Initially I was tentative about buying a Nintendo Switch. The first year has a great lineup of games, but in this very first month of March, there isn’t much other than Zelda and an updated version of Binding of Isaac to tickle my fancy. But I caved into the purchase because I’m a huge Nintendo fan, and I saw the glowing reviews for Breath of The Wild and came to the conclusion that I would love it too. So I bought the Switch, traded in at EB Games for a copy of Breath of The Wild, booted up the Switch for a set up that didn’t last two hours like some other Nintendo console I know…
And experienced the best open world game I have ever played.
I mean it, Breath of the Wild is an absolutely incredible game, and my favourite open world game ever. I can safely say that only after 10 hours of play. I love this game so much. I haven’t played a game for 8 hours straight since I was a little child. It evoked feelings in me that I haven’t felt in so long. It’s incredible to see a game that not only lived up to the hype but exceeded it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain why Breath of The Wild is a fresh air for Zelda, and for the open-world genre as a whole.
The biggest appeal of any open-world game is their non-linearity and complete freedom. However, most open world games have worlds that end, or feel same-ey, or feel pretty generic. Breath of The Wild is a massive open-world game that has as little restrictions as possible. See a mountain? You can climb it. See a group of enemies? You have tons of options to deal with them. See a shrine? Go off the beaten path and go there. You aren’t gated in your progress whatsoever, and it is phenomenal. This is a stark contrast from Skyward Sword, which, although I do love the game, was a very linear experience. There’s nothing wrong with a linear game, it just takes away a bit of the adventure. Breath of The Wild instills a sense of wonder and discovery in Zelda that I haven’t felt since I was a child playing Wind Waker. Seriously, experiencing this game with no spoilers, no idea of the experience that you’re in for is the best way to play it. Every combat encounter, every mountain, every bit of terrain can be explored. And exploration is pretty much always worth it. There is always some material, some weapon, some item that you can use to better yourself. In Skyrim, you can’t climb every mountain. In The Witcher 3, there isn’t much exploration to the caves. Zelda has that. Zelda has that level of polish and sense of wonder. The signature Nintendo polish is present in Breath of the Wild and seeing constant new experiences, enemy camps, and side quests is an amazing, addictive feeling.
Combat, too, has seen a massive revamp. Encounters are hard and require thought and preparation. That almost NEVER happens in a modern open world game. In Skyrim, run up and bash your enemies with a mace while healing in the other hand. Every encounter is solved from the first hour in. In Fallout, shoot them with a gun in the head. Works every time. In Zelda, the enemies hit hard and can take a hit. You need ACTUAL preparation in food for these encounters since health and defense upgrades are rare. I absolutely LOVE that the game respects you as a player to know whether to engage an enemy. It’s not like an open-world RPG where you just see the level, and you’re like “oh okay I won’t mess with those guys they’re 10 levels higher than me.” There are no levels to enemies, so you have to assess whether an encounter is worth it.
The combat goes even deeper. In any situation, there is always more than one way to go about it. If you see a massive monster, you can rush in with a two-handed club and bash them in, relying on your dodging to keep you alive. Or, you can freeze a big enemy with a freeze arrow, and render them immobile, making weaker enemies easier. Or, if you are at a point of elevation, you can roll a bomb down the cliff and blow it up near them. OR, you can pick them off from a distance with arrows, OR…you get the idea.
There are so many ways to accommodate any play style, but the game never feels stale or easy. I died, like, 20 times in my first 10 hours. That’s 4x as many times as I died in the entirety of Twilight Princess. This Zelda does absolutely no handholding for the player, and that’s phenomenal. But it never gets too frustrating. Deaths all feel fair, and dying doesn’t send you back too far. It sends you back a few minutes of progress, so it keeps you wanting to play more and think of new strategies to every combat encounter and that is just phenomenal. It feels like every piece of this massive world was handcrafted by Nintendo delicately, and that is an unbelievable sensation.
The Boring Stuff is Fun
I hate the towers and open-world aspects of Ubisoft games. I think towers are bland, cheap ways to scout out the area around for bland, checklist activities. It feels like busywork. Breath of The Wild, however, made me love these watch towers. How did it do that? Because it doesn’t just fill arbitrary objectives on the map. A watchtower in Breath of The Wild respects you. It doesn’t fill out your minimap with objectives. It DOES reveal your map, but it doesn’t show you where every little thing is. It lets you, the player, observe your surroundings and plot YOUR journey. It is the player’s journey to discover every shrine and area, and they are allowed to pin it for themselves. They can choose which area is important to look for. It also helps that there is no inventory limit on materials, so every journey means that you always make some progress. You always improve with more progress. both statistically and skill-wise.
