Sorry, Epona, Link is out courting other mares this time.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — Link’s latest adventure that will now span two console generations and release on both the Wii U and Nintendo Switch — is a more subdued, backwater adventure that finds Link tackling many things he’s never done before, including capturing wild horses. And after several delays, Breath of the Wild has finally been confirmed to release day-and-date with the $300 Switch on March 3.
At the Switch preview event in New York City, I got to both test out Zelda running on Switch hardware for the first time, and see a guided demo of some new areas. And here, there be horses.
Of course, being on the Switch also means new gaming options, courtesy of the new hardware. It can be played both on the go and on the TV, and can also be played with the Joy-Con individually in each hand, instead of in the Joy-Con Grip. I really like two-part controllers that I can hold in each hand, and using the wireless Joy-Con just might end up being the way that I play Breath of the Wild. Though, with the Joy-Con also having motion controls, it does make me wish that the had kept the motion-based sword fighting from Skyward Sword.
Some areas however, really don’t seem that much changed on the new hardware if at all: There’s still graphical issues like pop-in, for example.
The new areas being shown off were through a guided demo, and included a look at the new horse-capturing mechanic, a battle with one of the Guardians, and a new shrine.
One segment focused on the horse. Unlike other Zelda games, where Link eventually gets Epona, Link has to find and rein in wild horses for his travel purposes. I got to watch as Link mixed Nightshade and meat to make a Sneaky Steamed Meat, which can give Link a stealth boost. After mounting a horse, players can use the L button to soothe their furry companion. Even so, horses will sometimes go whichever direction they please until Link earns their respect.
I also got a peek at one of the horse stables. Link can leave horses there and whistle — if Link is close enough for the horse to hear him — for it to return to him. Horses also have stats: strength, speed, stamina, temperament, and bond, and can be named as well. So, go ahead, there’s your Epona. (Shadowfax would also be an acceptable name).
Winds and trees
Nintendo also showed off a new place: Bosh Kala Shrine. Breath of the Wild has over 100 such shrines in the game, and this one was based on wind. Riding on horizontal currents of wind with the glider — similar to the Deku Leaf in Wind Waker or Deku form in Majora’s Mask — Link was able to traverse and fly over gaps in the ground. It was a pretty short shrine, with only two such gaps that needed to be crossed, and didn’t really show off any in-depth puzzle mechanics, which is one concern I’ve had with the new Shrine system all along.
The playable demo is the same as what Nintendo showed off for the Wii U at E3, except this time running on the Switch console. And while I was quite critical — and am still nervous — about Breath of the Wild, I do think I am starting to understand it a little bit more. Instead of following instructions or doing anything the game told me to do, I spent my time running around Hyrule cutting down trees. When it prompted me about a destination it wanted me to go to, I avoided it. I ran around and chopped trees. I tried to chop a tree down and have it crash on an enemy tower (it didn’t work). I’m not entirely sure why I enjoyed the game more this time around — maybe I’ve just had more time to accept its differences — but it still hasn’t really done much to address my concerns of just how empty and open-ended the final product will be.
It is clearly — and tonally — a different type of Zelda game. This is even echoed in the soundtrack which is interestingly and sparsely scored.
Breath of the Wild also hasn’t really addressed my main concerns: That is is going to be a giant empty world with not that much of import to do in it, with an over-reliance on freedom at the sake of structure. But I am feeling slightly better about it than I did when I first played it last year. Its sense of minutiae and choosable non-importance is growing on me, even if those aren’t flavors I normally expect from a Zelda game. We’ll just have to see how it turns out when it launches — not that far away now — in March.