I have beaten Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and gotten the good, or more accurately full, ending, but I have far from finished with the game. For all that it was hyped in ways that didn’t sit well with me and seemed to be Nintendo bowing to current gaming trends and shifting focus on the parts of the Zelda series that have never really drawn me in, in the end Breath of the Wild was everything it was ever cracked up to be. I may love the Zelda series, but this is one of the few games, not limited to the Zelda series, that when I finished I thought I had just played the best game of all-time. Those feelings might not hold, but they aren’t exactly coming. I loved Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from the start and that love never wavered over more than 60 hours of playing the game. Plus, I expect to get another 30 hours of enjoyment, at least, out of it still.
On paper, Breath of the Wild is targeting players that aren’t me. The previous Zelda games, the ones that everyone can’t help but trash when talking about how great this game is, were my jam. There are few gaming experiences more satisfying to me than a Zelda dungeon. Breath of the Wild all but eliminates them as separate entities, replacing them with four small mini-dungeons and 120 one room shrines. They have essentially broken the dungeons up into individual rooms and spread them across Hyrule. It should have turned me off, but somehow it didn’t. The rooms themselves are still as satisfying, though I miss the larger considerations of classic dungeons like Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. Breath of the Wild also emphasizes its over-world, a gameplay conceit that has consistently left me cold. Open World in my mind translates into empty; into replacing quality with quantity. Even in open world games that I like, like Metal Gear Solid V, the open world added little. Breath of the Wild, in contrast, is positively overflowing. And it does it without compromising the series excellent gameplay.
I loved everything about this game, it is hard for me to think about it critically and not just gush over it. The story might be considered a weakness, but the only complaint that I had is that it left me wanting more. With 100 years between the initially calamity and destruction of Hyrule and Link’s awakening, all interactions with the main cast are done via flashback. It gives the player just enough to feel like they know the characters. Which makes their fates (slight spoiler, but it has been 100 years) all the more tragic. I especially loved the search for memories of Link’s time with Zelda before everything went pear shaped. Searching out these links to the past both give greater insights into the story and push the player to explore, which is where the game shines most brightly.
This is hands down the best looking open world game I’ve ever played. It might not be the most technically impressive, but any shortcomings are more than made up for by the stunning art direction. It is just a joy to explore; it is impossible to resist climbing just one more hill to see the view from the top. The pictures that lead to new memories are more than incentive enough to explore the secret filled spaces of Hyrule. Even where there is no memory, there is something else to find, whether that is a shrine or a Korok puzzle or just an interesting view.
Like they largely removed dungeons, the bosses are also lacking. There are roughly five in the game, and all are largely the same entity. There are almost random bosses to be found on the world map, very interesting ones, but that doesn’t really make up for the uniformity, and lack of challenge, in the bosses proper. But that isn’t really a problem. The bosses are undeniably lacking, but it seems like a very deliberate emphasis on other things rather than a failing.
The narrative around Breath of the Wild is that it breaks all kinds of Zelda traditions, but that isn’t entirely the case. It reimagines the series structurally, but it keeps the gameplay largely similar to how it has been for the last two decades. It removes structures set down since the original Legend of Zelda for the feeling of exploration that that original game engendered. The dungeons are gone, as are most tools and the all-encompassing search for magical doo-dads. It is in many ways a simplified take on the series. In place of all that stuff is just a need for exploration. And the exploration friendly ability to climb anything. But it still plays like Zelda. For all that it limits the character to a handful of multi-use powers, but they are still employed in familiar ways. It is still Zelda.
It is just a great game. Any complaint I can come up with is a nitpick. All I want to do is keep playing the game. There are few other games that take as long as this one did for me to beat that my immediate response to the credits rolling was to start playing again. Breath of the Wild is something special, the kind of game that only comes around once every handful of years. I can’t think of any better gaming experiences I’ve had and only a few as good.
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