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Whew! Nintendo spaced out its revelation and demo of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild across several hours (not including a half-hour slot for Pokémon Sun and Moon).
The demo never felt like it was dragging through all that time, however, which is saying something about what Breath of the Wild probably has to offer us in terms of content, exploration, and discovery.
Here are my observations about what we saw. Settle in and pour yourself a nice drink. You're worth it, and so is Breath of the Wild.
Exploration Demo Impressions
The bulk of Treehouse's time with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was dedicated to showing off a tiny (yet still huge!) slice of Hyrule named "The Plateau." We got a good look at how Link moves, fights, and interacts with his surroundings.
During the demo, game producer Eiji Aonuma pointed out that most Zelda games are based around an object or location. Breath of the Wild's defining characteristic is the entire world Link interacts with, hence the game's sub-title.
Indeed, it's been years – maybe decades – since we've had a Zelda game that encourages boundless exploration as much as Breath of the Wild. Link can go anywhere, and the world around him is seamless. If he shimmies up to the top of a structure, looks out into the distance, and sees a point of interest, nothing is stopping him from taking a closer look. Except, perhaps, for enemies that might have him for lunch because he's not properly equipped.
Yes, Link has to worry about suiting up and supplying himself before he heads into the great beyond. He can get his hands on a huge range of weapons (much like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, though Breath of the Wild's scope of hurty-things is far wider), including swords, axes, and spears. At one point during the demo, Link even wielded the arm of a defeated skeletal enemy against its peers. Metal! Weapons can wear down, though better weapons last longer.
Presumably, the Master Sword won't break once Link inevitably gets his hands on it. If it does, Hyrule's in big trouble.
The world of Breath of the Wild seemingly sprawls on forever, but Aonuma has been building up the world vertically as well. There are tons of opportunities for Link to go full-on squirrel. He can climb up the walls of ruined structures (there are a lot of those), up mountains, and up trees. Getting a head start on these expeditions are easy, thanks to the fact Link can now jump on command. Sure, he can do that in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, but auto-jumping has long been the order of the day in the 3D iterations of Hyrule.
Climbing and running drain stamina, much like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. You can brew potions to give you more stamina, or make it deplete less slowly.
Brewing and cooking is in fact a major part of Breath of the Wild's gameplay. Link won't find restorative hearts hanging out in the grass anymore. Instead, health is resupplied through potions and food, the latter of which can be cooked to bring out special properties. Cooked meat and mushrooms make a tasty steak-and-mushroom skewer that not only restores your health, but grants you some "temporary hearts" as well. It's a great way to fortify yourself before heading into a particularly tough battle.
Less appetizing items like monster hearts and butterflies can be combined to make the earlier-mentioned potions that protect you against prospective hazards. For instance, there's a warming potion that keeps Link toasty in cold climes. Otherwise, Link will shiver uncontrollably and lose health if he enters a cold area (there are plenty of them high up in the mountains) unless he equips a warm quilted tunic. With the warming potion, however, he can run through the frost in his skivvies without being bothered.
(Yes, Link can technically run around Hyrule in his undies if that's your jam, though doing so obviously leaves you vulnerable to attacks from monsters who are not impressed by his trim Hylian build. Maybe they're just jealous.)
Hyrule has nooks and crannies everywhere, some of which are hiding weapons, armor, and items for trade. Though the world feels so alive it practically breathes, there was little intelligent life shown in the demo aside from some Bokoblins and a Mysterious Old Man™ who helps you on your journey. However, late in the demo Aonuma promised the overworld will be a livelier place with towns and NPCs, and he left them out of demo because of potential story spoilers.
Speaking of, Breath of the Wild's demo revealed very little about its story. This was intentional: Aonuma said the story is meant to be experienced organically, and that this version of Link must journey and search for his identity alongside the player.
The lonely but peaceful expanse of Hyrule's Plateau makes it clear Nintendo understands Zelda fans are fed up with being led by the hand. Link's on his own. No Navi, no Fi, no King of the Red Lions. He can acquire a wolf-friend if you scan the appropriate Amiibo, however. More on that later.
Shrines and Dungeons
We didn't see any dungeons in the demo for Breath of the Wild, but the demo showed off a handful of mini-dungeons called Shrines. There are reportedly around 100 Shrines in the game, and they vary in size and theme. Some Shrines require puzzle-solving to get through. Others require you to fight.
It appears going through Shrines is the key way to get "Soul Orbs," which are shiny objects Link exchanges with the aforementioned Mysterious Man to get items like the paraglider. The paraglider is an upgrade to Link's Sailcloth from Skyward Sword. He can use it to soften his falls, but he can also use it to zip off a cliff's edge and go flying like a mighty Helmaroc. It is, in a word, amazing, and I expect most of my activities in Breath of the Wild will consist of throwing myself off high places.
