Taking up almost the entirety of Nintendo’s E3 presence, it’s not hard to see that the newest instalment of one of the company’s long running franchises, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, has people excited. It’s a radical departure from anything we’ve seen in the series before and, hit or miss, it’s generated a lot of discussion. Let’s run down what we saw from the trailer, as well as Nintendo’s live streamed playthrough.
- The trailer opens with sweeping establishing shots of a fairly depopulated Hyrule (we assume it’s Hyrule), and Link riding through on a horse.
- At 0:08, we see a strange tower in the background – these pop up more than once and appear in the game’s publicity shots (including twice at the top of this page), so can’t be without purpose or a plot role.
- From 0:12, we see a bay of some kind complete with palm trees, which appeared most in Wind Waker but are perhaps more reminiscent of Majora’s Mask’s Termina Bay.
- At 0:17, there’s a large creature stomping along the top of a ridge. It’s difficult to make out, but it certainly appears skeletal, and you can see its ribcage. Some kind of giant Stalfos seems likely, but there’s a potentially more interesting scenario hinted at here.
- Igos Du Ikana (pictured right) was a giant skeleton mini-boss in Majora’s Mask. He was the king of Ikana, a kingdom which faded away into memory after his death. It could be that the creature depicted trudging through mountains in the Breath of the Wild trailer is something similar, representing the continuation of a dying civilisation. Or it could just be a giant Stalfos.
- At 0:21, there’s some remarkably cute ducks sitting on a lake. The ducks aren’t particularly interesting, but if we take the lake to be Lake Hylia, the ruins on the other shore are intriguing. There’s a good case to be made that it’s the Lakeside Laboratory from Ocarina of Time, where Link could get hold of a heart piece and a gold Skulltula, as well as part of the Biggoron’s Sword quest.
- Both buildings sit on an outcrop raised above the lake, and the ruined building appears to be about the right size and position relative to the lake. It seems clear at this point that we’re in Hyrule, but Hyrule a long way after Ocarina of Time.
- After some more scampering animals and vistas, we’re treated to a shot of a mysterious tower with the ruins of some steps in the background.
- Those of you familiar with Twilight Princess will be familiar with the above shot – it’s the South entrance to Hyrule Castle Town, and it looks pretty similar to the ruined steps we see in the trailer. The tower in the foreground doesn’t appear to be part of the castle proper, but could easily be a redone version of one of the old gatehouses.
- The next shot seems to confirm the Castle Town ruins making an appearance – the two figureheads bearing the Hylian crest appear to have been decapitated, but their purpose is clear.
- From 0:48, as lightning and rain begin to fall, we start to see these mysterious fossilised creatures littering the ground.
- These strange organisms look familiar, and there are two possible explanations for what they might be. First, their bulbous appearance and hooked tendril-like appendages remind us of Kalle Demos, the plant boss from Wind Waker‘s Forbidden Woods. Quite why such creatures would be lying on a plain, turned to stone is another matter (but don’t worry, we’ll discuss it later). Alternatively, and again referencing past instalments, they could be the remains of Peahats, the plant/animal hybrids that chased you across Hyrule Field, spinning blades across the floor.
- At 1:00 we get our first glimpse of a new item, a kind of cloth hang glider which appears to do a similar job to the Deku Leaf from Wind Waker. Of course, while that used magic and had certain limited utilities, in an open world game like Breath of the Wild is pitched as, it might do away with magic altogether and simply be a quick way to travel.
- At 1:13 we see Link sneak up on and ride a horse in a field. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it demonstrates that Epona probably won’t make it into this game. That’s not new (she’s only actually appeared in a few titles), but it is unusual for a 3D Zelda game. Secondly, the cel-shaded horses are the most cartoonish part of the trailer so far. The game is using a rather odd hybrid system of cel-shaded and realistic graphics. In some areas (fire effects and character models) it works beautifully, but in others it falls slightly short. It’s not ideal, for instance, to have realistic water but cartoony shading effects on the water.
- With the shots of Link charging around on a horse through a largely empty world, it’s hard not to call to mind the beautiful desolation of Shadow of the Colossus – well timed, considering the recent announcement of The Last Guardian‘s release date.
