There is a new Zelda on the horizon and it looks like no other Zelda game that came before it. Nintendo has been keeping The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild under lock and key, revealing only a few minutes of gameplay since the game was announced (as simply The Legend of Zelda Wii U) in 2013. At E3 2016, we finally got the gameplay details we'd been waiting for and it seems that Breath of the Wild is breaking many of the modern Zelda game conventions and attempting to capture that feeling of adventure you get from the original game.
Gone are the lengthy hand-holding tutorials, gameplay-interrupting tool tips, and hours-long intro sequences. Breath of the Wild kicks you into the adventure, leaving you to figure out how to move forward. With its massive open world, there seem to be plenty of activities to get into. We don't know everything about the game yet, but from what Nintendo has shown so far, we could probably completely fill Link's magic pockets.
We have very few details on Breath of the Wild's story. Nintendo kept the major narrative elements, significant characters, and prior Hyrule Historia events hidden away for the E3 2016 livestream and demos. We do know that Link has been resurrected after 100 years of sleeping in a strange Sheikah Shrine, Hyrule is in shambles, and there is a dark power called Calamity Ganon growing in Hyrule Castle. It seems Nintendo is saving the character reveals, traditional opening cutscene, and Zelda Timeline hints for us to discover when we get our hands on the game.
The start of the game has Link stepping out of a mysterious resurrection chamber after a 100-year-long nap and sends you out to explore as you see fit. And that's it. That's the intro. Rather than direct players to the next temple, important NPCs, or significant items with a nagging fairy partner and a linear path, those types of directions are now more like gentle nudges. Right away, you can go and jump off that cliff to the right (not recommended), scale a far off mountain, climb a tree to collect apples, or rush a Bokoblin camp in search of treasure. Before you talk to anyone you already have plenty to do.
Spread across the landscape of Hyrule are mini dungeons containing powerful gear, new abilities, and challenging puzzles to overcome which you can access immediately, but in addition to these bite-sized labyrinths there will be the larger classic-styled dungeons. Despite the new go anywhere, do anything design, there will be waypoints and characters to help guide you through the story. The E3 2016 demo introduced a bearded old man who seems to be Link's guide, giving him important items and advice at specific locations. Also, there's a mysterious voice that gives link his first few instructions at the start of the game. Could it be Zelda calling to Link telepathically like in A Link to the Past?
Exploring Hyrule's open world isn't about following a path the game makers created for you anymore; with Link's new climbing abilities it seems that nothing is out of reach. Any rough surface can be scaled by the hero. See a sheer cliff? Go climb it. You might find rare items at the summit, or a few high-altitude mushrooms on the way. There are even some of the larger enemies that require you to climb on them Shadow of the Colossus-style in order to reach their weak spot. Just watch your stamina meter; if it runs out, you're in for a long drop.
Besides puzzles and dungeons, Breath of the Wild seems to put a significant focus on exploring the great outdoors, allowing you to spend a ton of time doing things like collecting resources and cooking to prepare for tough enemy encounters or the world's harsh weather conditions. If you find a campfire with a cooking pot - usually surrounded by a group of Bokoblins - you can combine various ingredients like animal meat, wild mushrooms, and insects to create health power-ups, stamina boosts, or spicy dishes that will keep you warm in the snow.
Yes, weather looks like it's a major concern in Breath of the Wild. If you climb up a high mountain and stay in the snow long enough, Link will begin to freeze - draining his hearts until he collapses and dies. To counteract this, you'll need to stay warm by standing near a fire, eating spicy food, or finding warmer clothing to wear. We aren't sure if there will be similar effects in hot locations like the desert and volcano we've seen in the footage, but the temperature gauge does include cold and hot indicators.
So far there has been no sign of Link's classic green tunic and cap, but there is a very good reason for that: Breath of the Wild is introducing the series' first loot system. Link will be able to find various types of clothes, each with an armor rating and extreme weather resistance stats, plus a multitude of weapons and shields. We've seen Link carry more traditional one-handed long swords, two-handed swords, heavy hammers, axes, spears, and even a fire rod making the most versatile arsenal the series has ever seen. But you can't get too attached to the weapons you find because they will eventually lose durability and break.
In addition to clothing that counteracts the weather, Link can also be seen wearing a full suit of plate armor which undoubtedly provides significant damage resistance. While weapons have durability ratings, it appears that armor and clothing do not, making switching armor to suit your current situation a likely strategy. You'll want to switch to warm clothes in the snow, cooler clothing in the heat, and step out of your heavy metal armor in lightning storms - because you're basically an elven lightning rod at that point.
Because you won't be able to hold on to your weapons for long, you're constantly swapping old weapons for new ones. In addition to the classic moveset, Link is able to throw weapons for critical hits, and perform perfect dodges to unlock the Flurry Rush mode which slows down your enemies and allows you to rapidly attack them.
But what's more interesting is what you can do before you enter battle. Link can crouch to sneak around enemies, perform stealth kills, and set up ambushes by doing things like rolling boulders into Bokoblin camps, setting off explosive barrels with a fire arrow, or even lighting grass on fire and allowing the wind to push the flames into an enemy encampment.
The first item Link gets is the Sheikah Slate which acts like a sort of ancient mobile tablet. With it, you can look up your location on a digital map, set waypoints on said map, and use magical abilities by upgrading the device in the hidden Shrines. Once you find the appropriate upgrade you can use the Sheikah Slate to lift metal objects with the power of magnetism, create pillars of ice from water, and freeze objects in a time stasis field. Classic items like the bombs are also made available using the Sheikah Slate technology, but now Link can use spherical bombs that can roll wherever velocity and gravity takes them or cube-shaped bombs if you want them to more reliably stay put.
Breath of the Wild's puzzles are far less mechanical and linear than those in previous Zelda titles. Physics now play a major role in the puzzles' designs. You won't be pushing blocks on buttons as much; instead you'll chop down trees to create bridges and use the force of a pillar jutting out of the floor to launch a bomb across a room. These physics mechanics offer plenty of new types of puzzles to solve, forcing players to rethink how they'll go about getting through that locked door.
We've only heard one female voice speaking to link telepathically (presumably Zelda) but it seems that Nintendo will be giving more characters a legit voice, rather than just the simple grunts and "Heeeeeeyyyys," of the previous games - albeit in addition to the traditional dialogue bubbles. Link however will not be voiced. Director Eiji Aounuma told Polygon, "If Link said something the user doesn’t agree with, that relationship between the user and Link would be lost." So don't expect to hear more from our hero than his classic yells and chattering teeth in the cold.
If you picked up a copy of Twilight Princess HD on the Wii U and have a Wolf Link amiibo, you can bring the canine hero into Breath of the Wild as your companion. The wolf will follow you through Hyrule, attack enemies, and collect items for you, but with such a helpful buddy, you'll have to look out for his wellbeing. You're Wolf Link maintains the number of hearts you completed the Twilight Princess' Cave of Shadows challenge with and if his hearts are drained, you won't be able to use him again until the next real day. So, you'd better start working on the Cave of Shadows before Breath of the Wild comes out next year.