‘Zelda: Breath Of The Wild’ Performance Tested – Worth Upgrading To Switch?

With the launch of the much anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Friday, many fans wondered the same question: Is the latest Zelda experience better on Nintendo’s new hardware, or should current Wii U owners stick to its original home?

Well, the results are actually not as clear cut as one might hope.

Digital Foundry has published their analysis, and the outcome is interesting when you consider the whole picture. Zelda was originally unveiled back in E3 2014 and at the time was considered to be a Wii U only title – the Nintendo Switch wasn’t a thing people were really talking about back then – so when it was first uneveiled there was no question as to whether or not it would run well on on system versus another. However, since Breath of the Wild was pushed back and made a Nintendo Switch title, the question of upgrading has been the real lingering question: do you have to upgrade to get the best experience?

First, some basics: Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch runs at a 900p native resolution docked, meaning if you play it on a 1080p screen you’re image is being upscaled from 900p. The tablet mode runs the game at a native 720p, a pixel match for the Switch’s onboard screen. The Wii U version targets a 720p native resolution, and both versions target a 30 frame-per-second refresh. And on all fronts, the game mostly delivers. There is no variation to the pixel count – it’s either 900p or 720p depending on how you’re using the system – or which system you’re playing.

In terms of visual quality, the settings of the assets look to be like-for-like in terms of the Switch versus the Wii U version. They all use the same models, textures, lighting is intact – where the issues arise is in the texture filtering and the overall clarity of the screen. The texture filtering on the Wii U is more aggressively shown to the player, with the filtering happening closer to the players gaze versus farther away on the Switch. Breath of the Wild looks clearer on the Switch while docked, but that is simply down to the higher pixel count being rendered on screen.

The largest variations come from the framerate.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild targets that v-synced 30 frames per second refresh, and Zelda’s open world does, unfortunately, create problems for the player in that respect. The game uses, according to Digital Foundry a double-buffered form of v-sync. Essentially when Zelda cannot keep up with the 30fps refresh on either console, it drops to the “next major factor down, locking to 20fps.”

This is incredibly disappointing on a few fronts. This is a game that’s been in development for quite some time, so you’d expect that the developers – especially Nintendo who are known in the industry for creating solid performing first-party releases – could have fixed this issue. However, these framerate problems are evident on both the aged Wii U and the brand new Nintendo Switch. Where and how they happen, however, is interesting.

Zelda Breath of the Wild Switch Wii U Comparison
Regardless of system, Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems to have captivated fans all over. [Image by Nintendo]

Each version drops the frames in similar circumstances, however in different areas. Where one area may buckle the Switch while docked, the Wii U may run into its fair share of problems in a different area. One thing is clear, however – the docked version of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Wii U version cannot sustain a locked 30fps. And in modern times – especially when a console has just been released and the flagship game shows performance flaws like this – it’s a definite bummer. And, when looking at it from this angle, the only real reason to upgrade to the Switch version if you were on the fence would be the bump in resolution – as well as the portability of the new Nintendo console.

However, these issues don’t seem to have detracted players and critics alike from loving the new Zelda game. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of Metacritic’s top-rated games of all time, according to VG247.com, hitting No. 4 on the all-time list. At the top is Breath of the Wild’s predecessor – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo64.

Enjoying Zelda: Breath of the Wild on either Wii U or Switch? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

[Featured Image by Nintendo]

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