The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Preview
Nintendo delivered on their promise to bring a full day of their newest Zelda game at E3 2016. Each stream featured a great amount of footage focusing on different aspects of the gameplay, from exploration to combat. Nintendo kicked off with a gorgeous trailer of the game. Read on to find out more about the new gameplay, enhanced equipment system, exciting combat, expansive map, puzzle-filled Shrines, special Rune powers, unique aesthetics, and amiibo support. I’ll also be examining other things such as the voice in the trailer, where this is in the world, the Sheikah technology, and where this could possibly fit on the timeline. Get ready for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild!
Initial Gameplay Demo
The game demo begins with a female voice, speaking with full English voice acting! This is definitely an exciting change from all previous Zelda games, and will hopefully make the world feel richer. While she talks at the beginning and once another time to give Link a hint about where to go, she is generally quiet. There hasn’t been other voice acting so far besides Link’s usual grunts, and all other dialogue is displayed through the usual text boxes. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome change of pace to have real voice acting.
The voice tells Link to wake up, and we see a nearly naked Link submerged in a black tublike pod. It’s not clear where he is or why he was sleeping there, but he is told by the disembodied voice to activate a small obelisk, from which he gains the Sheikah Slate, an item resembling the Wii U GamePad that Link uses to look at maps and activate special powers.
Following this, some important things happen that teach gamers some crucial mechanics. First of all, there are treasure chests with some clothes for our bare hero. Link can now equip different tops and bottoms that give him more defense, which is a stat that wasn’t present in older Zelda titles. In the official trailer, Link can be seen wearing knight armor and later streams show Link wearing the iconic blue tunic from initial trailers. There appears to be a variety of clothes that affect his defense as well as how warm or cold he is.
A second big mechanic is that Link can finally jump with the press of a button! This mostly comes into play when jumping onto cliffs to climb them or when trying to reach items in trees. Regardless, it’s a huge upgrade for the usually earthbound hero. Scaling cliffs is also a big part, allowing you to go past the boundaries of where you could reach before. There is a stamina meter, represented by a depleting green circle. Similar to Skyward Sword, stamina decreases as you run and climb. Naturally, this means that there is a limit to how high you can go. Hopefully, there is a way to eventually increase stamina.
Link finally escapes the cave and runs towards a cliff. Accompanied by a beautiful piano track, Link reaches the edge of the cliff, and players are greeted with a wondrous view of the expansive environment. In the distance, you can see many mountains – a tribute to one of the original illustrations for The Legend of Zelda for the NES, in which Link stands on a cliff overlooking Hyrule. Other locations you can see in the distance include a vast forest, an old monastery, and what appears to be Death Mountain.
The screen shows you an old man walking towards a bonfire, then leaves you to your own desires. You could go to the old man, and the disembodied voice tells you that you might want to use your Sheikah Stone to find out where to go. But you are otherwise free to do whatever you want. Seriously. You can explore anywhere that you can see, and although the game demo is limited to the opening area, you may be able to go further in the full game. Even on the way to the old man, there are so many distractors, from trees and cliffs that you can climb to apples and mushrooms that sparkle, awaiting your attention.
This freedom is one of the best parts about Breath of the Wild. Like in the original NES LoZ, you can do anything. Of course, there is a path that you must ultimately follow to get through the game. Even then, like in the original and A Link Between Worlds, you can go at it in any order you like. Explore until you find a place of interest, then choose to conquer it now or wait until you’re better prepared. Additionally, you can play the game however you like, with a myriad of ways to solve puzzles or get through enemies. What items or abilities will you use to solve the puzzle? How far outside the box can you think using the resources you have? Do you sneak up on enemies, perform an all-out assault, or attack enemies from afar? Everything is your choice, and the wealth of actions you can perform in a single area is remarkable. And we’re only talking about the demo so far!
