The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was first officially acknowledged to be in development for the Wii U during the Nintendo Direct on January 23, 2013 and shortly before E3 2016 the title was announced to be released on the Nintendo Switch as well. Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has spoken about how the game's design was based on addressing key issues brought up by fans over the years and rethinking the conventions of the franchise.
Breath of the Wilds was developed by Nintendo EPD, with assistance from Monolith Software, and, after many delays, was released simultaneously for both systems during the Nintendo Switch's launch day on March 3, 2017.
Little is known about the story so far. Link is awoken by a disembodied voice and finds himself in a mysterious chamber after being asleep for 100 years. He is given the Sheikah Slate, a technological device that resembles a Wii U GamePad. After putting on some clothes, he leaves the cave and the mysterious voice tells him to go to the place marked on his Sheikah Slate map which ultimately leads him to the first Resurrection Tower. There, Link is told about the grave situation the land of Hyrule is faced with and which is the reason he was torn from his sleep. Calamity Ganon has been ravaging the land for 100 years and has almost gained full power which would lead to total destruction of the land. Until now, Calamity Ganon has been contained Hyrule Castle area, where he can be seen circling the towers in his misty form. Link has been called to this apocalyptic event.
After leaving the cave he woke up in on the Great Plateau, Link comes across an Old Man who claims to have lived there for a long time and seems to know more than he lets on. After Link activates the first Resurrection Tower, the Old Man provides Link with his first mission incentive in the form of the Paraglider which is the only thing Link is able to leave the Great Plateau starting area with since it is isolated from the rest of Hyrule by steep cliffs.
The game is officially referred to as an "Open-Air Adventure" which refers to the game's take on the Open-World design as well as the art style inspirations from the French plein air painting style (describing the act of painting outdoors and depicting the visual as-is in that very moment). Hyrule is presented as a seamless open-world that players can traverse almost fully right form the start. Natural borders such as extreme weather conditions or geographic obstacles will make certain areas harder to reach without specific items or the appropriate gear.
Breath of the Wild also features a full day/night cycle with one minute of real-world time equaling one hour of in-game time. Depending on the time of day, enemy and wildlife behavior might change. Some enemies will sleep at night and, as in previous games, Stalchildren will emerge from the ground between at night time. The temperature also drops at night. Different insects and other animals might be present during different times of the day.
Additionally, the game also has dynamic weather. Heavy rainfall can hinder Link's climbing ability since scaling slippery walls will require more stamina. Combat might become more dangerous during a lightning storm since metal swords attract lightning and can hurt the one wielding it. However, this can be exploited if the enemy is wielding a sword in such a situation.
While Link can affect the environment by burning fields of grass or chopping down trees, these effects are not permanent and the greenery will regrow over time (however, it is not immediate so a chopped down tree will stay that way for an unspecified amount of time).
Breath of the Wild introduces numerous new gameplay systems into the Zelda series, heavily expands on some elements found in certain previous titles, and removes many tried and true series conventions from its bag of tricks.
Navigation & Traversal
One of the most notable new additions is Link's ability to climb nearly everything in the world. Trees, buildings, steep cliffs, rocks, even certain enemies. Part of this newfound freedom of movement is the return of the stamina meter introduced in Skyward Sword which determines for how long Link can hold onto a surface. The meter can be refilled, however, by consuming food or elixirs even while climbing.
The addition of climbing brought about the first time that the 3D Zelda games introduce a dedicated manual jump button. Now, players can jump around as they like and use that to make the most out of a long climb or integrate it into their combat style.
Naturally, fast travel returns for Breath of the Wild as well. Link can fast travel by selecting any shrine he has previously visited and activated or any of the Towers of Resurrection on his Sheikah Slate.
Combat & Weapons
Combat generally works like it did in pre-Skyward Sword Zelda games, meaning it is button-based and relies on blocking, dodging, and hitting an enemy's weak spot. New in this game is a Bullet Time mechanic either executed via a Perfect Dodge, Perfect Block, or by jumping off an elevated ground and using the bow and arrow. With time slowed down, Link can execute a Flurry Rush in the former two scenarios which allows him to get a barrage of hits in while the enemies are unable to react. The latter lets Link carefully aim a shot with an arrow while suspended in mid-air after jumping from an elevation or even horseback.
While Link was able to pick up enemy weapons in other games such as The Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild takes it to a whole new level with a full-on weapon loot system that includes a variety of weapon types with unique properties and varying strengths. Link can pick up swords, axes, bows and arrows (with various kinds of arrows), spears, tree branches, and elemental rods (based on the E3 demo) either from enemies or from chests. Some weapons can also be found out in the open (like a woodcutters ax being stuck in a tree trunk).
An important factor in this new weapon economy is the fact that weapons have durability now, meaning they break after being used a number of times. While an upgrade system involving the orbs gained from completing Shrines is confirmed, it is still unclear if there are permanent versions of items or if how exactly can be made more resilient through enhancements.
- One-handed swords (short sword, sickle sword)
- Two-handed swords (claymore)
- Blunt weapons (enemy limbs, tree branch, club)
- Spear-types (lance, pitchfork)
- Ranged weapons (bows, magic rod)
A notable additional use for shields is that Link can jump up in the air and press the shield button which then makes him stand on his shield and glide down slopes as if riding a snowboard. However, this damages the shield and it can break in the process.
