E3 2016: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild debuts

Nintendo kicked off its Treehouse presentation with a name, and an extended look, at the next Zelda game.

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During today's Nintendo Treehouse presentation, it opened with an extended look at the new Zelda. In the quick look we saw combat, construction, stealth mechanics, and physics tools, along with several sweeping vistas and wildlife. In a comment after the glimpse, Reggie Fils-Aime commented that Hyrule itself is a resource, ally, and enemy.

In designing Breath of the Wild, Eiji Aonuma director set out to break the conventions of Zelda games. The first thing fans will notice is that the game features voice-acting for at least one character, a mysterious woman (Princess Zelda?) bidding Link to open his eyes.

New gameplay footage shows Link lying face down in a pool of liquid. He sits up, the camera pans out, and we see Link sitting in some sort of glowing pod. "I've talked about breaking the conventions of Zelda, but Link does start by waking up," Aonuma said, laughing.

Link moves from the pod and approaches a Sheikah Slate, a tablet-like item that guides Link along his journey--and another signal that Breath of the Wild will be a vastly different experience than any Zelda before it.

"We're introducing technology," Aonuma said. The Sheikah Slate can be used to activate environmental objects like doors. Link leaves the starting area and sprints outside to the lip of a cliff, where we're treated to a breathtaking view of what might be Breath's take on Hyrule Field.

"In the previous titles, we used character names and item names as subtitles. But this time around, we wanted to showcase the world of Zelda," Aonuma said, explaining the game's subtitle.

Link picks his way up and down the cliff as a stamina gauge (circular, like the meter in Skyward Sword) depletes and refills based on his actions. As he comes across mushrooms, Link plucks them from the ground and stores them in a pocket. Mushrooms are one of many items in Breath of the Wild that players will come across and snatch up for later use.

Climbing up a tree, Link opens a world map and shows off a plateau, the central area being shown in Nintendo's E3 demo. Stepping into a cave, Link encounters an old man who explains that the Great Plateau is the birthplace of the kingdom of Hyrule, perhaps hinting at Breath of the Wild's place in the Zelda timeline.

Earlier, Link picked up a tree branch. It can be used as a weapon, but it serves other purposes. Dipping it into the old man's bonfire, Link waves it through brush and sets it aflame. When Link finds an axe, he uses it to chop down a tree, spilling apples that can be used to regenerate health. He also gathers up firewood that players can use to start a bonfire.

Fans of The Wind Waker should be pleased to learn that Link befriends Koroks, tiny tree creatures that offer advice. In a nearby stone, Link retrieves a sword and (naturally) commences slashing grass. He comes across a band of goblins, and after battling some of the creatures, his rusty sword and shield break, demonstrating that some items will break over time. As in Wind Waker, Link will be able to take up weapons from fallen enemies.

In another encounter, Link battles more Bokoblins and demonstrates perfect timing, a precise attack that slows down time and seems to inflict greater damage. Aonuma points out that, as indicated in the demonstration, players will be dropped into the world with minimal backstory. No long-winded dialogue or Metal Gear-esque cinematics will slow down your introduction to Breath's incarnation of Hyrule.

Aonuma pauses so that players can take in Breath of the Wild's art style, which the director explains is derived from Japanese animation. "We've used this 'toon Link' style before, but in order for players to see an item, to find an item, it's easier to use an animation style where you create something and then shake off an element. So players will be able to find items easier." In other words, Aonuma's goal was to create an art style that is functional in-game as well as visually appealing.

Players will notice that music is absent during the demo. Aonuma opted to rely more on ambient sounds. "I know that's something a lot of fans will notice," Aonuma said. "This aural take really does resonate."

Absent in the Treehouse demonstration was puzzle-solving. Aonuma assured viewers that that element of the game, a cornerstone of the series, will be explored in greater detail later on.

When the stream resumes, new demonstrators explain that they'll be showcasing exploration. Link leaps from a high vantage and throws out a parachute to float to a distant tract of land. He gathers items as he goes, and the representatives point out that players won't be distracted by pop-up notifications alerting players of item types they've already found.

Coming upon an encampment of monsters, we see that they're roasting meat. Rather than rush down and flail around, Link rolls magical bomb-like items down the hill. The first bomb distracts the monsters, drawing them away from the fire. Link must wait for a cooldown meter to expire before throwing another bomb, which dispatches his enemies.

As a reminder that players can choose how to approach virtually any encounter, Nintendo's Treehouse staff opts to take a stealthy approach toward another band of goblins. Link can crouch-walk through grass, but the monsters see him, so he improvises, lobbing bombs and swinging his axe like a bat.

Link moves into a wintery environment: mountains blanketed in snow, and sharp gusts of wind that pull at Link's clothes. The Treehouse staff explains that players will need to keep Link warm in such conditions, either by making a fire or changing into warmer clothes.

The sun threats, and a new threat emerges: skeletons burst from the ground, like the Stal Children from N64's Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Cresting a snowy hilltop, Link takes a page from Legolas's playbook and rides a shield like a snowboard to the ground.

Battling another mob of skeletons, Link shatters one and wields one of its arms as a melee weapon. It splinters quickly, but the feeling of smashing a bony ligament over enemy skulls must be immensely satisfying.

The stream resumes, and our new hosts take Link to a shrine, a dungeon-type setting Link access by scanning his Sheikah slate. There are over 100 shrines in the game; conquering the challenges that lie within award Link items.

There's a seal that Link much touch and break down, hiding a being within who possesses long hair -- Oman Au, the creator of the trial Link has been completing this entire time. Link is bestowed with a special gift: a Spirit Orb, which possess a Hylian crest. Link receives it as it dissolves into his chest and the blessing "May the goddess forever smile upon you" is imparted to Link as Oman Au fades away. 

There's a loading screen after that, and then after some brief conversation the stream resumes as Link selecting items is shown off, where the items are bathed in red as items Link can touch and move with his magnetic tool. 

It's been confirmed that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is releasing simultaneously for both Wii U and NX in 2017. 

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