- A climbing showcase follows, with Link scaling a tree, some kind of large building and a cliff face using his bare hands. This is impressive, to say the least. It’s clear from the addition of such things as a jump button that this Zelda game will be radically different to its forebears in terms of character movement, and this suggests it’s something Nintendo are keen to emphasise.
- The use of Link’s axe to fell trees seems to be about puzzle solving as well as survival mechanics, if the clip of him using a tree to bridge a ravine is anything to go by. But diving into the sea in a swimming costume seems new, as does hunting (usually, non-hostile creatures in Zelda games are invincible and don’t take kindly to unprovoked attack).
- If we use the clips from 1:40 to 1:52 as an indicator, the use of environmental attacks clearly plays a big role in the new Zelda. Rolling giant boulders into enemies sounds fun, but it’s not clear how many real opportunities there’ll be for that kind of thing outside of possible set piece battles. Fire could be an interesting addition if implemented right – imagine setting light to the grass around a group of enemies to pin them in place while you notch an arrow or make good your escape.
- When I first saw Link pulling a block seemingly out of mid-air I briefly panicked, and thought we were in for a kind of Fallout 4-style base building mechanic. But fortunately it seems more like you’ll be able to use resources for limited purposes only. Good. The structure of Zelda is something that keeps its heritage intact, and a shinier version of RUST wouldn’t be a fitting tribute.
- In the very rapid editing of the next section, there’s something resembling the evil shadow realm from Twilight Princess taking over, and we can only assume that it will form part of the story. We know already that they’re going for a hard sandbox approach, with the player able to charge straight to the final boss from the game’s start if they fancy their chances.
- The combat segment that follows at 2:07 shows off the ability for Link to arm himself with a multitude of weapons. This does raise the obvious question of how much the Master Sword will be making an appearance, and therefore how tied into the general mythos this game will be. The sword makes an appearance at the trailer’s end, rusting in a sunlit clearing, as well as in the game’s logo, so it must show up somewhere. We’re already aware of the ability to swap outfits, but there’s been not a single glimpse of the classic green garb.
- From 2:33 we see something particularly interesting – Link entering a sort of hollow and tapping a mysterious device on a panel to gain entry. This sounds alarm bells for Amiibo, though we may be mistaken there – it would be best for Nintendo’s goodwill with its fans if any Amiibo content is purely optional and released after the fact.
- The robotic-looking Peahat things show up again at 2:40, and it appears they’re not as harmless as they could have been. Though, it’s not clear whether that’s down to them being taken over by the purple goo or not.
And with that, the trailer ends. But there’s much to discuss around it.
The first and most obvious question is where this game falls in the broader Zelda timeline. As part of an extended gameplay preview during the Nintendo Treehouse broadcast, we saw a Korok, one of the cute little creatures which featured in Wind Waker. This would imply that Breath of the Wild takes place sometime after that game, but this isn’t necessarily the case. We know that Hyrule had been lying suspended under the Great Sea for a long time before Wind Waker‘s Link flooded it, so the game could take place during that period, with the sea miles above and Hyrule in stasis. Alternatively – and this seems likely judging by the presence of Death Mountain in the background of artwork , which during Wind Waker was breaking the surface of the ocean as Dragon Roost Island, – the game could instead take place decades after Wind Waker.
The flood waters have receded, but the ruins of Hyrule remain, and the tribes of sea-dwellers have ventured down into the new world to rebuild afresh. With the flood went most remnants of the old world, so an opportunity arises to present an entirely new Zelda game without many of the trappings of the series so far. It’s a bold approach, and from the large quantities of gameplay shown at E3, Nintendo have pulled it off admirably, building on the foundations of the series’ long heritage while being unafraid to also innovate.
Nintendo have a knack of making history with their Zelda E3 announcements, and the Breath of the Wild’s unveiling will surely stand among them. It will be the swansong of the Wii U, and the first major outing for the eagerly anticipated NX. Get excited, for it’s incoming 2017 release is getting nearer each day.