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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Critical Consensus

Has Nintendo created the greatest game of all time… again?

There's nothing more reliable than a home console Zelda game receiving adulation and praise from critics.

Ever since the franchise stepped into 3D over Christmas 1998, the series has secured average Metacritic scores of 99 (Ocarina of Time), 95 (Majora's Mask), 96 (Wind Waker), 95 (Twilight Princess) and 93 (Skyward Sword).

Yet the strength of conviction behind the almost hyperbolic language which is being used to critique The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild marks this one out as something a bit special.

GameSpot describes the title as a "breathtaking masterpiece" in its tagline and ends with the words "the most impressive game Nintendo has ever created".

The Telegraph decides not to just limit the game's quality to Nintendo, simply calling it "one of the finest video games ever made". Trusted Reviews wrote: "If there's a better game out there than Breath of the Wild, I haven't played it."

Meanwhile Destructoid went with: "No game is perfect, but this comes as close as it could get within its genre. The new game to beat in its sector; we're talking pure video game ecstasy."

In total, I counted 14 'masterpieces', 5 'revolutions', 6 'awe-inspirings' and 1 "this is the new blueprint" for open world games.

Nintendo's marketing department is going to have a tough time working out which quotes to put on the posters.

Such is the adulation for the game that some critics have found themselves almost re-evaluating the equally acclaimed Zelda titles of years gone by. The words 'return to form' and 'rejuvenation' are banded around in almost all the articles, yet based on the critical reaction of previous games, there was never any indication that the series was ever out-of-form or in need of revitalising.

"It's debatable whether or not Zelda as a series has been in a rut, and for how long, but it's almost fallen into a predicable pattern," wrote Arthur Gies at Polygon. "An overworld with dungeons that offer items, which in turn allow access to new dungeons and means of traversal. Sure, each game had its own twist - a dark world, lycanthropy, sailing, flight - but there was a predictable path for each."

The implication of all this is that consumers have a Zelda game unlike any they will have played before.

"It's hard to overstate the courage and conviction with which producer Eiji Aonuma, director Hidemaro Fujibayashi and their team have rewritten their own work, and the size of the risk Nintendo has taken with a beloved property.

Eurogamer

"In case it isn't clear, this is a very different Legend of Zelda game," Oli Welsh writes in his Recommended Eurogamer review.

"Until very recently, Nintendo has made its games in a bubble - not that this was necessarily a bad thing, as its priorities were unique, and its standards were uniquely high, but it seemed quite unconcerned by what other game makers were up to. Zelda, one of the most widely admired, finely honed and carefully iterated designs in gaming, was a bubble within this bubble. Its recurring plots about the hero in green echoed its well-worn, smooth patterns of play: get the boomerang, hookshot and bombs, do the dungeons, save the girl. It was a ritual incantation, a myth that ticked like clockwork.

"All that has been either swept aside or remade from first principles. It's hard to overstate the courage and conviction with which producer Eiji Aonuma, director Hidemaro Fujibayashi and their team have rewritten their own work, and the size of the risk Nintendo has taken with a beloved property. Breath of the Wild isn't just the most radical departure from the Zelda tradition in its 30-year history, it's the first Nintendo game that feels like it was made in a world where Half-Life 2, Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3 and Skyrim happened."

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This is an open world experience that matches and even betters the best in the market, say critics

Eurogamer isn't the only place that references other open world experiences. The Guardian makes favourable comparisons to The Witcher and Skyrim, yet critics are also at pains to observe that the game remains distinct from them, too.

And the differences from previous Zelda iterations appear numerous. There are no areas cut off from the player, there's no need for the bow to access a temple or a special item to unlock a previously unreachable area of the map. Gamers can now gallop to the game's conclusion right from the outset - although the chances of success are very slim. Indeed, another recurring word throughout the various reviews is the term 'survival'.

"Enemies are not messing around, and while you can go anywhere, that means you can run into things that you perhaps aren't ready for"

God Is A Geek

"It's probably the hardest Zelda to date," insists Adam Cook of God Is A Geek. "Enemies are not messing around, and while you can go anywhere, that means you can run into things that you perhaps aren't ready for. A generous auto-save means that you'll never lose too much progress, but there were many times I would find something that was too strong for me, and almost instantly die. Similarly, the weather can kill you: a lightning storm is one of the most visually arresting moments in the game, but that lightning can strike you dead."

