After more than three years of knowing close to nothing about the next Zelda game, Nintendo finally showed off The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at E3 2016, giving us a look at the game in action. But it wasn't just a two-minute trailer or a short gameplay demo; we got to see over five hours of the game's open-world adventure. In that time, we got plenty of details on how Breath of the Wild's new gameplay features break the traditional conventions of the Zelda series, and uncovered some clues as to what the story might be about. Here's what we've learned so far about Breath of the Wild at E3 2016.
Talk about breaking conventions. Not once during Breath of the Wild has Link been show wearing his iconic green tunic and pointy cap. But there is good reason for the wardrobe change. Breath of the Wild has a loot system that allows Link to pick up different sets of clothing and equipment. It appears that everything from tattered rags to full suits of plate armor can be found in the world and equipped for improved stats. Clothing and armor will give you various levels of defense against enemy's blows, and weapons differ by attack value. Link's power will be largely determined by what you're wearing and which weapons you have equipped.
In the Treehouse Live demo, we got a look at classic Zelda items like the bombs, bow, sword, and shield, but they're not exactly as your remember them. Your swords, shields, and bows come in a wide variety that can be found by defeating enemies or snagging them out of treasure chests, so you won't be handed a special shield or pull a legendary sword out of a magical pedestal to be used for the entire game. Instead, you'll need to regularly swap out your weapons, because eventually they'll wear down and break. Link also has access to different types of weapons that include heavier axes and two-handed swords, longer-ranged spears, and the series standard one-handed swords (including a broken-off, still-moving Stalfos bone arm).
The first item you pick up after waking up in a mysterious isolation chamber is the Sheikah Slate. It's basically a 'ye ol' personal electronic device' imbued with magic power. Heading into shrines spread across the world will enable you to unlock special abilities, like a stasis field that freezes objects in time, the magnet ability that allows you to pick up metal objects, and magic bombs that come in both the spherical and cube variety.
The Sheikah Slate is also used as a key that gives you access to the shrines in the overworld. The technological element of the Sheikah Slate is also something we haven't seen in a Zelda game before. Not only is it reminiscent of a tablet you might have sitting on your coffee table - it even gives you a digital picture of the world map and can be used like binoculars to zoom in on distant locations. We're interested to see how the technology element of the world will mingle with the Zelda lore, but if it's all related to the Sheikah, it must've been a part of Zelda all along, right?
It wouldn't be a Zelda game without puzzle-ridden labyrinths to overcome. In Breath of the Wild, there are the large dungeons full of puzzles, enemies, and bosses - but Nintendo gave us a close look at the game's bite-sized mini dungeons called Shrines. Entering a shrine from the overworld will take you to a Sheikah trial built by one of the mysterious order's monks. At the start of the early shrines, Link gets a Sheikah Slate upgrade like the magnet or stasis abilities, which are then put to the test by a series of ability-related puzzles. Essentially, the early shrines are a more creative way of teaching you how to play the game, without all those lengthy dialogue bubbles.
It looks like Breath of the Wild has come back to the simple 'attack, dodge, and defend' system of previous games like Ocarina of Time, without any gimmicky controller wand waving. You can slash your sword, block with a shield, and backflip away from enemies as before - but now, with a more disposable arsenal of weapons, you can do things like throw your almost-broken weapons at enemies for a critical hit, or parry attacks with your shield to knock enemies off balance. Players can also get creative with their weapons and abilities. One battle showed Link throwing a sword at an enemy, picking up the sword with the magnet ability, then swinging the sword into the enemy to damage it from a distance.
Link can also engage a Flurry Rush mode whenever he executes a perfect dodge. When this happens, everything around Link goes into slow-motion allowing him to rapidly attack and do major damage. Players can also activate a slow-mo mode by jumping into the air and aiming the bow, much like what was seen in previous demos with Link vaulting off his horse. This aiming mode gives you plenty of time to line up your shot as you fall back to the ground.
Before you go out into the wild world on a grand adventure, it's a good idea to be prepared. Link can no longer pick up floating hearts, rupees, and other items by chopping grass. Instead, he actually has to eat to regain health and sell items to get money - putting a damper on his tempered landscaping skills. In order to get more potent health regen items, you'll need to collect ingredients like animal meat, mushrooms, and even insects, then cook them over a fire to make health-replenishing dishes, stat-boosting elixirs, or spicy foods that make you immune to the game's cold weather health-draining effects. Up to five items can be combined at a time, making cooking a trial-and-error process until you discover the proper recipes.
