Early on in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you are treated to a sweeping overview of your surroundings. It is a visually stunning moment unlike anything else in the series: a bold statement of intent and an open invitation to explore the vista before you. Fields and forests stretch outwards to the horizon, gently blurring into a painterly haze. Beyond these lie the far-off silhouettes of landmarks such as Hyrule Castle and Death Mountain. See all this space? This is all yours to explore. And beyond that? There’s even more.
Breath of the Wild’s overworld is twelve times the size of Twilight Princess, series director Eiji Aonuma told a small crowd of press and Nintendo execs on the eve of E3, when Eurogamer went hands-on with the game. Thankfully, unlike Twilight Princess’ vast but empty Hyrule Field, each area within this Zelda’s map is teeming with treasure to find, quests to complete, and mini-dungeon shrines to tackle. There are more than 100 shrines dotted across the game’s giant map, each housing a set of rooms to puzzle through for a prize – a new heart container, perhaps, or a new upgrade, plus the usual dungeon-sized shrines too. There are also countless environmental puzzles to tackle above ground, many of which require Link to manoeuvre himself around with the new jump button (yes, really), paraglider and stamina gauge, the latter of which comes into play when swimming or climbing. Link can now scramble up any surface from trees to sheer stone cliffs, to the bodies of larger enemies. See that giant, ruined cathedral? You can scale that too.
I was never far from a treasure chest or sparkling resource item to tempt me off the beaten track. Not that there is a beaten track. Link’s early adventures are laid out in the form of mission quests, accepted from a mysterious old man who appears to help you on your way. But how you complete each quest, and where else you wander to on the way, remains open-ended. You might stumble across a bokoblin encampment, one of the various fortified areas to infiltrate where groups of enemies are based. Each of these outposts is a puzzle in itself. You can charge in and alert all the enemies to your presence, or you can crouch (there’s a button for that too) and sneak up on targets.