Nintendo’s E3 was all about The Legend of Zelda. Literally. Its booth in the Los Angeles Convention Center was transformed to look like a locale straight outta Hyrule, and the only title on display was the next game in the decades-old action/adventure series. Nintendo is putting a lot of eggs in one basket with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, making some big changes to the classic Zelda formula. I was worried that the massive open world and Link’s host of new abilities (he can cook!) would make Breath of the Wild feel less like a Zelda game, but after spending some time in the reimagined Hyrule, I’m no longer afraid of change.

The first part of the demo had me running around an open area with no particular goal in mind, just to get a feel for Breath of the Wild. Hyrule is as beautiful as ever, looking very much like a living watercolor painting — and that’s just the Wii U version. We still have no idea what the NX version will look like, though Nintendo has promised the games will be the same (content-wise, at least) on either console.

Link was already armed with a sword, and in messing around with the controls, I discovered that he could now throw his weapons at enemies. What I didn’t think about was getting those weapons back, at least until the next time I was surrounded by Hylian creatures. “I thought you had a sword,” a Nintendo rep mentioned upon seeing my struggle. “I threw it at something,” I answered nonchalantly. Whoops!


No, the demo did not end with me running out of hearts in less than five minutes. Link also had a trusty bow and arrow handy, so I whipped that out and started shooting. You can aim using either a thumbstick or by moving the GamePad around, the latter of which is less annoying than it sounds. It doesn’t have to be at eye level to have the shot lined up properly; simple movements are all it takes.

From the defeated foes I was able to pick up a club and a wooden shield. Finally, I had a melee weapon again! Unfortunately, Bokoblins aren’t particularly skilled in the crafting of weapons, and their clubs fell apart after a few hits. Still, being able to pick up weapons on the fly was fun, and gave me some variety in what I used to attack (and accidentally throw at random enemies).

As a longtime Legend of Zelda player, this all felt completely natural. Even Link’s most shocking new ability — jumping — felt like something that had been there all along. This was after I spent the first minute of the demo jumping around the forest in glee, of course. "You look so happy!" the Nintendo rep noted as I bounced through a clearing. I'm not sure if she was talking about onscreen Link or me in real life, but either way, she was right. Other fresh skills to note: Link can Assassin’s Creed his way up walls and creep around in stealth mode to sneak up on enemies. There’s even a noise meter to let you know whether or not your movements are being detected. I wandered up mountainsides, climbed over broken structures, and looked out into the horizon from high distances; it was beautiful and strange, but familiar landmarks like Death Mountain let me know I was still very much in Hyrule, which was comforting.


Then I jumped into the game’s actual story, starting at the beginning. Link wakes up in a cave sporting some old clothes and no memory of how he got there. Starting off with zero context is a throwback to the original Legend of Zelda, just another example of how Breath of the Wild does a seamless job blending the traditional and the new.

After making his way out of the cave with some well-worn clothing found in treasure chests, a stone tablet, and a mysterious voice urging him along, Link was back in the sunshine. Because I’d already had some combat training in the first part of the demo, it wasn’t hard for me to take down the first group of attacking Bokoblins and grab a weapon from them. It’s just not really Zelda until Link has a sword in hand.

I accidentally threw my sword away. Again.

From what little I could gather of the plot, it looks like something evil is afoot at Hyrule Castle and has been for about a century. Seeing the familiar citadel, even surrounded by dark, smoky wisps of despair, made me smile. As the demo drew to a close, I realized that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gave me that same comforting feeling of familiarity that the previous games in the series have, even if this one is a pretty big departure from tradition. So far, change is good, and I’m excited to get lost in the new-old Hyrule when Breath of the Wild finally arrives next year.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be available in 2017 for the Wii U and NX.