leans so heavily into RPG systems such as equipping different weapons and brewing potions, is nothing anyone could have imagined being in a Zelda title. The amount of exploration mechanics introduced really shows that Nintendo is taking full advantage of its massive open world. There’s no telling if Nintendo will show Breath of the Wild outside of their NX reveal, but it may be a while before we see Zelda again; possibly not until it launches after the NX in March 2017.

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  • Faron

    “Not quite Skyrim, but close.”
    I know your intention was not to compare the games, but Skyrim looks like it was made by a bunch of amateur game designers compared to this.

    • Jamaal Ryan

      I did intent to compare the games actually, but only out of my “what if Zelda was like Skyrim” fandom. If Skyrim were to suffer from anything, it would be existing outside its means. There’s so much in the game, that it collapses under its own weight sometimes. However with Breath of the Wild, I can walk into this game with a lot more confidence that everything will work and be gratifyingly intuitive.