Outside of the challenging combat is the new physics that allow players to complete puzzles and overcome obstacles in ways that hadn't been intended. This isn't especially revolutionary for fans of Rockstar's work, but it is decidedly new for a Nintendo game.

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The game's combat is hard

"Early on, I discovered a puzzle shrine containing a small maze," begins Kotaku's Jason Schreier. "Inside that maze was a little ball. The goal, I realized, was to maneuver the ball out of the maze and slide it into a nearby funnel. To do this, I'd have to rotate my Nintendo Switch controller, using motion controls to turn the maze around and let gravity move the ball through each corridor.

"After struggling a few times to solve the puzzle thanks to Newton's dumb laws, I noticed that every time the ball fell, a new one would drop from a canister several feet above the maze. Then I had a wild thought. Just before a new ball dropped, I turned my controller upside down, flipping the maze 180 degrees. There was nothing on the other side, so I now had a nice flat surface on which to roll the ball. I slowly tilted the maze's newly exposed backside and dropped the ball right into the funnel, skipping the maze entirely. Boom. Puzzle solved."

This echoes what Nintendo said during a session at GDC 2017, which talked about players utilising Link's new abilities - such as freezing platforms and moving metallic objects - in ways that were not their intention (such as defeating bosses or crossing gaps).

"Nintendo has crafted a host of systems that are interconnected," explains US Gamer's Mike Williams. "There's an underlying core of physics and chemistry to the world, and on top of that Nintendo has laid combat, cooking, crafting, and more. Where something comes into play may not be readily apparent to the player, but there is a clear plan at work."

Critics are also full of praise of the game's naturalistic style. There's no complex levelling up system, it all ties into the weapons and attire that Link has obtained. Link finds his way in the world not by map, but by climbing up high and identifying where he wants to go.

And most impressive is that the game feels free and open. Almost all reviewers are in agreement that this is a work that feels real.

"It feels natural. It snows on high ground, it is hot in the desert, and rains in the wetland, while wind buffets the coastlines. It feels like a place"

Edge

"We're still not quite sure how Nintendo has done it," admits Edge Magazine. "A land this full of puzzles, innumerate distractions should, by rights, feel contrived, as if it has been built according to metrics, rather than instinct. A shrine here, a stable there, a battle there; lather, rinse and repeat until player reaches objective marker. Yet this colossal game world has been given room to breathe, despite the volume of things to do it contains. And, for all its fantasy, it feels natural. It snows on high ground, it is hot in the desert, and rains in the wetland, while wind buffets the coastlines. It feels like a place, albeit one in which cooking up monster parts yields an elixir that quietens your footsteps, where you can fry an egg on the volcanic ground, and where tree sprites hide behind easily missed, bite-sized puzzles, expanding your inventory when discovered."

So for all the almost embarrassing levels of praise, is there anything wrong with it? Well, "there are some framerate drops, even on TV mode," say Destructoid, and that's something most critics have observed - although they all agree these moments are not regular.

Yet you know that when the lowest score on Metacritic is a 9 that Nintendo has hit upon something special. And it's important that they did. This is the final game for the Wii U, ending that console's disappointing story on a sweet note. Yet more importantly this is the first marker on Switch. A console where analysts have expressed concerns over its price and line-up. Nintendo will hope that with games this good, all of those issues will simply melt away.

After all, if you want to play the greatest adventure game since Ocarina of Time, then there's only really one machine to buy.

"The series has always had something of a fairytale quality to it - its grand landscapes and worlds suggestive of so much more," concludes Matt Castle over at Gamesradar.

"The sight of dawn over a shimmering lake. The rolling plains of Hyrule Field stretched out beneath you. It speaks to our imaginations, calling us on to adventure. What a familiar feeling to look across Hyrule Field at Death Mountain, wondering what it would be like to climb it. What a profound thrill to make that journey in its entirety. It has taken 18 years, but Nintendo has done it again: this is the adventure game to beat."