Many of the previous Zelda games' puzzle-solving revolved around pushing blocks, lighting torches, and flipping switches to get through each dungeon. But in Breath of the Wild, the puzzles seem to be more physics-based. A few of the Shrine puzzles challenge players to manipulate objects in the environment by lifting them with the magnet ability, or shoot bombs across a room by placing them on stone pistons jutting out of the floor. Link can also do things like light grass on fire and watch the wind spread the blaze to explosive barrels. There can be many ways to solve the game's puzzles and the solutions won't be as linear and specific as the push-block puzzles of old.
Link can climb just about any rough surface in the environment, and that feature also applies to enemies. One massive rock enemy was shown coming out of the ground and towering over our hero. In order to get to the monster's weak point on top of its head, Link can climb up its rocky body, stand at the peak, and attack the giant's soft spot. This mechanic creates a lot of potential for encounters with larger enemies, and I wouldn't be surprised if we end up engaging in a battle that feels straight out of Shadow of the Colossus.
Everything about Breath of the Wild's world has Sheikah written all over it - literally. There are Sheika symbols in the alien-looking shrines, the shrine monks have Sheikah tattoos on their faces, and the first item you pick up is the Sheikah Slate. Link also awakens in one of the mysterious Sheikah shrines as if he had been hibernating there for a long period of time. Could he be a Sheikah himself, or one of the previous ancient heroes waiting to be awakened when the world needs him?
In previous games, the Sheikah were only personified in side-characters like Impa, Sheik, or the rumor spreading Sheikah Stones. Outside of those characters and a few items, the ancient tribe has remained a mystery. With the Sheikah being featured so prominently in the E3 demo, perhaps Breath of the Wild will eventually give us a deeper look into the history of Link's longtime allies.
Outside of a disembodied voice you hear a few times, there's been no sign of a Navi, Fi, or Midna character of any kind in the lengthy E3 demo. That said, Nintendo has stated that they are steering clear of any character reveals at E3, so a guide character living under your tunic may still be in the cards.
Speaking of guide characters, we do actually meet one other character in the E3 demo. A hooded old man appears around the world to offer Link advice, guide him to new locations, and give him essential items. The man is reminiscent of the owl character from previous games or the King of Red Lions from Wind Waker. My bet is that he's going to play more of a central role later on in the game.
Stay with me here: We already know that the land we'll be exploring next year is Hyrule. Mysterious voices have called it by name, familiar locations like the Temple of Time have been shown, and it has other familiar landmarks like Death Mountain and a dark magic-covered Hyrule Castle off in the distance. But there are other clues that tell us what time period the game is set. For one, Hyrule is in shambles with buildings and ruins half buried in the dirt, like the kingdom has been in shambles for a very long time. Then there are the Koroks, the bashful plant creatures that help the Deku Tree plant its seeds all over Hyrule in The Wind Waker. If those little guys are in the game, that means the setting would have to be around the time when the second Deku tree was the forest guardian and after the world's oceans have receded. This definitely isn't an Ocarina prequel this time.
Sharp-eyed fans might have seen the series villain called out a few times in the Breath of the Wild livestream. When Link explores the Shrines and reaches the monk at the end, the monks mention that they are dedicated to helping those who seek to defeat Ganon. It would be odd to mention the villain's name without having him appear at some point. But just because Ganon was mentioned, doesn't mean he'll be the main bad guy: the evil pig has served as a side character to other villain's diabolical power play before.
Get ready for this one: You can have a Wolf Link pet companion! So far we know that there will be four amiibo figures that are compatible with the game. Three are new Breath of the Wild figures and the other is the Midna/Wolf Link amiibo. When you touch the Wolf Link amiibo to the Wii U Gamepad, Wolf Link will appear in the game and follows you around while attacking enemies and gathering items for you. If you think that's a cool perk, you'll want to get a Wii U copy of Twilight Princess with the amiibo packed in, then collect all of the heart pieces in that game as possible, and play the Cave of Shadows; your Wolf Link will transfer the number of hearts you survived with in the game as his health pool. The more hearts you keep in Twilight Princess, the less you have to worry about your wolf companion biting the dust in Breath of the Wild.