A common complaint against The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is that its early tutorial section takes hours to complete. Well, I’ve spent a lot of time with Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s new Zelda for the Switch and Wii U, and I’m still learning new things.
But this new Zelda, due out March 3 for Wii U and Nintendo Switch, is nothing like Twilight Princess. Instead, it feels much more like The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System. That’s because even while Breath of the Wild is still giving me basic lessons hours into the story, it is giving me an open world to explore however I choose — and that makes all the difference.
In my first 10 hours or so of Breath of the Wild, I’ve played through numerous challenge dungeons, collected an overflowing inventory of weapons and food, and expanded Link’s capabilities to include multiple magical spells. Despite all of this progress, I feel like I’ve only just started to piece together what this game really is. As I guide Link around the ruins of Hyrule, I’m still encountering characters that are giving me basic lessons. For example, I’ve probably already killed a couple dozen enemies in Breath of the Wild in the first ten hours after going through a number of main quests, but I only just talked to a character about how the most rudimentary sword-fighting techniques in the last hour.
This protracted instructional period doesn’t feel like that restrictive opening to Twilight Princess, though. That’s because Breath of the Wild is much more open for you to explore however you choose. You can tackle the main quest or you can run around the countryside — either way, Nintendo is going to hit you with system after system that you won’t fully understand. I’ve already stumbled across cooking and horse taming, and I’ve got the hang of those. But I’m still confused about what to do with some mechanical items I’ve collected so far or what to do with certain seeds I collect from hidden characters.
The result of this opening, unguided Zelda is that the game feels large, alive, and dynamic. That’s very different than the rigid experience of Twilight Princess, which smacks you in the face with dialogue boxes that teach you how to do everything. In Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, you are always learning through experience and the game encourages you to do that on your own terms.
Breath of the Wild simultaneously feels more like the original NES Zelda than any of the other game in the franchise. You are an outsider exploring a mystical world teeming with monsters and mysterious characters. You still get waypoints telling you where to go next, but those are only for the most major plot points. It’s up to you to find everything else on your own just like it was in the original game.
Nintendo got away from that freedom of exploration in the later Zelda games. So now, returning to that original format, you get the sense that this is the game Nintendo always would have made if it could have when it built The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System.