Chances are if you’re reading this, it’s not going to affect your decision to buy the game. If you own a Switch, you probably already bought it the moment it came out, and why wouldn’t you? This is most likely the game of the year and the awaited sequel to the massively successful Breath of the Wild. But it’s my time and space to get to talk about it so please enjoy my ramblings.
Four years ago we were treated to a trailer for this game showing Link and Zelda delving into deep catacombs with sinister music and a strange ominous substance seeping from the depths. There they found a desiccated body with a strange glowing hand clutching its chest. Then the body’s head turned to the viewer and its eyes glowed. For those that had been playing many Zelda games the clothes this figure wore gave his identity away, Ganondorf. While we had seen Ganon many times, we hadn’t seen his human form Ganondorf since Twilight Princess and instantly we were met with lots and lots of fanart of a rehydrated version of this figure… which was all we had for some time as they really spent a long time working on this one.
So anyway, 4 years later and finally the game is in hand and played, and completed (though still a lot I can do, just I beat the final boss and got the full ending). The game opens up without a start or new game right into the events of that first trailer. Of note link clearly 100 % Breath of the Wild… or at least all the shrines (no word if he got the golden poop) as you walk with Zelda into the depths. A strange gloom has been leaking out from beneath Hyrule Castle which on contact drains the life from people. Well once you find Ganondorf, he instantly knows who you are, sends a wave of darkness at you which removes all but 3 hearts from Link, shatters the Mastersword and really messes up Link’s arm. Zelda falls into a pit, vanishing, while Link tries and fails to catch her. The arm that had been holding Ganondorf grabs Link. Then we see big earthquakes hitting Hyrule.
Waking up in an odd shrine Link finds that the strange arm is now attached to him… and he’s on a bunch of flying islands. This is the proper opening area of the game, similar to the Plateau from Breath of the Wild, though I find this place MUCH better and more interesting. Going to the large building at the edge you are met with the ghost of the arm, Rauru. He will get Link to visit the shrines on the island that also work to unlock the core abilities of the arm, replacing the core abilities you got from the sheikah slate in the old game.
These new abilities like; fusing objects together, fusing items to weapons and shields, reversing time and ascending through objects, result in… well you just need to look through YouTube at all the crazy things people have done with this game. This is most true with ability to fuse objects together, most notably various zonai devices to make… well lots of crazy stuff. Oh, you think putting some logs together to make a raft is inventive? people have made orbital death lazers!
The new starting area is notably more linear than the great plateau but I feel that’s to its strength. There is still a lot of exploring to do and it took me several hours just to complete that opening experience and get back to the surface. And I didn’t care how long it took as I was having a blast, that’s how good the opening is.
The game builds on the core mechanics of Breath of the Wild and with ONE exception exceeds them considerably. Yes, once you get down to Hyrule you will… get killed very easily while exploring as you inevitably stumble on something that can kill you very quickly and weren’t prepared for. But there is just so much you can do. Much like the opening area, the game is much more linear.. in the sense as far as I’m aware you can’t just run up to the final boss right away. No there are some important story beats you need to go through first. Most notably the new dungeons WHICH yes there are proper dungeons unlike those divine beasts and the bosses in them are vastly VASTLY improved.
Playing through the game you will find the weapon fusing is VITAL against enemies as just regular weapons on their own are rather… poor. Defeated enemies will drop items you can use to combine with weapons and finding strong drops and combining them with the weapons is a must to take on stronger foes. Sadly, weapon durability is back but I felt with the right fuses they were less prone to break right away… still too easily broken though but you do get some weapons with durability bonuses and that’s nice.
Clothes you still have to find and upgrade like the last game. You can buy them (get the Hylian set the moment you get to town, the stuff you wore on the island isn’t strong enough to keep you alive down there) find some hidden in chests around the game, or some from side quests. These are once again upgraded through the great faeries but to get them you need to do their own little side quests but is mostly the same (note get this done as soon as possible too, get them upgraded at least twice before doing major content)
The map of this game is huge. While Hyrule itself has not had too major a change since BOTW mainly some things fell from the sky so some parts of the map are a little different, it’s not in any huge geographical way. NO, the reason it’s so big is… you have essentially 3 maps now. The one in the sky with floating islands, you have to work out how to get to those. And the depths. Diving into these ominous holes in the ground will send you to this dark area deep beneath Hyrule. And when you go there, it’s not a welcoming place. There is no light at first so you have to find ways to light your way and there’s lots of gloom here which will cut off your maximum number of hearts till you return to the surface. What’s more, all the enemies down there are covered in gloom, so their attacks cut off your maximum hearts too! It does a great job of making you feel not welcome down there, in a good way.
The one downside I can say about the game is the new abilities you get from clearing the main dungeon are a notable step down from the last games. While one is incredibly useful for exploring (especially sky exploring) they are all considerably more frustrating to use, especially when in combat.
The best way to describe this game fundamentally is how Majora’s Mask is to Ocarina of Time. You take the core game but build another from it which has allowed many improvements. The new kinds of exploration require inventive use of the new abilities that will give you a smirk when you do something clearly not in the way the game makers intended, but nothing can stop that spirit of exploration once it started, well except maybe a 3 headed dragon.. or silver lynel… you learn to take those on later.