Finally, it’s amazing that the game does not start out with a proper tutorial as has been the recent trend with Zelda games. Instead, they give you an opening cave (without telling you what to do), and then throw you out into the world with vague hints about where you need to be. There is no partner like Navi or Midna, nor are there objectives constantly reminding you where to go. Just explore and figure it out yourself, because it’s a big world out there. This is just the injection of exploration this series needed, and I’m glad to see that the team is delivering on their promise to bring forth an expansive open-ended world!
Weapons and Items
Like in other open-world games, Link can now switch weapons with a few simple button presses. Different weapons have varying attack strengths, as to be expected. The bigger change is that Link can use a myriad of weapon types. Unlike in older Zelda games, these weapons are not subweapons, but rather a complete alternative to the sword. For example, Link can wield spears which have a longer reach and axes that can also chop down trees. He can throw certain weapons too, which can especially help if your weapons are on fire, in the case of flinging burning sticks.
As you use weapons, they eventually degrade, which is a bit unfortunate. However, weapons are quite plentiful in the world apparently, at least according to the demo. There are different weapons lying about in the many chests throughout the land, as well as swords just sitting on pedestals, awaiting your control.
Stealing enemies’ weapons is a mechanic that returns from The Wind Waker. Here, it’s as important as ever since you get to keep the dropped weapons. You can only keep a limited amount of weapons in your inventory. If your stock is full, you must drop or use up a weapon in order to pick up another. This constant item management may sound cumbersome, but it will likely become strategic and exciting as more new and exciting weapons open up.
Hunting and foraging will also be important, as they may be one of the few ways to regain health. Cutting grass and defeating enemies appear to no longer drop hearts. Instead, you must eat the items you collect, such as acorns, mushrooms, peppers, and meat. Each item gives you a certain amount of health, which is indicated in the item description. Ingredients can eventually be mixed and cooked to create new dishes. Raw ingredients net you less hearts, while well-cooked items can give you more health back. Specific foods provide other bonuses such as cold resistance. Other foods may even temporarily increase your max health, indicated by yellow hearts extending past your current maximum health gauge. Although no Heart Containers or Pieces of Heart were obtained during the demos, the amount of hearts that can be regained on some foods exceed the initial 3. This implies that there will still be ways to increase your maximum health. On a final note regarding items, Rupees were not seen once during any of the gameplay streams, indicating that they might not be necessary in this game. It would be interesting if this were the first Zelda game to not include Rupees.
Two other pieces of equipment are your sailcloth paraglider (similar to Skyward Sword’s) and shields. Using your paraglider, you can float away to far distances. Shields also function similarly to weapons, and you can find stronger shields as you progress. The real treat of shields this time around is using them as snowboards! Sliding down ramps with an item intended for defense is a fun touch.
Combat and Enemies
Combat is similar to other titles, with the classic L-Targeting system returning. Arrows appear above enemies that you can target. Once your sights are set on an enemy, you can perform the typical L-Targeting attacks such as jump attacks and backflips (as seen in the trailer). Although this iteration takes away the motion control combat of Skyward Sword, Link still attacks enemies with different angles of sword slices. He can also perform the iconic Spin Attack.
If Link attacks an enemy with perfect timing, he will activate a Flurry Rush, in which the enemy slows down for a moment, allowing Link to counter with a barrage of attacks. It’s not clear exactly what perfect timing means, but it’ll probably become easier to do with experience.
Enemies seen throughout the demos include Bokoblins (very common), Chuchus of different colors, and one-eyed Keese. There are many ways to take them down besides regular attacks. You can use a bow and arrow to take them out from afar, or even target explosive barrels to annihilate a group of foes. You can even roll boulders down cliffs to smash enemies as seen in the trailer. Enemies have interesting AI this time around, and will readily respond accordingly to your actions. If you are quiet, they may not notice you at all, but if you slip and make a tiny sound, they will have a question mark appear above their heads and search for the noise. Exclamation marks notify players that enemies have found you and are ready to respond. They don’t just stand around either. Some enemies will immediately head towards you, while some will try to surround you, hoping that its partners will do likewise. There will be plenty of enemy groups in the forms of camps and tree forts, and it will be interesting to see how the battles will differ based on the groups. You can use the Shiekah Slate to see an enemy’s current and maximum hit points, which helps to gauge whether you should engage it or not.
