One of the biggest upcoming Wii U and Nintendo Switch games is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo pulled the lid off the game at E3 by streaming hours of footage to anyone who wanted to take a look at how it’s shaping up. What’s clear to longtime fans is that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild represents a major departure for the series in a number of important ways. This isn’t the Zelda you grew up playing. This one is much bigger and deeper.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is good news for fans. If you want to play a traditional Zelda game, you have your pick of over a dozen titles released across all Nintendo platforms over the past 30 years. With this new one, Nintendo is making what might be its most ambitious game ever.
To tide us over until we can get our hands on Breath of the Wild in 2017, let’s look at the ways it breaks with the series’ traditions.
1. A true open world
The worlds in previous Zelda games have had varying degrees of openness, but they’ve never come close to the size and freedom offered by Breath of the Wild. According to the developers, the sprawling area shown in the demo represents just one percent of the game’s full size. Put another way, Breath of the Wild will be 12 times larger than the previous holder of “largest Zelda game ever” award, Skyward Sword.
Not only that, but the game is apparently so open that, immediately after starting it, you can go directly to confront the final boss, skipping everything else that’s supposed to happen in between. That leaves tons of room for player choice, something we haven’t seen very much of in Zelda games past.
Although Breath of the Wild will feature the kinds of big, puzzle-filled dungeons we’ve come to expect in Zelda games, it will also have over 100 shrines, which are basically mini-dungeons. Shrines will have puzzles to solve and enemies to defeat, and will reward players with treasure or even new skills for completing them.
3. Crafting and cooking
Zelda games practically defined what an action RPG was for over two decades. But in recent years, other games like The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher have added to the formula far more than Zelda games. So it’s no surprise that Nintendo has taken Breath of the Wild as an opportunity to play catch-up on things that have become standard in the genre, like crafting and cooking.
Instead of finding hearts to replenish your lost health, Link now has to rely on his survival skills, which include picking up things like apples, mushrooms, and meat, and cooking them into consumables that can heal him or give him helpful status effects.
4. Item degradation
In previous Zelda games, once you found an item, it was yours for the rest of the game. That’s not so in Breath of the Wild, thanks to item degradation. Your swords and shields will gradually deteriorate as you use them, eventually breaking and becoming useless.
The purpose of this new system seems to be to keep players experimenting with new weapons. Enemies drop weapons left and right in this game, so you’ll never find yourself far from a new one you can pick up and use to wallop enemies.
5. Physics and weather
Physics play a large role in the new Zelda. You can drop heavy items onto enemies to hurt them. You can start a fire in a field of grass and watch it spread. You get a magnet that lets you drag around metallic objects. You can climb up cliffs and use your shield as a sled to slide down hills. You can even climb onto giant enemies, Shadow of the Colossus-style, to attack their weak spots.
The game also has weather conditions that interact realistically with the game world. If it starts raining, it will put out fires. If it storms, you’ll see lightning strike metallic items around you. When you ascend a snowy mountain, you’ll need to dress in something warm or your health bar will drain. The level of environmental interaction looks far more intricate and realistic than in any other Zelda games.
6. Multiple solutions to puzzles
Puzzles in most Zelda games take place in tightly controlled areas, and can be solved with only one solution. That’s not necessarily the case in Breath of the Wild. Since it’s an open-world game with a fully functional physics engine, the puzzles you’ll find will often have many possible solutions. All it takes is a bit of creativity and a willingness to try.
7. Finally, a jump button
Link can jump in some of the previous Zelda games, but it almost always happens automatically when you dash off a ledge. In Breath of the Wild, players can finally press a button to make Link jump anytime they want.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the last major game coming to Wii U and one of the biggest games expected in the first year of the Nintendo Switch’s life. Nintendo has a lot riding on it, and it’s clear the company no longer feels bound by the series’ tradition. It remains to be seen if the whole game will be fun to play and explore, but so far it’s looking good.