I was skeptical of the shrines. I hate boring forgettable Skyrim and Witcher caves. Although Witcher 3 does this to a lesser extent, a lot of Bethesda caves, vaults, and innocuous locations are copy-pasted. Every single one of the 100+ shrines is different. They have a different challenge, whether it be a puzzle or a combat encounter. Furthermore, they’re short, which is brilliant. They never overstay their welcome, and it ends up being a tiny little piece of a traditional Zelda dungeon spread out across the land. People who love dungeons aren’t left out, and those who love to explore aren’t left out either because the shrines provide orbs that let you upgrade yourself. Exploration of innocuous locations is fun. I have NEVER seen an open world game do that for every single one of them. It is such a massive step up in quality and polish that it is mind-boggling.
Crafting isn’t just a bland, “hit-a-few-buttons” experience as well. It’s all relegated to cooking, and there are so many combos to cooking. You can experiment with stat boosting elixirs and filling meals. It’s astounding how much experimentation can be done.
This isn’t a generic setting, where every NPC is a copy-paste, and people with the same voice actors aren’t seen talking to each other. There aren’t many towns, but that’s a good thing, because every character is unique, and has their own personality. They have their own goals and Zelda-esque charm to them, that they never lose their appeal.
Even the little things that Link does adds so much to the game. When he pats his stomach after eating a meal, it’s adorable. When a really strong hit slugs Link and sends him flying, he doesn’t immediately get up. He lays on the ground for a couple seconds, before begrudgingly rising, like he’s actually hurt. Link’s stumbles when he climbs, and his exasperation when he is out of stamina are small details that mean so much.
What Does BOTW do Differently?
Breath of The Wild is one of the most player-driven experiences I have seen for a game. In other open world games, your personal journey still feels like it is contained by a set of quests and rules. The character you create and the journey you encounter is free but limited. In Breath of The Wild, there is no character customization. You play as Link, and you do have a set goal: beat Calamity Ganon. Hell, you can go straight to Calamity Ganon and fight him right from the beginning. But the game doesn’t recommend you do that. They say you get stronger first and the main story INCENTIVISES exploration. In Skyrim, the main quest will have a character request you meet them at midnight, but then you show up 6 months later and they’re like “AH, JUST ON TIME”, and it makes no sense. It is your journey of progression, and the game encourages you to explore its world and see every nook and cranny.
I have heard a lot of complaints about a generic story, but it never bothered me. A simple story means that you always understand the motive and purpose behind exploration. Witcher 3 is a fantastic game, but there is SO much going on that it can be pretty cumbersome to a newer player. Breath of The Wild is the start of a story, and the game uses Link’s amnesia as an excuse to tell him everything. The simple story enhances the exploration and world-building. Ironically, despite being generic, it stays interesting throughout because of the player’s story.
Also, I didn’t even realize that the intro area to Breath of the Wild was actually a 3-hour tutorial. Really, that whole beginning plateau is just a tutorial area, but it doesn’t feel boring, not for a second. If a game’s intro can immerse me so much and make me believe that it isn’t even a tutorial, then it does something incredible. I know that White Orchard from Witcher 3 is the beginning area, and then I get access to more of the game. I never got that inkling whatsoever in Breath of The Wild. The intro area teaches the player so much through play, and not through walls of boring text. It teaches you how shrines work, and it teaches you to explore. The systems are simple enough to understand, and the lack of advanced statistics on weapons means everything is easy to understand with a small glance. Like, I don’t care if a mace in Skyrim does +6 against beasts at nighttime because that doesn’t matter. Breath of The Wild cuts that crap out and just gives you easy to understand stats, and lets the player drive their own progression.
I was blown out of the water by Breath of the Wild. I was so scared it would be a generic sandbox. I was worried that it would just be empty space. I was worried that the shrines would be Skyrim caves. I was pessimistic. But I was wrong. I was so so SO wrong and I have never been happier to be incorrect. Breath of The Wild is the best open world game ever. Period. Ever. It trumps other outstanding open world games, and I was able to come to that conclusion after only 10 hours. Breath of The Wild evoked a sense of exploration and adoration with a game that I had not felt since I was a child. If it isn’t obvious, PLAY BREATH OF THE WILD. NOW.
Final Score: 10/10