Hyrule just got huge.
At E3 this week, Nintendo unveiled its plans for the next entry in its storied "Legend of Zelda" video game franchise: a brand-new title for the Wii U, featuring an open-world concept inspired by the very first games in the "Zelda" series.
Here's everything we know about the game so far:
A Whole New Open World
In approaching the new "Zelda" game, producer Eiji Aonuma and his team looked back on what made the earliest games in the series work. Specifically, Aonuma cited the first game's "open world" elements — that players could travel the entirety of Hyrule in whatever order and through whatever paths made most sense to them.
As the series progressed with improved graphics, creating that open world environment became more difficult; even the GameCube's "Wind Waker," which featured Link traveling across vast oceans, was limited in its ability to establish a true open world.
For the new game, Aonuma wanted to revisit the open world concept. As such, players will be able to explore the expansive Hyrule, visiting areas completely out of order and entering most locations without worrying about boundaries.
"You can enter any area from any direction," he says. "The puzzle solving begins the moment the player starts to think about where they want to go, how they will get there, and what they will do when they arrive. It's a clean break from the conventions of past games in the 'Zelda' series, where you had to follow set paths and play through scenarios in the right order. This departure creates opportunities for new gameplay that hasn't been seen in other 'Zelda' games."
In other words, Aonuma seems confident that the new "Zelda" will feature the most explorable world since the earliest games of the series.
There Will Be Monsters
In announcing the open world concept, Aonuma pulled the curtain back on what the new version of Hyrule looks like: stunning fields of green with massive mountains far off in the distance. Players can ride off for those far-off mountains, should they desire. But getting there won't be easy.
"As you know from the 'Zelda' series, the world in these games can be quite peaceful," says Aonuma, "However, it is a 'Zelda' game, after all, so powerful enemies will appear. Powerful enemies appearing in such a peaceful setting is one of the defining features of the 'Zelda' series."
Which means that the open world concept won't eliminate the random encounters that fans of the "Zelda" series have come to know, love, and loathe, as is sometimes the case.
No Link to the Past
While many elements change from game to game, one of the most consistent aspects of the "Zelda" series is Link's general appearance — specifically, his green hat and tunic, and his legendary Master Sword.
But the first look at footage from the new "Zelda" features a different look for the elven hero. The hat is nowhere to be seen. The green tunic is gone, exchanged for a blue tunic worn over a white long-sleeved shirt tucked into green and brown gloves. And there's no sign of the Master Sword, or any sword, for that matter. Here, Link wields a bow against his monstrous foes, armed with an ornate arrow unlike anything we've seen previously.
Indeed, the new Link looks to be a significantly different beast from the Link of old — assuming this is Link at all. Speaking with GamesBeat, Aonuma said of the character featured in the footage: "No one explicitly said that that was Link."
Could the new "Zelda" game feature a playable protagonist other than Link? Is it possible that the hero we see in the demo isn't Link, or even a man at all — could it be the titular Princess Zelda herself?
The Game Without A Name
For now, little else is known about the new "Legend of Zelda," including its official name. Nintendo refrained from revealing the game's full title, so it's subject to speculation for now. Perhaps it'll center on the game's open world concept, or new bow-and-arrow oriented gameplay, or a world without Link. For now, it's all guesswork.
Here's what we do know: The new "Legend of Zelda" is expected to arrive in 2015, and on first impressions alone, it looks gorgeous and glorious.
What do you think of the new "Zelda" game?