There are also bigger enemies, which are much stronger and have more hit points than the typical enemy. Two big enemies shown were the Steppe Talus, the golem seen in the trailer (who also gave the Treehouse their first Game Over), and the Guardian. The latter is an interesting creature featured prominently in the trailer as a technological being that shoots lasers. When you initially encounter them, they appear to be turned off and in ruin. However, they eventually awaken and cause havoc with their lasers and long tentacles. One of the first Guardians that appear in the demo sports an impressive 500 HP. For comparison, a scanned Bokoblin only had 13 HP.
Maps and HUDs
The map alone reveals that this is a huge game and the biggest Zelda overworld yet! Getting around will require strategic use of the new Sheikah Slate, the GamePad-like item that Link finds at the beginning of the demo. Using the Sheikah Slate’s Scope, you can look in first-person and examine landmarks that you see in the distance. You can place a pin on anything that you find interesting, and it will be marked with a red symbol on your map. The world is so massive that just because you pin something that you can see, it doesn’t mean it’s anywhere close to you. At one point, Treehouse pinned a tower that ended up being way past the opening area. Important areas receive special blue pins that allow you to fast-travel to those locations.
You can also place different stamps wherever you want on the map to remind you of important things. For instance, you may want to put a skull stamp on a big enemy that you can’t defeat yet and a treasure stamp on an area where there are chests that you can’t quite reach yet.
The demo only includes the Great Plateau (although Treehouse streamers did eventually start up games in areas outside of it). The Great Plateau alone looks bigger than Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Field, and there are many more huge areas that can just barely be seen on what little of the world map they’ve shown us. This extraordinarily massive world should please any fan of exploration.
The Great Plateau includes a wide array of locations and terrains, for what is considered a “smaller” area. From the map and gameplay, you can see Mt. Hylia in the southwest corner (an icy area that includes the highest peak in the plateau), the Forest of Spirits in the north, the Hylia River that goes past the left side of the plateau, and the Temple of Time. In particular, the Temple of Time appears to be a ruinous area with overgrown vines and seemingly dead Guardians. The end of the trailer shows the iconic Master Sword, somewhat rusted and sitting on an old pedestal. At the moment, it is unknown if it is in the Temple of Time, but it can be assumed that you’ll be able to get it at some point.
The heads-up display, or HUD, reveals some gameplay elements. On the lower right, there is a circular mini-map that shows where you’re going. An interesting change is that on the bottom of the map is the current in-game time. The game is heavily impacted by what time it is, such as a day/night cycle, temperature changes depending on what time it is, and enemies being asleep at certain times. The game follows a 24 hour day cycle, but 5 seconds of real time equate to 5 minutes of in-game time.
Just left of that are two smaller circles. The top one is a temperature gauge that can inform players if it may be too cold or hot for Link. If it’s too cold, Link can put on clothes (which one Treehouse streamer refused to do because she preferred shirtless Link!), or eat certain foods like Spicy Peppers that increase his cold resistance. Below that is a purple sonograph that records how much sound you’re currently making. This is important for measuring how stealthy you are when approaching enemies. This will likely also come into play if BotW follows the trend of having an obligatory stealth area.
Shrines and Runes
Breath of the Wild features both dungeons and shrines. The former was never shown on a stream, but was mentioned as being more or less a typical Zelda dungeon experience. Shrines, on the other hand, are new mini-dungeons that test your mettle with a certain type of puzzle or ability. The first 4 Shrines are not too long and only took Treehouse streamers about 10-15 minutes each, but later shrines will be longer. There are over 100 of these mini-dungeons, ensuring no end to those seeking puzzle-room gameplay.
