The Nintendo Treehouse this year devoted almost a full four hours of its time to the new Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, split up into a lot of different gameplay streams. We've condensed all that information into some key parts, giving you everything you need to know about Breath of the Wild and what makes it different to the rest of the Zelda franchise.
Previously Zelda games have operated with a kind of vaguely defined magic to do with the Triforce and darkness, and all that jazz. Breath of the Wild introduces a technological element for the first time, channeled mainly by the Sheikah Slate that Link carries with him. The Sheikah Slate is an all purpose tool that gives you your map and inventory, can be used as a kind of telescope to zoom on enemies and far away locations, and opens doors by connecting with control pad–esque things. It's kind of the Hyrulian version of an iPad.
The Sheikah slate also gives you new abilities to use in puzzle solving and combat – pillars of ice, a magnet, bombs, and stasis on moving objects – by downloading a rune from a Shrine of Trials, which aren't quite the same as dungeons (and dungeons will reportedly also make an appearance. Shrines contain meditating old men, smooth walls, and bright blue light – very 'future as designed by the past'.
We also got a glimpse of some enemies that resemble the bastard love children of a robot and Doctor Octopus, but the art style for all this technological stuff is still quite organic and mystical. It's kind of a weird fusion of both magic and technology, sort of like Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced form of technology is indistinguishable from magic. This is definitely an interesting new angle for the franchise, although it remains to be seen if Nintendo can make it fit in well over the whole game. Maybe the inhabitants of Hyrule have their own subtly different ways of using this tech, or, since much of it seems to be in ruins, maybe they have no idea what it is any more, and will view Link as some sort of eldritch god for his ability to wield it.
This Zelda game is apparently the first one with a truly open world, i.e. that there's no linear progression and you aren't stopped from entering certain areas because you haven't got a red tunic on. At several points in the gameplay demos we got a look at the zoomed out map and how large this game is (the Great Plateau that makes up the E3 demo area is apparently about 2% of the total map, for some context). Eiji Aonuma, the producer of the game, said the subtitle Breath of the Wild was chosen to showcase the game world rather than any characters in it, so that makes it seem like the environment itself is going to be the star of the show.
We've had glimpses of hot rocky outcrops, forests, and snowy mountains, so there are a lot of different things going on. What the actual content of the map is, however, remains to be seen, and so far we don't really know anything about the plot, assuming there is one. We just know Hyrule is big.
So as we just mentioned it looks like there are a few different kinds of environments in Breath of the Wild, although in the gameplay demos we've only really seen grasslands and snow. The transition between the two wasn't as abrupt as in some previous Zelda games (i.e it looks like someone has at least used the blur tool between them) but, once you jump off the central Plateau, the boundaries between the different main sections of the map look pretty strongly delineated.
Hyrule apparently has a full day and night cycle (which includes stuff like different animals coming out at different times, some enemies sleeping at night, and cold areas being colder when it's dark) and a weather system that can result in random storms, although we didn't see much evidence of this last part in the gameplay demos.
An interesting bit is that Link has a little temperature gauge. If he gets too cold he starts losing health – at an alarming rate – and can warm himself up by making a fire, wearing warm clothes, or eating spicy food to increases his cold resistance. The temperature gauge also goes the other way, and in footage of him standing in a hot desert area he appeared to be huffing and puffing, so it could be that he can get too hot and will, e.g. need to eat a nice 99 Flake to cool down.
Link has to eat now! During the demo it was demonstrated that cutting grass is no longer a viable way to find hearts and get health back. It will, however, sometimes produce insects that you can catch. One of the big new RPG aspects in Breath of the Wild is the amount of stuff you can gather from the environment and what you can make with it. In the Plateau we saw butterflies, frogs, different types of mushrooms, birds, boars, fruit, flowers, and monster parts. These can be mixed in different ways (a combination of up to five) and cooked – you can use a cooking pot, or just, y'know, set meat on fire, although during the Treehouse stream it was stressed that there are enough different ingredients that you could RP Link as a vegetarian.
Different stuff can give you different benefits, which are enhanced if you cook them. A bit of steak with some mushrooms, for example, gives you a kebab that gives you bonus health, and you can use insect parts with monster bits to make an elixir. No word yet if, in dire straits, Link will need to pull a Bear Grylls and drink his own wee, huddled in a cave whilst his camera crew offer no help.
Link can jump and climb now
This is the first time Link has been able to jump, ever, poor lamb. He can also climb now, as well, and has a stamina gauge linked to that (so he can only climb for as long as his stamina lasts). The stamina gauge is also worn down by stuff like sprinting and heavy attacks in combat. This means you're going to have a lot more scope in terms of how you explore, although Link does climb quite slowly and if you're an impatient child like many of us at VideoGamer are that is liable to become frustrating...
Another RPG bit is the gear. Rather than just the ole' green tunic/red tunic/blue tunic the gameplay shows Link in a few different armour types, and we even saw one where he has a different haircut, although we don't know if this has any bearing on the gameplay rather than being just cosmetic. You also get different weapons this time – different bows, ammo, melee weapons, and shields – which can be of different quality and do different damage, rather than just having one sword, bow, boomerang, etc. There's a limit on how much you can carry at once, plus they can actually break over time.
This is a potentially divisive choice; it's one of those mechanics that people either think is really great and immersive, or they fucking hate because who needs that kind of admin when you're trying to bust heads? Either way, this is much more complexity in the gear system than we've yet seen in a Zelda game. It's possible that there will also be mechanics for fixing weapons too – we imagine this would be a jaunty blacksmith with interesting facial, constantly dancing or playing some kind of outlandish instrument.
What we didn't see
According to the Treehouse demo, the area where the game starts off, the Great Plateau, is kind of a sacred place that should have been hard for people, and indeed monsters, to get to, but when you wake up in the Shrine of Resurrection it's in ruins, overgrown, and full of angry bokoblins. Part of the plot will involve finding out what's actually happened in Hyrule. Apart from the meditating monks in the Shrines the only person Link comes across is a suspiciously helpful old man in a hooded cloak.
This, apparently, is not the case for the whole game. Aonuma–san said that the world will have towns and citizens that you can interact with, but they were specifically left out of the E3 footage so as not to spoil any of the story. It's not entirely clear if the Great Plateau specifically will be populated, but the rest of the game will. This will presumably include the titular Princess in one form or another, but nobody at Nintendo is giving out any details.