"It takes courage to change a series that has worked for so long, yet this may be exactly what Zelda needs."
Nintendo's sole mission this E3 was to make a big splash with one title. It's entire booth is a curated walkthrough of the latest Zelda on the Wii U, Breath of the Wild. After numerous delays, it has been five years since the last Zelda game came to a home console, and the press and public are ready for the next evolution of the Zelda formula. From what I saw at E3, Nintendo is headed in the right direction, creating a lush, dynamic world ripe for exploration.
Nintendo has promised to blow up the standard dungeon-item-next dungeon formula that has characterized Zelda series for 20 years, and blow it up they have. Link has substantially more freedom to explore and exploit his environment. Link can cook and fish, and climb nearly any surface right from the beginning of the game. The only limits appear to be his stamina bar and the player's imagination. Of course, only time will tell whether these mechanics remain engaging once the initial novelty wears off, but initial impressions are highly positive.
Even without venturing into a dungeon, Link quickly gains access to a number of tools that open up world. Within minutes of beginning his adventure, he quickly picks up an axe, and shortly after a bow and arrow and a para-gliding carpet. The most appealing part of the game's design is that Link can use these tool on seemingly any object in the environment. Despite my best efforts I did not encounter a single tree that could withstand my woodman's axe. If the same kind of flexibility characterizes the other tools in the game's final release, the possibilities in Breath of the Wild will be endless.
Enemy encounters also appear to place a greater emphasis on stealth approaches or creatively thinning enemy ranks. Sneaking around a group of moblins to pick them off is much more satisfying than simply jumping in to hack them apart, although that option is always available. Swordplay itself felt good, with a definite rhythm and flow of trading blows. However, I did not have access to the more advanced options seen in the trailer, nor did the controls lend themselves to switching between Link's numerous weapons on the fly.
The demo itself consisted of two parts: a 15 minute sand-box session to try out the open world, and 20 minutes to get as far as I could into the game's opening sequence. What I saw of the story looked intriguing, and a further departure from formula. Link awakens from stasis in a room displaying what seems like advanced technology, and soon finds out that he has been asleep for 100 years. While he slumbered, the malevolent force called Calamity Ganon has ruined Hyrule kingdom. Though it is currently contained by the purity of Hyrule Castle, that containment will soon fail unless Link can do something to avert disaster.
Of course, Breath of the Wild's release date is still a ways away in 2017. Much of the story and gameplay is subject to change. But what Nintendo has done so far is stunning from a graphical and gameplay stand point. It takes courage to change a series that has worked for so long, yet this may be exactly what Zelda needs. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo's chance to show off what it can do with an open world, and I cannot wait to see the final result.