Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Early Impressions

Last weekend, I decided to wander down to the local Walmart and pick up a copy of a specific well-received game to see what everybody had been talking about. That game was going to be Animal Crossing: New Leaf…until I saw three Wii U copies of Zelda: Breath of the Wild staring at me from behind the glass of the game case. Sixty dollars later, I had a one-way ticket to the expansive open world of Hyrule!

I’ve only sunk about six hours into the game thus far, but it’s been enough to make some important observations:

  • If you’re worried that the Wii U version of Zelda: BotW will be a huge graphical downgrade from the Switch, don’t be: The game looks excellent on the Wii U. I haven’t noticed any frame rate drops yet, and while a “pop-in” graphic gave me some trouble once while looking for a far-off landmark that hadn’t been rendered yet, I haven’t had any issues with spotting far-off shrines and towers. I haven’t found load times to be off-putting either, and they seem to max out at about thirty seconds.
  • A lot of reviews have noted the increased difficulty of Zelda: BotW compared to past titles, and it’s true: You will die a lot. Enemies are fairly slow to attack and easy to catch off guard, but a lot of them can kill you in one shot (even with bows!), so if you slip up and they manage to get one blow in, you’re toast. It can be frustrating at times, but it also forces you to be smarter and more strategic about engagement: Should I wait until nightfall and attack while they’re sleeping? Are there convenient exploding barrels around that I can use to my advantage? What about large rocks? Do I have enough swords/bows/arrows to survive a long, drawn-out hit-and-run battle? (My favorite tactic is to sneak to higher ground and rain bombs down on enemies. Not only do they have no idea who’s attacking them, but their curiosity/suspicion usually leads them to walk towards the bombs I roll down the hill!)
  • The world is as big and immersive as advertised. The main storyline gives you just enough direction so that you aren’t overwhelmed with choices, but the game also encourages you to go off on random tangents through its reward placement. Basically, if something looks interesting, it’s worth your time to go check it out.
  • I was impressed by how much fun I had with tasks that seemed pretty mundane on the surface, especially the food-cooking mechanic. Collecting raw materials and playing around with different recipes doesn’t seem all that interesting, but I found myself making special trips for certain ingredients and doing a lot of experimenting to see what I could come up with. It’s pretty neat!
  • While navigating my inventory hasn’t annoyed me as much as it did some reviewers, the initial size of my sword and bow inventories seemed a bit too restrictive, especially since the durability mechanic means you’ll need to have a lot of weapons on hand at all times. You’ll be able to expand your inventory slots eventually, but it’s a little annoying in the meantime.
  • While I agree that not using the Wii U’s gamepad for anything is a lost opportunity, it does enable off-TV play, so I could duke it out with a Bokoblin horde while watching Kyle Busch and Joey Logano do the same thing in Las Vegas. That’s worth something.

Overall, Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been a fun game so far, and I’ve found myself saying “Okay, one more thing and then I’ll quit…” several times before actually turning off the game. I’m also happy that Nintendo made the game a quality experience on the Wii U, so I can stick with my old console while they work through the Switch’s initial growing pains.

I may not do a full review of this game (it’s still splitting time with Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, and Mario Kart 8, which means I probably won’t beat it for another month or so), but going by the little I’ve played so far, Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Wii U gets my seal of approval.