Leading up to its launch there was a lot of buzz surrounding the newest release in the Zelda franchise, Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve always enjoyed the franchise and had my interest piqued upon finding out just how large the world was supposed to be; not only was it going to be massive, but supposedly you could traverse any and all terrain that you could see. These factors coupled with the newness of the Nintendo Switch spelled something truly different for gaming and I just had to see for myself. Since its release, I have been playing as much as possible, and I have to say that I have been extremely satisfied with the overall experience.

Let me start by saying that the world is massive in every sense of the word. I have seen several comparisons to Skyrim, but even in all of its beauty, Skyrim has nothing on Breath of the Wild. For example, I was recently completing a mission for one of the main quests that required Link to traverse a long, single path, defeating enemies along the way. Over 30 minutes later, enemy battles included, I still had not reached my destination. However, it does not feel tedious or boring like some games with large open worlds can become. Instead, the magnificent landscapes and challenging enemy fights kept me captivated and on my toes, making it worth the long trek.

The gigantic open world is full of neat little shortcuts such as horse travel and fast travel. Honestly, I had somehow missed that you could even travel via horse and was pleasantly surprised when I saw the “mount” command appear while I was trying to hunt one. At the time, I thought it would produce meat like other game does in Breath of the Wild. I got lucky on my first try and was able to snag an even tempered horse who was fast enough for my liking. Riding the horse quickly became my method of choice for map traversal. I was made even happier once I discovered that you could register your horses and retrieve them at stables across the map. The retrieval function becomes particularly useful when you have to leave your horse somewhere to finish out a quest or climb a mountain. Better yet, if you accidentally get your horse stuck somewhere odd, horse retrieval fixes you right up.

The other mode of travel that helps out a ton is fast travel. The game does a great job of making sure that you cannot fast travel everywhere, forcing you to walk or ride new places and continue to make discoveries, fight enemies, and get new gear. I found that when I discovered fast travel in Skyrim, I rarely traveled anywhere on foot more than once (mainly to discover it so it would register on the map for fast travel later). However, Breath of the Wild is not a game that you should be utilizing fast travel often for several different reasons. First and foremost, the game is gorgeous and there’s never a moment that the landscape doesn’t keep me in awe, even after over a week of gameplay. Moreover, your gear degrades and breaks often enough that you are in constant need to find more. By forcing you to walk or ride from place to place, you have a never-ending supply of enemy battles that will warrant you new weapons and shields, along with ingredients and other treasures for the taking.

However, I do still use fast travel to my advantage when need be. I realized early on that important places such as cities and stables seem to always have a shrine nearby and a quick hop over to discover the shrine and add it to your map allows you the option to fast travel to there from that point forward. There are other fast travel points on your map as well, such as the towers, that serve the same purpose and allow you to move quickly between important places. But as I said before, fast travel is not the primary way to get around in this game and should only be used when necessary. Personally, I use it most when trying to retrieve my horse or travel between cities that I am doing small side quests in. This way, I am still capturing the essence of the open world.

A quick note about the towers: some of them may be in places that are difficult to go to, but it will be worth it if you can make it. It will unlock that region on the map, making it much easier for you to get to know the world around you. Also, it will open up the aforementioned fast travel points. I know it seems very Assassin’s Creed to have to unlock the map from the vantage points, but trust me, it’s not the same. Each tower has its own set of challenges to make it to the top, and you don’t have many towers to visit, meaning that you won’t have to climb them often.

To continue on the subject of the world itself, when it says open world, this game means it. It is quite possibly the first game that I have ever played that allows you to drop down to, climb up, or even swim to anywhere that you can see. I have not managed to make it to the edge of the map just yet, but for now everything I have wanted to get to, I could. There seem to be no invisible walls anywhere in the game. For example, I discovered that I am able to climb up any building, even on top of unlikely places such as steeples or oddly-shaped buildings. It is a good idea to get on top of buildings as well. You never know what vantage point it might give you for a quest or searching for Korok seeds. This game is the textbook definition of “leave no stone unturned”; you are going to want to go everywhere and see everything.

Speaking of Korok seeds, the quests throughout the game are fun, yet challenging. As far as collecting Korok seeds, it is wise to note that the same puzzles will pop up numerous times. Without spoiling how to solve them, just know that you will likely perform the same actions in various places across Hyrule, so take note of how you solve them for later. Now, the Korok seed searching is completely optional, but your inventory is initially very limited for weapons, shields, and wearable gear, so I highly recommend spending some time gathering them to expand your inventory. The only inventory slots that are unlimited are the ingredients, which was a huge relief. As I grew closer to thinking I was going to max it out, I was trying to plan ahead for what ingredients would prove most important. Luckily, I didn’t need to plan out anything; you can carry as many ingredients for cooking and fire-building as you need.