The first 4 Shrines are required to obtain the sailcloth from the old man, but they can be attempted in any order. Within these beginner shrines, Link is able to update the Sheikah Slate with a Rune, or special ability that can be activated at will. Think of Runes like apps that can be downloaded onto a smartphone. The runes we saw were remote bombs, magnetic powers, ice pillar creation, and stopping time. These Runes are more versatile than they seem. For instance, Magnesis can be used to pick up metal slabs on the floor, open doors, and pull treasure chests towards you. Remote Bombs come in both round and cube forms, forcing you to choose whichever one works for a given situation. Creating ice pillars is a fun throwback to the Cane of Somaria, which allowed players to create blocks out of nothing in A Link to the Past. Through the Cryonis Rune, you can make a climbable pillar of ice emerge from water without the need for Ice Arrows. Finally, you can stop time for a single item using the Stasis Rune. An obvious use is stopping moving platforms and gears. However, Treehouse showed an interesting use as well. By wailing on the item in stasis, you can build up force applied to it. Once stasis expires on the item, it will go flying. It’ll definitely be exciting to see how these Runes impact gameplay and promote further exploration and shenanigans!
Graphics and Sound
The graphics look incredibly gorgeous so far, showing off a gouache painting style, signified by its opaque watercolors. It resembles an even more realized version of Skyward Sword’s graphics. The game comes alive with each item fitting into the world, and yet standing out so beautifully. The Treehouse team likened it to an artform called open-air painting, as if the artists sat down in front of an object and painted it in a real-world setting. There is a lot of attention to detail as well, with particles of soot falling down from the mountaintop and Link’s clothes dripping wet when emerging from water.
On the music side, BotW distinctly lacks it. Most of the time, you will only hear sound effects. Occasionally, pieces of music will play like the beautiful piano piece heard when Link first stands on the cliff’s edge and a sweet piece while Link is floating with his sailcloth. Music will also play during enemy battles, but it’s not as loud as in previous titles. In fact, the music is sometimes not that noticeable when immersed in gameplay. It’s as if the music just flows naturally, coming and going. This choice was made to account for everyone’s unique experience with the game. Everyone will play in a different style, and the musical pieces that play will represent that. Music will play during key moments, likely evoking emotions in players. The Treehouse promises an aural experience with music that will resonate and stand out when juxtaposed with the overall lack of music. As a fan of Zelda music, I firmly hope this is true.
There will be voice acting, and it will be for more than the woman from the beginning. Not every character will be voiced, as seen through the old men who only communicates via text boxes. However, there will be more voices, most likely main characters. Link will remain silent as usual, only making grunting noises and shouts.
Four amiibo were announced to be compatible with BotW. Three of them are brand new figurines created for the game and include “Archer Link,” “Rider Link,” and a “Guardian.” The Guardian will be the first amiibo to include posable parts (its tentacles). The functionality has not been revealed yet.
The 4th compatible amiibo is an already existing amiibo, Wolf Link. This amiibo originally came with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD for the Wii U. When scanned with BotW, Wolf Link will suddenly appear next to regular Link. In what is the cutest functionality of any amiibo, Wolf Link will fight alongside you, hunting for food while you run around. Your faithful wolf companion comes with 3 hearts, but you can increase that number based on how many hearts you have saved onto the amiibo when scanning it in Twilight Princess HD. Once Wolf Link dies, you must wait a full day in real life before scanning it again.
Theories & Analysis
Here, I will present some quick thoughts on questions and speculations based on my analysis of the gameplay and trailers. The following represents possibilities based on what already exists, but does not necessarily indicate the truth of what’s going on, as we lack pretty much all story information and a full game. This makes talking about it even more exciting, though!
