The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is out today on Nintendo Switch (and Wii U), and after a week exploring the vast kingdom of Hyrule, it’s clear that this is the most ambitious game in the series’ 31-year history.
I’ve put about 30 hours into the open-world adventure, and although I had planned on having a review ready for launch, I keep getting distracted from the main quests with all of the wonderful side activities available. Rather than rushing through what is clearly a monumental game, I’m choosing to savor my time with it and will review it when I feel I’ve significantly experienced all it has to offer. But for those who are picking it up today with a Nintendo Switch (see our review of the console-portable hybrid), here are five big takeaways on what to expect.
1. It’s a truly enormous open world
The switch to an expansive open world is the biggest change to the Zelda formula since Ocarina of Time transitioned the series into 3D in 1998. From the opening moments when Link awakens after a long slumber, you’re pretty much free to explore the entirety of Hyrule. See that mountain in the distance? You can walk there… it just might take you awhile. From arid deserts to grassy plains to freezing forests, you’ll traverse a wide variety of stunning, fantastical environments.
2. It’s the most striking art style since Wind Waker
The Switch may not be as powerful as PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, but you quickly forget that when you jump off a cliff and glide over a beach, watching the waves crash silently in the distance. The highly stylized art is like a Studio Ghibli take on fairytales, and it’s absolutely dripping with personality. Everything from Link himself to the enemies and animals wandering Hyrule are beautifully animated and make Hyrule feel like it’s teeming with life.
3. It’s really difficult
Breath of the Wild isn’t exactly the Dark Souls of Zelda games, but it’s definitely the toughest game in the series. Because of the open nature of the world, you’re free to venture into areas that you are ill-equipped to handle. And you don’t realize it until a Moblin smacks you with a club and completely drains your hearts in one strike. I died more times in my first five hours of the game than the entirety of the last entry, Skyward Sword. Fortunately, the checkpointing system is generous and never feels too punitive, simply respawning you around the area you died and placing a red X mark on your map, so you know to avoid the area until you’re better equipped for battle.
4. It’s a different take on dungeons
Breath of the Wild breaks with the traditional Zelda formula in its approach to dungeons. Rather than the eight to 10 main dungeons of previous games, it offers four much larger main quests but litters the world with more than 100 mini-dungeons called Shrines. Each Shrine is a smaller room with a central puzzle that tests your skills at using Link’s many items and abilities and rewards you with a Spirit Orb. Not only are these Shrines cleverly designed and fiendishly addictive, but Spirit Orbs can be used to gain additional hearts and stamina, which will prove absolutely essential in Link’s journey.
5. It’s about the journey, not the destination
The first time I started a main quest, I died half a dozen times in about 10 minutes and quickly realized that I simply wasn’t equipped to handle it yet. So I did something that made me incredibly uncomfortable and abandoned the mission. Fortunately, I had a dozen other side missions I had yet to start and quickly forgot about my failure. That’s the beauty of the game’s ecosystem: Everything you do rewards you with something that will help you in the future. There is no wasted time. I may not be ready for that mission yet, but you better believe that when I eventually do go back, I’ll be better prepared. In the meantime, there’s too much to see and do to worry about it. Hm, maybe this is why my review isn’t ready yet…