Back to the quests themselves, I highly recommend that you take on the side quests and shrine quests. One of the neat aspects of this game is that you are completely allowed to jump ahead, walk straight to Hyrule Castle and try to best Ganon immediately. However, I don’t advise it. I have read a few places that you are completely able to sneak into the castle early and get some good gear, which may be advisable for those up to the challenge. The gear that you start with is not very protective and can be frustrating when you would like to travel to especially cold or hot climates where it does you no good. In fact, if your gear does not protect you well enough from the weather you will die.

There are several other reasons that you should embark on the side quests and shrine quests as well. For one, it will help you discover all sorts of neat places on the map. Also, it will slowly introduce you to enemies, leveling higher and higher as you progress through the quests. For example, you start the game off battling very low level enemies that are simple to defeat with even just a tree branch (yes, you can beat enemies to death with a tree branch). But as the enemies get harder, you will not only need better gear, but ingenuity. Battling a set of enemies might clue you in on neat ways to avoid direct confrontation and battle from afar. Other battles might lead to better weapons and ingredients. All in all, these side quests will introduce you to the game’s challenges at a reasonable pace.

Now, when I mention that the game has challenges, this is not an understatement. Breath of the Wild is one of the most challenging games I have played in quite some time. It has forced me to think of new, innovative ways to beat or avoid enemies, as well as reach new places. I am not talking Dark Souls-level challenging, but definitely in a similar league. Since you can travel anywhere immediately, you can easily come across an enemy or multiple enemies that you have zero chance of defeating early on. As you progress, you will learn methods that work best for your style of fighting and what weapons and runes are the most effective for a given situation.

Unlike other incarnations of the series, Breath of the Wild differs in a way like never before: battles are what you make them. By this, I mean that you can approach a battle however you wish because It’s not so much a hack-and-slash game as it is a game of wits. For example, I discovered early on that on lower-level enemies that are all congregated together, the remote bombs are my best friend. I love to find a place on higher ground nearby, hide, and toss bombs their way, setting them off at the right time. Some enemy camps have explosive barrels nearby which can be detonated with the remote bomb, creating a massive explosion. However, as the enemies grow more difficult, the bomb is only so powerful and other strategies have to be put in place to overpower them.

Another challenge for battles is your weapon arsenal. I will let you know right now that it is absolutely ever-changing. You never hold onto the same weapons for long but there are some that you should cycle out as you find new ones. Some of the weapons you should always have on hand include a torch, a woodcutter’s axe, and a Korok leaf. As I come across new ones, I tend to cycle the old ones out due to the weapon degradation; this way, I am less likely to be caught without the weapon I need. As a heads up, the reason for a torch and an axe is for building fires. Occasionally you will need to cook up some meals on the fly and both of these tools will prove useful. You can use the torch to grab fire from nearby to light the wood under a pot, or use the axe to chop down wood and build a fire from scratch. If you are building a fire from scratch, be sure to keep some flints and a metal weapon handy, otherwise you will just have a pile of wood and no fire.

Back to your weapons, never be afraid to let a weapon go and cycle new ones in. In fact, sometimes you are better off grabbing a new lower-level weapon than having a weapon that is about to break the next swing you take (or arrow you shoot — yes, your bows degrade too). As you begin to battle electric enemies, you’ll find that your weapon will be knocked out of your hand, and you are better off just grabbing a new one from your arsenal and grabbing the old ones post-win. That said, never leave your inventory empty because you never know when your better weapons make break or get lost in a fight.

I will say this, I thought that the weapon degradation was going to be a blemish on the game, but as I have progressed, I have found it to be pretty awesome. I am constantly finding new things to try out, which gives me new ways to approach enemies. This keeps the game interesting, especially since you do see a lot of the same enemies multiple times.

One last note about enemies, I learned quickly that the guardians are pointless to fight without proper preparation. Having the right gear is the only way that you will be able to defeat these very frustrating creatures. Otherwise, it is pointless to even approach them and will surely result in your imminent death.