Mysterious Female Voice
Starting off, who is that mysterious female voice who tells Link to wake up? The most obvious speculation is that it’s Zelda. In A Link to the Past, the game begins with Zelda crying to Link for help through some telekinetic power. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the same is happening here. The disembodied voice also seems to know that Link is the special light in the world who will shine throughout Hyrule. It could still be any other female sage or maiden, as in other Zelda games, but Zelda herself would be the most likely and probably best choice. Also, it’s interesting that she calls him Link. That would imply that you can’t change the name, since it’s already been voiced so clearly.
In fact, the bigger question is where is Link when he starts off the demo? Assuming this is also the start of the game, Link begins by opening his eyes. Lying nearly submerged in a black tub filled with water, it seems like he was sleeping for quite some time. Either that, or Link has some odd sleep habits. Link usually begins his games by waking up, but this is a unique case where he was sleeping inside of a cave. So why was he sleeping and how did he lock himself in that cave? Maybe he was put there, left in stasis until a certain time when he’d be needed. Perhaps this slumber was longer than a typical sleep. He may even be a Link from long ago (not necessarily from an older game, but a Link that was put to sleep until evil arose). Either way, he was woken up by a voice telling him to open his eyes, so that might have been the magic trigger to summon the Hero of Time.
Where in the World is Link?
We know that the game begins in the Great Plateau. We also know that this place is indeed known as Hyrule, according to the first old man Link encounters. However, where is the Great Plateau exactly? Brief glimpses of the map indicate that this is part of an area known as Central Hyrule and that the Temple of Time is an area within it. In Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and The Wind Waker, the Temple of Time is indeed somewhere around the middle (not perfectly so). Depending on where this is in the timeline, this is likely that same area, based on the Temple of Time’s location alone. There are other interesting areas on the Great Plateau like Mt. Hylia that are not accounted for on a regular map, and we don’t know exactly what lies outside. The exception is a mysterious black castle surrounded by pink mist. This is probably Ganon’s Castle, though it’s very unclear. Interestingly enough, there is a shadow monster with pink mist in the trailer, so perhaps that’s related to this mysterious castle’s surroundings.
Where does this fit on the timeline?
The Legend of Zelda timeline is extremely complicated, so this is written with the assumption that you know what the timeline looks like. Here are our big clues to figuring this out.
- There are old men that look very similar to the ones in the original Legend of Zelda for the NES.
- According to the old man, they are in Hyrule.
- Ganon, both the creature and the name, exist in this time.
- The Temple of Time is present, but in ruins.
- Guardians seem to represent old technology, similarly to the robots from Skyward Sword.
- The Sheikah Slate and symbol exist, representing technology again as well as the presence of the Sheikah.
- The Master Sword is in the trailer, and is rusted.
- A location that resembles Eldin Bridge appears in the trailer.
- Koroks, the cute leaf creatures from The Wind Waker,
The final clue alone is huge enough to narrow it down, but let’s look at the other clues as well. The old men in this game (and the fact that there is a reference to an original NES Zelda illustration within the first few minutes of the game) appear to be throwbacks to the original Legend of Zelda. It makes sense given the open-world gameplay of BotW and its insistence on making players feel like they’re playing a fully realized 3D version of the classic game. So although it feels like it could just be along the timeline of the original games, it’s hard to say judging just based on that.
Ganon exists in this timeline, so it is most likely after Ocarina of Time, since Ganon in his recognizable pig form (or thief form) has never been in a game before OoT in the timeline. This makes it complicated, since there are three alternate branches following OoT, but it helps to know that our favorite pigman is already well-known.
The Temple of Time’s presence helps confirm this, since it has also not been in a game preceding OoT. It has only been in the child and adult timeline branches so far, in The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess (in ruins and in past form) respectively. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be in the timeline in which the hero dies. However, there are already so many games in that timeline without the Temple that it’s likely that Ganon destroyed it upon winning during Ocarina of Time. The Master Sword is rusted in the trailer. Although the Temple of Time is also in ruins and filled with overgrown vines in Twilight Princess, the Master Sword seemed pretty nice and pristine when Link picked it up in that game. In contrast, The Wind Waker had a world of ruin already, and there was no chance any regular Joe was going to get the Master Sword. This is due to the hero being forgotten, which I’ll come back to in a second.
