The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that has, at least since the N64 days, followed two distinct styles. The first stems from the original on NES and continued on handhelds, following a 2D top down perspective. The second, upon the arrival of Ocarina of Time, followed a 3D style and always stayed true to specific known conventions (dungeons with a specific item, the triforce, pieces of heart etc). The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not just the next game in the mainline console 3D Zelda games; it creates a 3rd paradigm shift, a new direction for the franchise and most importantly, one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Thousands of words have been spilled over this game already, so here’s the basic cliff notes of what this Zelda is about in case you don’t know. Breath of the Wild is the first true open world Zelda, which is massive in scope and size. From essentially the outset, you can actually go anywhere in this massive world. There are some survival elements - weapons degrade and break, so you rotate through them at a pretty fast clip; you collect dozens upon dozens of different foods, herbs, monster parts etc to create meals and elixirs; various parts of the world require you to protect against cold, heat and harsh sunlight. You get all of the tools you need to interact with the world in the first few hours of play; these tools are the keys to interacting with the insanely clever sandbox Nintendo has built. If it seems like something should be able to work, it probably will.
It was about an hour into this game when I had that moment of realization of just how special this game was. I’d collected my fair share of weapons - a few swords, a club and a woodcutters axe - when I stumbled across a small ravine. I could see there was something interesting on the other side, but I had no idea how to get to it. Usually a Zelda game will present you with some kind of hint about what item to use - a hookshot or spinner, perhaps? I stood around for a moment in thought, then realized - there were a few trees growing near the edge of the cliff. I got behind the tree, took out my woodcutters axe, and swung. The tree fell forward, landing evenly on the other side of the gap. I got on top of the felled tree, walked across to the other side, jumped down and literally said “holy shit” out loud.
As someone who purely loves the painstakingly built dungeons of the Zelda franchise, I had some misgivings about the new shrine structure. There are a few larger dungeons throughout the game, though they don’t reflect iconic classics like the Ocarina forest temple or the Twilight snowpeak ruins. The shrines however are super satisfying - while they are bite size in essence, they are all extremely well built and can often offer multiple solutions to their puzzles. You always feel so clever when you finish a shrine in a way that it wasn’t necessarily designed to be solved.
It’s been said a hundred times already, but man… exploring in this game is a true joy. Setting out in any direction will always, without fail, give you something interesting to engage with. Whether it’s a particular enemy encampment that you take down, a new type of environment you haven’t seen, a tantalizing korok puzzle, a shrine, or even just a beautiful vista - Breath of the Wild captures a feeling of wonder and awe in a way very few, if any, open world games ever have. This isn’t a large world created and then filled; this is an open world built with the purpose of enjoying every single inch.
In all honesty, I’ve not really ever cared too much about the story or characters of Zelda games - if you’ve played any Zelda game before, you already know the gist of what’s happening (except maybe Majora’s Mask.) I was quite surprised to find myself caring a lot more about this version of Hyrule than I have before; it’s characters are interesting and so cleverly written, the lore that seeps through is surprisingly brilliantly constructed, and the story itself is the most intricate and intriguing one Nintendo has ever written. Zelda as a character has always been a vessel for the heroes journey, a goal to fight for - in Breath of the Wild, she became one of my favourite characters from any game I’ve ever played.
I’ve hit over the 160 hour mark in this game, and I still just want to keep playing. Breath of the Wild is a phenomenal piece of work, a game worthy of it’s delays, long development time and the Zelda name. I deliberately don’t give scores when I write about the games I play, but if I were to ever do that, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an unequivocally easy 10/10, a must play masterpiece that is worth buying a new console for.