Keeping in line with my inventory talk, let’s get into ingredients a bit. So far I am realizing that if you can pick it up, take it. Don’t leave anything behind that can be used for cooking. Although you can begin the game with few meals and no elixirs, they will be imperative to survival later on. Remember that quest I mentioned earlier that had me walking down a long path to my destination? The enemies have challenged me to be strategic, adding extra heart containers, protections from electric shock, and even cooking food several times along the way. Without a steady supply of ingredients, this will prove far more difficult than necessary. Personally, I like to go on a long trek to a new place with plenty of meals in place so I am not put into an impossible situation. I have found that during down time between quests, cooking up meals for health, stamina, and other boosts are worth the time and effort.

As for searching for ingredients, I have been using a combination of the Sheikah slate, and the stasis rune. Once you upgrade your slate, you are given the ability to search for things in your compendium, which reminds me, try to take photos of any and everything. Just the other day I was in desperate need of some stamina replenishment meals so I went into my slate, set the sensor to stamella shrooms, activated my stasis rune and began walking toward the beeps. The stasis rune comes in handy because it acts like the detective mode from the Batman Arkham series. Once on, you can find objects across the landscape that can be interacted with. These include ingredients, treasure chests, and even rocks that may be hiding something neat underneath. Once I gathered up enough shrooms, I went back to a cooking pot and fired up some stamina meals. This allowed me to scale a large mountain that I did not have enough stamina to reach the top.

Speaking of stamina, let’s talk a bit about upgrades. As you complete the shrines, you are given spirit orbs that you can spend to upgrade either the number of heart containers you have or your stamina wheel. Personally, I went for the heart containers first but realized that your stamina wheel shouldn’t be left to the wayside. Even just the first upgrade allowed me enough stamina that I was able to bypass the struggle of making it to the top of several cliffs; I highly recommend giving it some attention.

Since you have to complete shrines to get those upgrades, I realized quickly to give every one I come across a shot. In fact, it not only allots an upgrade, but also gives you those fast travel points I mentioned earlier. There are so many shrines on the map, that you will want to snatch up as many of those as possible. The cool thing is that you don’t even have to complete them in order to activate them on your map. The way that I have approached them has been pretty simple. I activate the shrine, adding it to my map, then immediately save the game; this way, if the shrine proves too difficult or if I am in the middle of doing something more important, I can come back to it later. Once I save the game, I go into the shrine and check it out. Thus far they have all been fairly short but challenging enough to really make me think. Plus, some shrines can be solved more than one way. I was having some trouble with one shrine and noticed that the way I solved the first half was much faster than someone else’s guide for that shrine. That said, don’t get discouraged if the solution isn’t obvious at first; you may just need to cycle through your runes and figure out which one will work best.

I found out fairly early on that you can upgrade your runes as well. Unlike your heart containers and stamina wheel, your runes are upgraded by gathering ancient parts to trade. That said, as you pick up the ancient gears, screws, and other materials, DO NOT SELL THEM! They are much harder to come by and they are the only way for you to get these upgrades. In fact, a little later in the game the ancient armor you can acquire will require both ancient materials and rupees, so don’t spend them on frivolous things if you can help it. The armor you will get will aid you greatly in protecting yourself against guardians which will otherwise kill you in one shot that can be difficult to avoid, especially on horse.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the weather in Hyrule. I’ve played games in the past that have pretty neat weather patterns in them, maybe some rain or snow here and there or in certain regions of a map, but Breath of the Wild takes in-game weather to a whole new level. For starters, the current weather and upcoming weather can be seen on your HUD so you know what to expect next. The weather itself ranges from sunny, cloudy, or rainy, to lightning storms or even snow! It is very important to keep your eye on the weather because it may prevent you from continuing forward with your quest. For example, the rain and falling snow will wet the rocks and make it difficult to impossible to climb up a rock wall or other surface. There were a few times that I had to build a fire to wait out the weather because my HUD told me that the weather was going to be rain for quite some time, and I didn’t feel like just standing around.

Another reason to keep an eye on the weather is because lightning storms can take Link out. No seriously. I had some metal weaponry on my back and noticed the sparks on my weapon as the lightning struck around me. The next thing I knew, I was struck by a bolt and killed instantly. I learned quickly that if I had metal weapons in a lightning storm, to change them out for wooden ones. This also means that if I am caught in a fight during a lightning storm, that it could mean trouble if I am using metal weapons so I try to avoid battles during the bad weather. Aside from that, getting struck by lightning is wicked cool and if you’ve saved recently it’s pretty awesome to check out at least once. It has to be my favorite video game death of all time.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll let you in on some quick tips I’ve picked up over the last week and give you my final thoughts on the game.