The Sheikah race exists, based on the fact that there is a key item known as the Sheikah Slate. The Sheikah race has always protected Princess Zelda, starting with Impa in Skyward Sword. However, we don’t regularly see Sheikah in games following Ocarina of Time. We do see Impa sometimes, but she is never confirmed to be a Sheikah in games following OoT. Based on the Sheikah Slate’s importance and the fact that everyone at Nintendo is wearing a shirt with the Sheikah symbol on it, they are probably important in the game, and we will likely learn more about it. Thus, it doesn’t help us at the moment to know about the Sheikah.
What is more useful is the fact that both the Sheikah Slate and Guardians seem to represent old technology. We saw technology in Skyward Sword through the Ancient Robots, which could only be activated in the past. Even in the first confirmed game in the timeline, robots were considered ancient technology. What’s most mysterious is the fact that the Sheikah Slate and Guardians appear to be working in this point in time with seemingly no explanation. As established before, the game could not take place before Skyward Sword, so an explanation for this technology is unclear.
Our final two clues reflect two completely different timelines. The place resembling Eldin Bridge, from Twilight Princess is seen briefly in the trailer. Koroks, leaf creatures from The Wind Waker are seen throughout the livestream gameplay. It’s unclear whether it is the Eldin Bridge, and it wouldn’t be unheard of if something like the Eldin Bridge also existed in the Wind Waker timeline. Plus, Koroks are living forest spirits that were only in The Wind Waker, making somewhere in that timeline the probable answer.
As to when exactly it takes place, there are two possibilities. It could be sometime following The Wind Waker/Phantom Hourglass saga, in a world where land has finally come back, ripe for exploring. There are 100 years that take place in-between PH and its sequel, Spirit Tracks, so it’s entirely possible we’re looking at the rebirth of Hyrule (you know, before they added trains). The name Breath of the Wild implies wild exploration and what’s wilder than venturing through an unknown land. My initial thought while watching the streams was that this could be directly following Skyward Sword in which a new Link is exploring the unknown land of Hyrule. However, that contradicts every paragraph before this, so this is the other land to pioneer.
BotW could also theoretically take place before The Wind Waker, highlighting the downfall of Hyrule before the water appears. This makes a little less sense to me since the reason Ganon took over the world in that timeline was because adult Link wasn’t there to stop him anymore. So unless BotW has a tragic end, this seems less likely. Plus Koroks already exist, and I assume that they and the Rito tribe (also from TWW) came to be after Hyrule was flooded.
One thing to note is that they have confirmed that there will be towns and people in the game, but that it would spoil the story. Perhaps it would be spoiled because these would all be upstart towns. It might reveal that people are just looking for places to inhabit. This is all theory, but this is why I believe the proper place in the timeline for Breath of the Wild is between Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks when the land of Hyrule returned to the world.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is slated for March 2017 and will release for both the Nintendo Wii U and Nintendo NX consoles. There are no indications that they will be different. By next year, many players will be able to experience this absolutely massive game, filled with the open-world that producer Eiji Aonuma has always promised. It is yet unknown how expansive the world will be, but given the map and the incredible length of the demo for a singular area, this game will be packed to the brim with content. And that content will be amazing, with lots of unique weapons, puzzle-filled shrines and dungeons, fun Runes that change the game, and a story that unfolds itself as you learn about the lore. Backed by gorgeous graphics and beautiful piano pieces, this game is already primed to be amazing.
Most importantly, the game looks fun! Everyone at Treehouse Live was just enjoying the game, whether using runes to make mischief or just doing wacky things on screen. The sky’s the limit for this game, and you can play it however you want. That’s the best part about it. I look forward to diving into this open world, speculating about this iteration of Hyrule, and experiencing the largest game in The Legend of Zelda franchise with you when the game finally releases!