Nearly three years after its original announcement in 2014, you'll finally be able to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild come March 3rd -- and have your choice of systems, too. It will probably be the last major game released for the beleaguered Wii U console, but it will also be the biggest launch game available for the Nintendo Switch on day one.
The Switch, of course, is Nintendo's new console/handheld hybrid system, featuring a tablet base with attachable controllers that allow for portable play, as well as a dock that lets you get the classic TV play experience. It's out with the old and in with the new, as far as Nintendo's hardware is concerned, but that sentiment also applies to Breath of the Wild.
While core Zelda elements remain intact, Breath of the Wild makes some big changes to the formula, offering a vast world to explore and challenges you can tackle in any order. Will Zelda's expertly manicured quests still shine through on a larger scale, and can Breath of the Wild be the game that catapults the Switch into millions of homes? Here's what you need to know.
Breath of the Wild gives you unprecedented freedom
In classic Zelda fashion, Breath of the Wild is a large fantasy quest with puzzle-packed dungeons to fight and solve your way through. Our hero Link's task is to once again save the land of Hyrule and its frequently endangered princess, but from a new version of a familiar threat: Calamity Ganon.
However, while the story looks plenty dramatic, there's a lot less direction to the campaign structure. The open-ended design gives you a sprawling new version of Hyrule to explore and doesn't care how you accomplish your ultimate goal of defeating Ganon. You can tackle the dungeons in any order, and chart your own path through them.
If you see a location in the world, you can go ahead and find your way there right from the start. Link can scale mountains and giant trees, swim and sail, and freely navigate through the terrain, finding new threats, opportunities, and surprises along the way. It's a more Skyrim-esque setting to explore, and the ability to take on the 100+ Shrines of Trials however you choose lends the game a newly freeform bent.
And you'll have to survive the wild
With that shift comes another interesting one: Breath of the Wild plays more like a survival game, almost taking cues from ultra-popular releases like Minecraft and Don't Starve. You'll have to hunt and gather to collect resources, prepare and eat food to stave off death, swap clothes and armor as the weather changes, and even do a bit of building and crafting along the way.
No, The Legend of Zelda hasn't gone full Minecraft, and you won't be constructing shelters using pixelated blocks -- but there's a clear influence from those types of games that shifts the series away from just snagging hearts and rubies from busted pots. There's more depth to the wilderness around you, as well. One example: Now you can tame wild horses, each with its own temperament and attributes, and keep up to five of them in your stable. And just like Link, they can reportedly perish if you don't take care of them out there.
There's a new arsenal of weapons
We all know about Link's classic sword, bow and arrows, and boomerang, but you'll find and wield a much larger array of weapons in Breath of the Wild. In addition to varying swords and bows, you'll also discover axes, spears, hammers, clubs along the way -- and the fireball-blasting Fire Rod handles a lot differently than the heavy, two-handed Iron Sledgehammer, or a hulking Spiked Moblin Club with an animal bone affixed to it. Weapons can also break, so don't plan on carrying the same one across a large chunk of the journey.
Breath of the Wild's combat adds a bit more complexity as well, including a new Flurry Rush barrage of blows that you can use after perfectly dodging an incoming attack. You'll find enemies of all shapes and sizes in Hyrule, and while it's unlikely to provide a Dark Souls-like level of unforgiving difficulty, you may need to employ some new tactics to thrive out there.
The game's the same on both systems
The core Breath of the Wild experience should be the same on both the Wii U and Switch consoles. I played a lengthy demo on Wii U last summer, and it appears to be the same version being shown on the Switch at Nintendo's events this week. In terms of visual performance, expect similar designs enhanced by the Switch's crisper graphics and steadier frame rate.
Of course, the one big advantage with the Switch version is portability: The device can run the game entirely on its own, free from your TV, with Nintendo estimating battery life of about three hours for Breath of the Wild. Otherwise, it doesn't seem to utilize any of the particular control tricks of the Switch's detachable Joy-Con controllers, so it's just a matter of where you want to play, and how large the screen will be.
In any case, Breath of the Wild should be a stunning experience
Breath of the Wild isn't too far off from the cel-shaded, yet not overly cartoony look of 2011's Skyward Sword on Wii, but there's a ton more detail in the world and on the creatures, not to mention a heaping helping of atmosphere throughout. It's like a Hayao Miyazaki film come to life, and Nintendo has also evoked some of the earliest Legend of Zelda artwork to really ratchet up the nostalgia factor for longtime fans.
From what I've seen and played so far, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems to deftly balance the old and new, keeping the spirit of classic quests while expanding the scope and giving you more freedom to pursue your own adventure. And given its track record with the series, there's little reason to doubt that Nintendo can pull off this compelling new concoction -- no matter which console you wield.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.