As a day one Wii U owner whose purchase was largely informed by the promise of an HD Zelda, the last few years have been wildly frustrating for me. Delays, limited information, confused messaging and an eventual delay to a cross generation release plan.
After years of waiting, I finally sat down with Zelda, Breath of the Wild today at E3 and I was overall excited about what I saw. A radical shift to inventory management, a world given a techno twist, a drastically minimised tutorial and a wide open world were all incredibly exciting, but controller button layout, poor frame rate and certain arbitrary limits on character ability hampered my enthusiasm.
Link’s newest adventure wastes no time kicking off. You wake up near naked in a weird techno cave, grab a mystical Wii U tablet from a pedestal, grab some clothes and rush out into a bright wide open world.
Youre initially guided through the game by a disembodied Female voice, assumed but not confirmed to belong to Zelda. While I assumed this meant Nintendo were finally getting on board with VO, I very quickly discovered that most NPCs are still silent text box speakers. The new Zelda is certainly not fully voice acted.
Clothing, equipment and weapons in Breath of the Wild are all able to be collected from defeated enemies, and are thrown at the player thick and fast. Playing from the start of the game I collected four items of clothing, two different types of bow, two different swords and two different types of club in the first fifteen minutes of play.
Each of these weapons features different movesets, from a claymore that could be charged for a slow heavy swing finished with an overhead smash to clubs which where far faster and more adept, but took additional hits to do damage and were far less durable.
While switching between weapons on the fly was relatively easy, the UI instructions for how it was done were confusing and I had to ignore visual instructions to operate the menu properly.
Healing in BotW is no longer handled by hearts dropped by enemies or found in cut grass, with healing now instead handled via food consumption. Killing pigs provides steaks which can be cooked, apples can be picked from trees and mushrooms can be picked from the ground for consumption. While this allowed a far higher number of healing items to be stacked up at once, it made healing mid combat encounter more difficult.
Important to note, at no point did picking up a new item trigger any fanfare. I was not forced to sit through descriptions of every new items I came across.
So, let’s get one of my big criticisms out of the way. Fuck stamina meters in games, and particularly fuck the stamina meter implementation in the beginning of this game.
Links basic jogging speed is a tad shy of what I ideally want it to be, and his sprinting speed feels great. I want to sprint constantly, but am unable to. If you run out of stamina you also lose your ability to swim, so if you sprint into a puddle you could just hit the water and instantly die. That’s a load of rubbish.
Also of note, the run button and the new jump button are B and X, which are not next to each other. I had to stretch my fingers into very awkward positions to sprint into a leap.
So, how does Zelda look on the Wii U? Well the resolution and graphic style of the game are amazingly solid, with link providing perhaps the most characteristic expression of any incarnation to date. Draw distances are impressive and new enemy designs are fantastic spins on established enemy types.
Where the E3 demo visually suffers is framerate consistency. The demo saw considerable slowdown in areas where more than a few enemies were swarming alongside a fast moving attack animation, which was considerably distracting. The frame dips you saw on Nintendo’s live stream were the game on Wii U, not a problem with the stream.
While there is still optimisation time, it’s unusual for Nintendo to allow people to play a game while it’s still so rough around the edges. I really hope it’s not a sign the game is aimed at NX rather than Wii U.
The overworld itself was fairly empty, but the terrain in the opening area was interesting and landmark filled enough to feel like time traversing was valuable. Areas like the Temple of Time can be found early on, which while not necessary for progression through the demo was a nice reward for exploration.
Overall, I had a really good time with Breath of the Wild. The switched up inventory and equipment system changes made a lot of sense, the short time to open gameplay was appreciated, and I felt like in many regards this is finally a modern feeling Zelda game. I just really hope that the frame rate gets sorted and that the controller layout can be tweaked a little.