Returning from The Wind Waker is the ability to throw weapons. While in that game Link could only throw weapons he picked up from enemies, he can now throw all of his weapons since they are all picked up in the environment. Throwing a weapon at an enemy will do twice as much damage so a executing a well-aimed throw just before the weapon is about to break anyway is a highly effective combat strategy.
Runes & Items
In Breath of the Wild, Link doesn't simply find the important items required to progress inside of chests hidden away in dungeons. In this game, there are two groups of things Link can add to his arsenal: Runes and more traditional items. Runes are tied to the Sheikah Stone and are acquired through trials inside of one of the over 100 shrines found all over Hyrule (not all of them grant Runes, of course).
The four known Runes so far are
- Bomb (separated into round and cube-shapes, both of which can be remotely detonated)
- Magnesis (a magnet with which Link can manipulate metallic objects)
- Stasis (letting players freeze moving objects in place or lock static movements which can then be hit and charged with kinetic energy until they're unlocked and then shoot off in the desired direction with all the built-up energy)
- Cryonis (creates an ice pillar out of any puddle of water)
More traditionally acquired items are, for example, the Paraglider which is given to Link by the Old Man after completing the first four Shrines. Temporary items such as the Korok Leaf (a new take on the Deku Leaf) occasionally drop after cutting down a tree. Korok Leafs can be swung to produce gusts of wind which in turn can be used to blow wind into the sail of a raft, for example.
Hunting & Gathering
While previous Zelda games featured food items and loot drops from enemies and the occasional wildlife, Breath of the Wild goes all-in on a full hunting and gathering system. Like in Skyward Sword (and to a lesser degree, The Wind Waker), enemies drop items like fangs or horns upon defeat. Animals roaming the environment do the same. Food also grows on trees or other appropriate areas. Link can collect all of these things and consume most of them to restore health.
These items collected in the wild, gained through hunting animals, or earned through combat with enemies, can all be used with a brand new cooking mechanic. Cooking up various items may yield dishes that restore large amounts of health or elixirs that grant temporary buffs (such as speed, stamina, noise reduction, weather resistance).
As was announced during the Twilight Princess HD reveal, the Wolf Link amiibo released alongside that game will have a special function if data from Twilight Princess HD is brought into Breath of the Wild. Tapping the Wolf Link amiibo in Breath of the Wild will cause a Wolf Link companion to appear in the game. Wolf Link will assist Link in combat and hunting until he loses all of his hearts. Players who completed the Cave of Shadows in Twilight Princess HD will be able to transfer their leftover heart count to Wolf Link which will then be reflected in the actual heart count of Wolf Link in Breath of the Wild.
Additionally, three original amiibo will be released alongside Breath of the Wild but their functionality has not been revealed yet:
- Link (Archer)
- Link (Rider)
Aonuma has stated in numerous interviews that he and the team behind the game are putting emphasis in "rethink[ing] the conventions of Zelda." In the January 2013 Nintendo Direct specifically, Aonuma called out the linear story progression and single-player-only gameplay in particular as being ripe for a fresh approach. The team is "setting aside" these conventions and wants to go "back to basics" to create a "reborn" Zelda game for Wii U. Aonuma also mentioned they were already trying to do this a bit with Skyward Sword but were unable to circumvent the linear design of the game at the time.
At E3 2013, Aonuma mentioned that part of the reason work was done to port The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker to the Wii U was to use the game as a practice run and gain experience in HD game development. Nintendo considered showing the new Wii U Zelda game at E3, but chose to wait and continued development before unveiling it a year later.
The game was finally revealed at E3 2014 during Nintendo's Digital Event. Aonuma introduced the game by explaining their goal to build a modern Zelda title with a completely open world inspired by the nature of the original The Legend of Zelda, discarding the more restrictive hub world nature of games such as Ocarina of Time. The goal is to allow players to explore the world and to approach aspects such as dungeons from multiple angles. The puzzles become figuring out how to get where players want to go and what to do once they get there.
In the debut teaser footage, emphasis is first placed upon the land of Hyrule as it exists in the new game, showing off the vast depth of the landscape. Aonuma pointed out the mountains in the distant background, and stated that the player could travel to and traverse them, if they so choose. Once the action of the trailer begins, it depicts Link, dressed in a blue tunic, riding a horse and coming across a large enemy called a Guardian that attacks with beams of light. Link returns the attack with his bow.
Also at E3 2014, Aonuma was present at the show to discuss Hyrule Warriors; a collaboration between Nintendo and Koei Tecmo that serves as a crossover of the Dynasty Warriors gameplay format with the characters and world of The Legend of Zelda. In interviews, Aonuma has stated that his involvement in the development of Hyrule Warriors has informed and influenced his ideas of game design and certain ideas behind the new Legend of Zelda. In particular, he called out how in Dynasty Warriors, there are multiple regions on each map in which action is always occurring, regardless of the player's presence, and the flow of the stage changes depending on the player's choice on how to proceed.
The game's teaser trailer, which debuted at E3 2014, said the game would see release in 2015 which was reaffirmed during a live gameplay demo during The Game Awards in December of the same year. However, on March 27 2015, Nintendo released a video statement from producer Eiji Aonuma explaining the team has discovered so many new ideas that they don't want to force themselves to adhere to a strict schedule and thus would no longer make hitting 2015 a main priority as well as forgo a showing of the title at E3 2015. In early 2016, the was officially delayed again to 2017 and also announced to be launching at the same time on Nintendo Switch.