I've been eager to try out The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ever since its first screenshots graced video game magazines and publications years ago. It's always seemed so close, yet so far out of hungry audiences' reach. After seemingly endless delays, the game's release is finally upon us. With a just a week left, I'm here to offer up some early impressions.
What's it like playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild? How does it compare to Link's previous adventures across the long-running franchise? Judging by what I've seen so far, this is the breath of fresh air the series has sorely needed for the past few years.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Impressions: Aggressively different from past adventures
Breath of the Wild bucks series convention with a modern take on so many of the mechanics that make Zelda games unique. Where previous titles confined you to smaller spaces and a linear series of dungeons, here you're instead left to your own devices and free to explore the vast lands of Hyrule.
This is not a game that's intent on guiding you every step of the way. Instead, it's always gently pushing you forward in a familiar yet simultaneously alien, open-world environment that's yours for the taking. Nintendo famously promised that if you could see something in the distance in the game, you'd actually be able to go there. That's really true, but you may not always like what you find when you reach your destination.
For instance, you may reach that far-off mountain only to find you're unable to scale it because you don't have the right clothing or you haven't upgraded your hearts enough yet. However, in every such instance, you'll be able to return later on with the necessary items or skills and reach the top. That's part of what makes Breath of the Wild so special.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Impressions: Dungeons, shrines and a massive new map
Without spoiling any of the game's story — which should absolutely be left to players to unravel — know that there are plenty of familiar elements peppered throughout the game to counterbalance its newness.
For instance, instead of emerging victorious from massive dungeons, you can also explore shrines throughout the world meant as "tests of courage." Link is rewarded with special abilities when each shrine is cleared, along with a way to fast travel back and forth across the game's massive map. While traditional dungeons still appear in very unconventional ways, the shrines offer another dimension to the game that you'll be thankful for once you realize just how big Hyrule actually is.
Seriously, this map is huge. Thankfully, you have a map, which you can illustrate with your own special markers and leave notes for yourself as you explore.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Impressions: Choose your own adventure
Breath of the Wild also replaces the traditional linear gameplay with an open-world approach. Instead of one smaller goal at a time to accomplish, you receive larger, overarching goals to complete. It's up to you to decide how you finish them, as long as they all get done. If you accidentally tackle a tough area before you're strong enough, you'll have to make the choice to turn back and find another direction to try.
These are dangerous lands, and you have to be fighting fit to conquer them. Link's weapons take damage and break often. There are also several items and status effects you must manage in addition to rudimentary "where to go" challenges that stand glaring in front of you. Everything in the world, right down to the weather, affects Link's journey, and becoming accustomed to these small-yet-important changes can take some getting used to as well.
This is a living, breathing world, rife with wildlife, unusually crafty enemies and secrets to uncover sprinkled throughout every nook and cranny. If you get bored in one area, travel about 15 minutes north, south, east or west and you'll find something new. A couple dozen hours later, you'll still be exploring.
Breath of the Wild is the game that fans of the series have been waiting for and more. If you've been clamoring for a more challenging and complex Zelda for the last few years, you certainly won't be disappointed. Based on what I've seen so far, this very well could be the best one yet.
Check out more Nintendo Switch news and coverage
Check out our comparison photos sizing up the Switch to the Wii U GamePad, along with details on the console's price, release date, pre-orders, battery life and our hands-on review. If you're interested in the Nintendo Switch's games, here's info on the new Super Mario Odyssey, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, 1-2-Switch and the goofy boxing game Arms.