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Latest comments (8)

Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, GameLoftA month ago
I always wonder how much the words "Nintendo" and "Zelda" play a role at these reviews. If the exact same game was a new IP published by another company, would it receive the same praise? Would someone like me, who never played a single Zelda game before, be this impressed by this game? Or is it something built upon the Zelda legacy and nostalgia?
Although I must confess this article got me curious about it. Not curious enough to spend money buying a console just to play it, for sure, but still curious.
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Have to agree with Dan here. I'm sure it's a great game, but lets not get carried away with the best game of all time nonsense. If Zelda is your thing, awesome, have a great time, but to a lot of us, meh, played some of the Zeldas in the past and meh... kind of too kiddie-ish for our taste. Nintendo is like strawberry ice cream, yeah some love it and for good reason, and for others we can take it or leave it.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 3rd March 2017 11:03pm

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Peter Shea Games Director, Chunk GamesA month ago
You are both missing out. I'm about 20 hours in and starting to think it is indeed the best game ever made. The reviews are not hyperbole. It really does feel like a new milestone in game achievement.

Sure I've been a Zelda fan since OoT, but this is so much more than 'just another Zelda game for the fans'. It's easily the best open world game since GTA V, and may even surpass that game in ambition, scope and gameplay variety. Nothing kiddie-ish about it either- it's pretty hardcore at points in combat, survival and puzzling.

It is completely essential for any lover of RPGs or exploration games and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up spending 200+ hours on it- (almost) justifying the cost of the console alone...

Your mileage will not vary.
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Show all comments (8)
Daniel Hughes PhD Researcher, Bangor UniversityA month ago
Given the unanimity of critical reactions, and given this is a radical departure for the series, I think it is rather suspect to suggest nostalgia and the Zelda name rest behind the high scores. Equally you could argue that high expectations for the series will result in higher expectations for new entries in the series. This is the highest scored title of any format to launch for 9 years, though, and the first of the 'current generation' (Wii U/Switch, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, Vita) titles to launch to such critical acclaim.

Like Peter, I've also had the weekend to try out Breath of the Wild (on Wii U), and I do think it something special: a landmark for Zelda and the open-world genre. Best game of all time, though? Too soon to tell!
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Fabien Roussot Developer, Gunjin Games LtdA month ago
I agree with all the critics. I haven't played a game in a long time, not even GTA5, which has me hooked to the point where my girlfriend gave up on getting me off the couch once I sit in front of it. Where, despite work and everything, I actually am willing to be sleepy the next day. The likes of Uncharted 4 have been part of my most recent highlights, aren't coming near the sheer pleasure I am taking playing this new Zelda game.

I would say though, on WiiU in particular, the performances are very poor quite often, as soon as bad weather and numerous VFX are on screen. But while it is regular, it isn't enough to even spoil the fun in any way.

I can understand the scepticism, but the words of "Nintendo" and "Zelda" got their reputation from somewhere in the first place, it is just a reminder that they are still masters at their craft.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A month ago
@Daniel

You're exactly right, I'm sure it's a great game, but Nintendo mostly lives on nostalgia and placebo

About twenty years ago, a major studio was trying to figure out why their animated films, even the ones that were super high quality and critically praised were failing to resonate with audiences and generate box office.

So they started testing them with a Disney logo in front of it

Test audience scores went through the roof. Same demographics, same theatre even, consistent vast increases in scores.

Then there's also the fear factor of the fanboy lynch mob who needs their religion validated, and how dare you give it an 9.2.? Many critics will bump a title with a following like Zelda just to avoid the hassle and increase traffic.

I am NOT saying Zelda isn't a great game, that these things have happened to generate these tens. I'm just mentioning precident that is worthy of consideration for all games and human psychology.
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Keldon Alleyne Developer, leader, writer, Avasopht LtdA month ago
@Jeff: you can say that about just about anything really, I mean, maybe GTA5 is a great game, or maybe it's just because everyone has nostalgia for XYZ?!

But sometimes positive responses are just because of the quality.

We're all aware (at least I should hope) of the cognitive biases we're prone to that are so powerful that even seasoned veterans sound engineers still occasionally experience the perception of an improvement to a song by the twisting of a particular knob only to discover that very knob was controlling nothing.

Without an objective metric for sound, film and games, the sceptic can always appeal to the subjectivity towards a brand or company they are biased against. They can always cite nostalgia, strength of the brand and other reasons, and all without even playing the game to judge the game on its own merits.
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Keldon Alleyne Developer, leader, writer, Avasopht LtdA month ago
If the exact same game was a new IP published by another company, would it receive the same praise?
They'd receive the utmost respect.

Once you get past the bright, friendly and colourful appearance of the game you will quickly discover insane amounts of depth and variety in the gameplay. They are a fine example of what happens when the art and science of video games design are working in harmony.

If you're interested in game design I would highly recommend playing Ocarina of Time while reading through Jesse Schelle's, The Art of Game Design.
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