Let's get this out of the way up front - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I have ever played in my 30 years of life. Its been a long time since a game has engrossed me so fully, I find myself thinking about it when I'm not playing it. When I go to play a game there is no question which game I'm going to pick up. "I'll play for just a few minutes" turns into 3 hours without noticing.
Breath of the Wild breaks free from the structure and form of the 3D Zelda games in a remarkable way. No single system it introduces (stamina, climbing, weapon durability, fast travel) is "brand new" but the package together exceeds the sum of its parts. All wrapped in a beautiful art style with a subtle, ambient score.
You awake to a voice asking for your help, you meet an old man who sets you off to collect the four key abilities (runes) that will support you throughout the game and then you are given a main quest - "Defeat Ganon". The rest of the game is in preparation of this ultimate goal and it sits there atop a quest log as a constant reminder that you have a job to do. What happens next is the ultimate fulfillment of the open world promise and PRs favorite buzzword "emergent gameplay".
I glide down to Hyrule below, leaving the starting area behind and I spot a small group of Bokoblins around a fire. Not any different than what I have been fighting the whole game. I sneak up, kill them, loot them, easy. Then I turn around and just in time to have my 3 heart ass thrown into the air by a giant ogre looking creature. We're not in the Great Plateau anymore.
You die a lot in Breath of the Wild. I have died more in the opening hours of this game than I have in the entirety of other Zelda games. I love it. It is a joy to try something and succeed and it is equally fun to try something and have it hilariously fail. Breath of the Wild is filled with moments of "I wonder if I can do X", most of the time the answer is yes, as long as you don't fuck up your execution.
You would be forgiven if you looked at Breath of the Wild and assumed a level of randomness or procedural generation had a hand in crafting a world of this size. You would be mistaken. I first realized this when I decided to climb a nearby rock jutting out from a mountain just to grab a cool screenshot of the landscape below. When I got there I found a small arrangement of rocks and thought "that's weird". I moved one rock and out popped a Korok, one of many small creatures hiding in Breath of the Wilds world that will give you a small seed you can use later. Someone wanted me to come here but I had no idea. Someone also thought this rock ledge looked cool and crafted a puzzle for me to find. This small subtle hand has touched every part of Hyrule and it's incredible to experience.
I have a confession. I missed out on the Legend of Zelda series until 1998s Ocarina of Time. I was definitely of the right age to play the Zelda series on NES and SNES, it just seems to pass me by. When I fell in love with Ocarina of Time I fell hard and I've been a fan of the series since, however the original game still eludes me and I've never committed to truly playing it. Now we have the latest entry, Breath of the Wild, being compared favorably to the original game and it leaves me without that reference point. Instead for me I am consistently reminded of another game, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This was the open world of my youth, and Breath of the Wild evokes it and evolves the formula. Later Elder Scrolls titles provided quest markers that took all the mystery out of the journey and while Breath of the Wild offers some markers, most of the time you need to listen to the clues provided and follow landmarks to track down your quest objectives. I'm transported back to reading my quest log in Morrowind, following the road to the last house in Balmora to meet the leader of the Blades and continue my journey. That was in 2002 and I haven't felt the same way about a game in 15 years. I will be spending many more hours in Hyrule and hope I don't have to wait 15 more years to feel this again.
Words by: Pete Lambro