But items like the paraglider don't even make up Link's main toolset. One of the most interesting things about Breath of the Wild is Link's "Sheikah Slate," a seeming blend of technology and magic that looks like a stone-age smartphone – almost assuredly on purpose. It's a multi-tool that allows Link to form essentials like bombs (which can be detonated remotely, and come in a handy optional square shape!). We also saw a magnet item that manipulates metal. With his magnet power, Link can throw certain loose objects at enemies. It's a bit like the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2.
Also intriguing: An item that affects the time flow of certain objects. At one point in the demo, Link crossed a narrow, blocked bridge by freezing the flow of time in the offending rock, bashing it, and then unfreezing time to send the rock flying off. Shh. It's video game physics.
It seems as if all the staples of the Zelda series – bows, bombs, deku leaves, and the like – are acquired through very different means this time around. Aonuma said he wanted to ensure all the game's traditional items are used outside of dungeon settings, and sure enough, Link's inventory got a full workout during the demo.
Speaking of dungeons, Shrines and dungeons reportedly aren't one in the same in Breath of the Wild, though we didn't receive any clarification through the demo.
As promised some time ago, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD and the Wolf Link Amiibo that accompanied its release factor into Breath of the Wild. After completing the Cave of Shadows in Twilight Princess HD, you can tap the Wolf Link Amiibo on your gamepad, then tap it again once start playing Breath of the Wild. Wolf Link will enter the game with the number of hearts he had in Twilight Princess HD.
Wolf Link can still enter Breath of the Wild without the Cave of Shadows data, though he'll only have three hearts.
Wolf Link can attack enemies, and help Link hunt for food. By the way, if you're not down with hunting animals for sustenance, there are supposedly lots of veggie-based recipes and potions that are as powerful as the meat-based stuff. You'll have to have a talk with your doppelganger dog about why he shouldn't terrorize Hyrule's deer and boar, however.
The Treehouse presenters unveiled three new Amiibo, too: Archer Link (featuring Breath of the Wild's Link in a shooting pose), Rider Link (featuring Link on Epona), and an ambitious Guardian Amiibo modelled after the rock-like monsters that seemingly guard Hyrule's sacred areas. The Guardian Amiibo is pretty big, and it has posable arms.
So far there's no word on how the Guardian, Rider Link, or Archer Link Amiibos will interact with Breath of the Wild.
The Zelda Series' Return to its NES Roots
During the Treehouse presentation, Aonuma discussed some of the interesting ways Breath of the Wild reflects the very first Legend of Zelda game for the NES. The lack of obvious boundaries to your exploration is a biggie, but there's a little more to the story. In both games, Link starts his quest empty-handed, and he's responsible for procuring the weapons and items he needs to get ahead. Nobody is going to block his path until he buys a Deku shield and rustles up a Kokiri sword.
Aonuma also pointed out how despite its age, the first Legend of Zelda game is quite lively. When you enter a new screen, enemies start milling about immediately. He tried to re-create this effect in Breath of the Wild's seamless world by making sure something within Link's field of vision is always moving, whether it be enemies, animals, or just the grass and trees waving in the wind.
The original Legend of Zelda didn't hold your hand or talk down to you. Neither will Breath of the Wild, it seems. If you loved to poke around suspicious-looking areas in A Link to the Past, or burn down every bush in The Legend of Zelda, you're going to have a good time with Breath of the Wild.
Additional Thoughts and Observations
-I'm honestly impressed with how natural the demo felt. The Treehouse members who played through it never felt like they were following a script or offering viewers a sales pitch. They just had a good time with the game, and with each other. Better still, they were discovering new secrets all the time even though they've already clocked several hours with the game.
-You can snowboard down snowy hills with your shield, and Link performs a cool little flip before mounting his "board." Please try this at home.
-Don't try to figure out where Breath of the Wild fits into the larger Zelda timeline. You'll hurt yourself. However, feel free to notice that Koroks (the evolution of Ocarina of Time's Kokiri race, and a key part of The Wind Waker's story) are present in the game.
-Even the demo for Breath of the Wild was full of personable little touches. When Link is in cold areas, his face flushes, even if he's wearing warm clothing.
-If you screw up a recipe and wind up cooking a mess, you'll end up with a "dubious" food item that's pictured as a pile of green glop with a bone sticking out of it. It's funny, but better yet, the image is "censored" with a blurry grid that's identical to the one that appears often in certain kinds of animated Japanese entertainment. You know what I'm talking about.