When I read the previews and reviews for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I waved off warnings about the game's difficulty. "I've been playing Zelda games since I was a kid," I said to the cat. "I know how to handle myself."
I brought the game home along with the Nintendo Switch. About thirty minutes in, a blue bokoblin sent Link flying halfway across the Great Plateau with a single swing of a spiked club.
While the average Zelda player probably won't see the words "GAME OVER" as often as a Dark Souls fan sees "YOU DIED," even Breath of the Wild's "tutorial enemies," like the aforementioned bokoblins, show absolutely no quarter.
See, though Link's latest adventure makes good on its promise to return to the sense of freedom offered by the very first Legend of Zelda game for the NES, combat isn't as simple as walking up to a Stalfols and dispatching it with a single sword-thrust.
When you come across foes in Breath of the Wild's uncharted territories – and they love to slum around in groups, by the way – you'd best have a game plan. If you charge in waving the soup ladle you picked up from the Moblin cook in the last camp you tore apart, you're probably going to die.
Breath of the Wild's trials by fire (sometimes literal fire) can be aggravating, especially because the overwhelming majority of the deaths you suffer are your own stupid fault. I mean, I know Zelda games have traditionally been forgiving, but swinging a massive iron door into your own skull has consequences that should be acknowledged.
Breath of the Wild isn't without mercy, though. Far from it. Hyrule is a dangerous place and even seasoned travellers need to tread warily, but it's also a bountiful land (sadly, the diminished sentient population was probably a boon to wildlife). While crumbled memories of the Calamity's devastation still dot the landscape, the forests are full of edible foliage, and the mountains are teeming with game. Almost everything you pluck and hunt can be turned into potions and dishes that grant buffs and restore health. The skillets necessary to cook up your food aren't in short supply. In fact, almost everything you need for survival – ingredients, items, arrows, beds, horses – can be found at Hyrule's stables, which are to Hyrule's dusty trails what rest stops are to the Interstate.
If you're the kind of person who hordes materials and potions in RPGs (i.e. myself), you need to break yourself of your habit if you hope to survive in Breath of the Wild. If you've got designs on breaking up a massive treehouse-camp populated by six black Lizalfols, you're going to need that tough meat-and-mushroom skewer you've been holding onto since you first learned how to cook. If you want to climb to the very top of Dueling Peaks, you'll probably change your mind about that stamina potion you've been "saving" for hours. Your food and drink are everywhere: Don't be afraid to chow down. Your buffs are running all over the country on four legs, flying on two wings, or growing quietly at the base of any common tree.
Breath of the Wild also teaches you how to use the environment to your advantage. When you first wake up, you'll find tons of hills and cliffs upon which boulders are precariously balanced, and below which bokoblins are loitering. You just give the boulder a little shove, and gravity takes its course. Your hands are clean, and your body is unsullied by battle.
Once you earn the Paraglider and Hyrule's borders expand, however, these environmental traps are far less obvious. They're made clear early on so you get an idea of how nature can be used to fight for you. The Great Plateau is the mama cat. You are the kitten. And once you leave mom, things get a lot more serious. You can still use your surroundings to end fights quickly, but at personal risk. You need to creep close enough to explosive barrels to set them off with bombs, inch in behind enemies to steal their own weapons from them, and even throw metal objects at foes in hopes the lightning crashing down around the battlefield will take a sudden interest in the bad guy.
Despite Breath of the Wild's attempt to take care of me, I've wound up face-down in the tall grass more times than I can count. Should I be ashamed? Nah. Nintendo throws in one additional and very significant mercy for those of us who are more about charging into the fray and screaming: Breath of the Wild has a very generous auto-save feature, plus you can make your own save file whenever you want. If you die (when you die), you lose little progress. So if you're the "screaming maniac" type of warrior, you don't have anything to fear (also, we meet every Tuesday at Applebee's. Order your steak rare and squirming, or you're out).
Now if only Beedle sold Scotch Tape to let me bind my ever-breaking weapons with. But that's a discussion for the next entry.
TOMORROW: Your Zora Spear is badly damaged. Like your dignity.