With a life size recreation of some of Hyrule's structures it was the Nintendo booth that was the most impressive in the Los Angeles Convention Center. With Link mid-battle, under the gazing eyes of a foe atop of a watchtower in the middle of an open meadow filled with real plant life and an animated cooking pot, the physical setting for my Zelda demo was nothing short of stunning.
The game itself was even more impressive. From the moment the demo started up, the visuals that the Wii U was pumping out were nothing short of stunning, despite the significant power gap between the console and the PS4 and Xbox One. If it weren't for the Wii U's gamepad in your hands, you would struggle to tell which of the three platforms this was running on. The vistas of this enormous open world were breathtaking, and the simple, anime-inspired art style made me immediately fall in love with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
The demo was split into two halve: first up was a free-roaming experience in a small section of the seemingly-huge map. Initially, after being dumped into the world, I headed for a cliff face before realising that there was a chest hidden somewhere in the rocks. After heading to the location marked on the map, I found the chest was inaccessible without some work, so out came one of the square bombs, which are perfect for hillsides as they don't roll away, and after clearing the area, I hit the detonation button. This revealed the chest, and after the iconic chest opening sounds, Link proudly picked up his spoils and moved on.
I spotted some movement below me and went to investigate. I happened across a large group of enemies, a couple of which were in watch towers, a few more sitting down, the others cooking some food. Equipped with my not-so-trusty, breakable sword and a bow and arrow, I was ready to go, but not before spawning in Wolf Link – the character's bestial-form from Twilight Princess - by using the associated Amiibo figure. I stayed mobile, picking off these goblin enemies from afar with my bow, as my wolf kept them from getting near me. With the enemies disposed of, I was left to raid the camp, taking their weapons, items they were carrying and even the food they were halfway through cooking.
One of the big new additions to the series is the addition of food and cooking, which is required to restore health in place of the series' customary hearts. Raw food can be eaten, but if you cook it up, and combine items you will receive greater boosts. I managed to find some steak and mushrooms, which I combined and cooked up to restore the small amount of health I had lost. This adds an extra amount of depth, and challenge to Link's adventure – an element of survival backed up by the temperature gauge which, for example will indicate that Link needs to wrap up or eat hot food to prevent loss of health if it's cold.
Seemingly before it had begun, my 15 minutes of free-roaming was up. I hadn't accomplished much, but had explored a large area - this is a testament to how engaging the world is. Throughout there were points of interest popping up in the corner of my eye, rousing my curiosity and bgging to be investigated. I can see myself spending hours just exploring without ever being tempted by a story mission or side activity, purely because the world they have created is so fascinating.
For my next 15 minutes I did turn to the story though, and it started at a rapid pace. Link wakes up after sleeping for 1000 years and quickly makes it out into the open world. Here he meets a mysterious old man, who explains that Calamity Ganon is circling Hyrule Castle and they are struggling to hold him off. Link, ever the hero, decides he will head in that direction to defeat Ganon - but there's an issue, he can't leave the starting area without a paraglider. Fortunately, in what can only be described as an amazing coincidence, the old man just happens to have one lying around - as you do - but wants Link to recover a treasure from a shrine before handing it over.
A quick run across the fields sees Link find the shrine and pick up a magnet-like item that allows him to move certain magnetic objects around the world. This was the first real dungeon-like experience I encountered, with actual puzzles that needed solving. The first one required you to move a massive metal block on the floor with the magnet to reveal a new entrance to the next area. The puzzles, will presumably get a little tougher.
Unfortunately, before I could make it back to the old man to claim the paraglider reward, the demo cut off due to the 15 minute timer and I was left wanting more. Looking back, I felt like I could have accomplished a lot more during my thirty minutes plus of playing. All I may have accomplished was clear one shrine (little side-dungeons of which there are over 100), kill a few enemies and find a couple of chests - but it all felt as magical as a Zelda game should so, and which – arguably – the series has lost in abundance for a long time.
Exploring this enormous world will take hours upon hours, and that's before touching upon the story. Combat is great fun, especially when using the bow and arrow to knock enemies off their high perches and see them tumbling down. That said, the sword play could do with a few changes to make some weapons feel weightier, as waving around a stick felt very similar to swinging a giant axe, and despite my lack of real-world axe-wielding experiences, that probably isn't accurate.
Then there are the visuals, which offer a spectacle the Wii U hasn't yet dished up in a first party Nintendo title, and with an expected power boost of the Nintendo NX it could well look even better by the time it launches next year.
It is fair to say that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has, for the first time in years, made me incredibly excited to play a Zelda game. There are enough changes here, from the massive new world, to the extra survival elements, to make this feel almost like a brand new series. However, there is enough familiarity with the characters, lore and basic gameplay to keep to the series' roots.
There is still a lot we don't know about the latest entry in one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises, but what I can say is that this was easily my highlight of E3.