The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild departs from most games in The Legend of Zelda series, as it features an open-world environment, twelve times larger than the overworld in Twilight Princess, with less emphasis on defined entrances and exits to areas. Similar to the original The Legend of Zelda, the player is placed into the game’s world with very little instruction, and is allowed to explore freely at their own pace.
Taking control of Link, players are able to freely explore Hyrule, with actions such as running, climbing, swimming, and gliding with a paraglider using up stamina. Unlike other games where Link obtains specific key weapons for permanent use, the player must procure various items from the environment, including melee weapons, bows, and shields, which break after excessive use. Many items have multiple uses; for example, wooden weapons can be set to light fires and shields can be used as makeshift snowboards, a practice known in-game as shield surfing. Players can also obtain various food and materials, such as meat from hunted animals, monster parts from defeated enemies, and valuable gemstones from ore reserves. By cooking various combinations of food or materials, the player can create meals and elixirs that can replenish Link’s health and stamina, or provide temporary status bonuses such as increased strength or resistance against cold environments. Near the start of the game, Link obtains multiple rune powers that are installed onto his Sheikah Slate, which can also be used to mark waypoints on a map and take pictures. These include remote bombs, which come in cube and spherical forms; Magnesis, which can be used to manipulate metal objects; Cryonis, which forms ice blocks on watery surfaces; and Stasis, which temporarily stops objects in time, during which the player can build up kinetic energy which is released once time resumes. Players will need to be cautious of environmental climate and changes in the weather; for example, cold environments will damage Link unless he wears warm clothing or eats spicy food, while lightning will become attracted to metal objects during thunderstorms.
Spread throughout Hyrule’s overworld are towers and shrines, activating either of which adds waypoints that the player may warp to at any time. Activating towers adds the surrounding territory to the player’s map, although specific location names are not added until the player explores that area for themselves. Shrines mostly replace the series’ traditional dungeons, instead consisting of smaller challenges ranging from puzzle solving to battles against robotic opponents, with some shrines requiring a puzzle to be solved on the overworld to enter. Clearing these shrines earns Spirit Orbs, which can be traded at various Goddess statues for additional heart containers or an expanded stamina wheel. In addition to these 120 shrines are four Divine Beasts which require the triggering of four switches. Also scattered across the overworld are various small puzzles that reveal the hiding places of Koroks. Solving these puzzles earns Korok Seeds, which can be traded in to expand inventory size for weapons, shields, and bows. Players may also scan Amiibo figures to add items into the game, including Link’s horse Epona and Wolf Link from Twilight Princess. If the player fulfills certain conditions, they are able to unlock an alternative ending of the game.