The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is different. I don’t mean simply that it’s a new Zelda game in a new take on Hyrule with new characters and a few new items.
No, almost from the ground up, this game is different. Here, off the top of my head, I’ll run down just a few of the mechanical changes I can think of.
Link can climb almost anything. Trees, castle walls, rock faces, you name it. If it’s a surface in Breath of the Wild, Link can climb it. The person helping during my demo said that the only things Link can’t climb were designed not to be climbable. How high he can climb depends on his stamina, a meter that’s almost exactly like the one we saw in Skyward Sword.
Weapons and shields wear down and break. Certainly, you’ll eventually get a proper Hylian Shield and, perhaps, a Master Sword that will last forever, but throughout the entire 40 minutes I played, every item wore down with use. The fact that weapons break means that the ability to use enemy weapons, something I believe was introduced with Wind Waker, is actually a mechanic that you’ll have to use.
Hearts will no longer be found in grass. Instead, you’ll need to hunt or forage for food in order to gain life back. Even better, if you want more life from a food, you’ll need to cook it over a flame or in a pot. This one’s a twofer, I guess. There’s cooking in Breath of the Wild.
There’s a sound meter that’s required for genuine stealth. Now, I don’t think this game will feature old school Splinter Cell levels of sneaking, but there’s a sound meter on the HUD at all times that shows how much noise you’re making. If you want to sneak up on or past enemies, you’ll need to crouch and watch your sound meter so that you don’t make too much noise. This goes beyond just simple segments like in Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker. I was told stealth is a genuine piece of this game.
There’s also a thermometer on your HUD at all times. Link’s gonna get hot and cold, and you’ll actually need to manage his clothing to stay comfortable in these environments. That means swapping pieces of an outfit in order to stay warm.
You can surf down hills on your shield while firing arrows at bad guys. I’ll stop counting with this one, though there are more. If you hold your shield out in front of you while on top of a hill, you can jump up in the air with X and press A to toss your shield under your feet. From there, you’ll shield surf down the hill. You can use your bow or shield and use the time to attack enemies, if you want. The downside? This wears down your shield, and it can break while you’re surfing. I’m speaking from experience.
There’s other stuff, both major and minor. Link has minor dialogue choices in conversation, there’s loot everywhere and the game packs 100 Shrines for you to explore. Shrines are like mini dungeons, though I’m not sure if they’re replacing dungeons altogether or simply an addition to the game to go along with standard dungeons and temples.
If you watched the livestream presentation, you probably noticed some odd framerate stutters. I saw them during the stream as well. In play, I didn’t encounter that at all. It might be that I was in an area with less enemies or objects in the immediate environment, but the demo build was solid enough that I never thought, “yuck, framerate.” I didn’t notice it, which likely means it was good.
As for the size of the game. It’s hard to extrapolate exactly how big Breath of the Wild is based on the tiny slice I played. We were restricted to a single piece of the world, though they showed us how big the rest of the world was by opening our world map and zooming out. Yes, it’s big. The full open world map is roughly 12 times the size of Twilight Princess, and the space I was in was pretty huge. I barely scratched the surface of in this demo represented 1% of the full game’s size, according to the person with me. That’s nuts. After 40 minutes of play, I hadn’t even seen it all.
There are some Zelda fans who have been clamoring for the franchise to change things up. They want a new approach to classic mechanics, but they want the core of Zelda to remain the same. It seems that Eiji Aonuma and company are taking that approach with Breath of the Wild.
I’ll say this: I normally walk away from almost an hour with a game feeling like I understand its scope and mechanics fairly well. With Zelda? I dig that Breath of the Wind is so immense and new that, as someone who’s played just about every single Zelda game since I was old enough to hold a controller, I still don’t fully understand it. It feels like Zelda, but it’s different.
Now I’m sitting here thinking about what it will look like on the NX, and that’s got me excited for a whole different slew of reasons.