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The new Zelda is ambitious, but the Wii U is having a hard time keeping up

During last week’s E3 extravaganza, Nintendo finally dove deep on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The upcoming installment in the 30-year-old franchise rejects much of Nintendo’s recent history, and embraces a massive scope with complex gameplay systems. This is good news for fans who’ve fallen away from the series, but Nintendo might be asking too much from the Wii U’s limited hardware.

Nintendo streamed a significant chunk of the game last Tuesday, and E3 attendees were given the opportunity to play the game for themselves. We’ve only seen a sliver of the immense world Nintendo has promised, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Our sister site IGN named Zelda the game of the show, GameSpot called it one of the best games of E3 2016, and it even made our own top ten list. Nintendo has definitely dropped the ball these past few years, but they’re still capable of impressing even the most skeptical among us.

The new mechanics and the gorgeous art direction are exciting, and Nintendo deserves praise for stepping out of its comfort zone, but the E3 demo suffered from some serious performance problems. Digital Foundry analyzed the gameplay footage from Nintendo’s stream, and found that the frame rate was far from a locked 30fps. When you’re simply running around in the open world, the frame rate is reasonably stable. But the moment you start battling foes or setting fires, the game can drop into the low 20s.

It’s also worth noting that we’re only seeing a 720p resolution, trilinear texture filtering, and no anti-aliasing. These shortcomings aren’t shocking, but the Wii U’s technical limitations are starting to chafe. By all accounts, this is a massive game that’s being crammed onto last-gen hardware much like Metal Gear Solid V. It’s neat that it runs at all, but performance takes a substantial hit.

Of course, we’re still months away from release, so there’s still time for improvements to be made. But considering just how conservative Nintendo has been about showing off this new Zelda experience, I’m skeptical that we’ll see drastic changes between now and the day it ships. Tightening up the frame rate before launch seems rather likely, but I’m not holding my breath for other graphical improvements on the Wii U. I expect that what we saw is, for the most part, what we’ll get next year.

Zelda Wii U

That’s not to say that Breath of the Wild can’t look and perform better on the upcoming NX. We’re still unsure exactly how much horsepower Nintendo’s new console/handheld will feature, but there’s a strong possibility that the new hardware will be much better suited for a large open world. And if the game is as systems-heavy as we’re lead to believe, throwing more processing power behind it will probably help everything run smoother.

If performance matters to you, it’s best to hold off completely on pre-ordering the new Zelda. Let’s wait and see how powerful the NX is, how the different versions of the game compare, and if it’s worth investing in a brand new console for just one game. At this point, we have too many unanswered questions to justify pre-ordering either version.

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