The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild completely took over Nintendo’s booth at E3 2016. Even though the live Nintendo Treehouse programming showcased a variety of titles set to launch on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, the booth space was entirely devoted to showing off the latest Zelda. Scheduled for a simultaneous launch on both Wii U and Nintendo’s upcoming NX platform in March 2017, Breath of the Wild surprised players at E3 by revealing a fresh incarnation of Link and taking him into uncharted territory.
Going into E3, many might have thought Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be just another Zelda Wii U game like Skyward Sword before it. Perhaps, even a sequel. While nothing would necessarily have been wrong with Nintendo taking that direction, such a game would have been a predictable step in the popular series likely to offer gamers little more than more of the same. But, many of those initial speculations were shot down on the E3 show floor.
Fair warning, the E3 demo is described in detail from this point forward. If you want to avoid Zelda: Breath of the Wild spoilers, do not continue reading beyond this point.
One might say the E3 Zelda experience began the moment one stepped into Nintendo’s booth. It’s a Disneyland-esque experience walking out on the grass-like carpeted floor of the nearly completely enclosed booth. The walls reflected the bright colors of day in the game’s distinctive art style; after a time, it changed to the deep, dark tones of night. Music and sound effects added to the effect. There was a statue of Link firing one of his signature arrows at a gigantic, tentacled enemy. A wooden tower in the center of the booth featured small, but angry-looking, pig-like enemies on the lookout. Even the theater presentation at the booth was an impressive recreation of the Shrine of Resurrection, where Link was seen awakening for the first time in the game.
Once at a Wii U gaming station, it was time to see if the playable experience lived up to the spectacle of the booth. This author’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild demo experience was broken down into two, separate 20-minute sessions. During the first demo, Link was outfitted with plenty of gear and weapons. There was no story mission or task at hand other than to get a feel for the world. The demo only included a fraction of the game’s playable map, and even then Hyrule was huge.
But, what made the open world of Breath of the Wild an immersive experience, as well as a visually pleasing one, was the number of ways Link interacted with the land. Players could climb on canyon walls and take in the view, or hop on Link’s shield and surf down a grassy hill. Link’s expressions added to the immersive experience, as well. When in the snowy mountains, Link was cold without his winter gear on, and his face and body language showed it. When returning to dry land after a swim in a lake, Link’s whole body was dripping with water from his hair all the way down to his boots. At an industry event dominated by VR experiences, Breath of the Wild demonstrated how current gen games can provide novel, immersive experiences without a headset.
The second demo appeared to be the same one showcased in the Zelda: Breath of the Wild Nintendo Treehouse presentation presented by Producer Eiji Aonuma (see video below). After Link woke up in the resurrection chamber, he gained access to a mystical tablet that looked an awful lot like the Wii U gamepad. With nothing but the tattered clothes on his back and his trusty tome by his side, Link entered the vast land of Breath of the Wild.
Without any weapons or armor, Link began his journey scavenging for items. Picking up a stick off the ground was about as low-level as one could get when it comes to weapons, but it was a start. Keeping with Zelda tradition, sticks remain handy for lighting a fire, too. At a nearby campsite, Link could make use of the fire pit while being introduced to a mysterious elderly fellow who seemed like he might be the Sahasrahla or Kaepora Gaebora figure of the game.
Although there’s no shortage of a narrative to follow, it was hard not to get wrapped up in all the initial survival necessities like gathering plants, grabbing food, fighting off aggressive beasts, and finding suitable weaponry. Swords, shields, and the like wore down with use; so, the player must manage Link’s weapon arsenal accordingly. To regain health, there were more options than a simple bottle of Lon Lon Milk. Food items like apples could be consumed to regain health. Items like mushrooms, herbs, or even butterflies could be brought together in a cooking pot to craft more powerful potions or elixirs with varying uses.
This author’s playthrough didn’t ever get back to the main storyline, and that wasn’t a bad thing. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild E3 demo gave off the impression of the type of game players could delightfully get lost in for hours at a time, whether they chose to progress through Link’s narrative or explore his expansive sandbox of a world.
[Image via Nintendo]