Where the Wild Things Are
Despite being a lifelong Zelda fan, I was skeptical going in. If you couple Nintendo’s penchant for gimmicks with their series of failed “open worlds,” you don’t exactly feel confident watching the trailers. But I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
Nintendo tackles a dozen different things at once with this game…open worlds, non-linear sequencing, crafting, leveling, weapon classes. Sure, none of them are new to gaming, but they’re new to Zelda. True, we’ve had fields, oceans, and skies, but we’ve never had a singular, cohesive universe. Breath of the Wild is the first time Nintendo has crafted a fully realized world that actually begs to be explored and interacted with. Hell, even the weather can play an important part in the game, should to choose to be mindful of it.
Interaction, of course, seems obvious. Any game allows you to talk to NPCs, solve puzzles, and collect items. But Breath of the Wild pushes the envelope, inviting you to interact with the story at its very core. I mentioned non-linearity before…its true, you can awaken the four Divine Beasts in any order, but it goes deeper than that. You can skip entire bosses if you want, should you opt for stealth instead of battle, should you opt to pay money instead of completing a side quest. Hell, you can ignore one of the game’s primary directives, should you want to your Link to keep both eyes on the road ahead, rather than in the past.
Breath of the Wild is one of the few modern gems that takes you into consideration. In an era of long, drawn-out cutscenes and mandatory story beats, it’s easy to forget that video games are the only art form that allow you to have a say. Luckily, Zelda doesn’t forget that, inviting you into the game in a way that almost seems foreign in 2017. You are behind the wheel from beginning to end and that is a BREATH of fresh air.
But that’s not all this game does. Breath of the Wild manages to leave you fulfilled in a way that few games can. After playing for hours on end, you can put down the controller and feel like you genuinely accomplished something, while still feeling a desire to keep playing more. Regulars viewers might know that I enjoyed Fallout 4, but you also can’t deny that the Wasteland is a series of buildings that need extermination. It’s fun gameplay, but it’s certainly not unique after the first few hours. Breath of the Wild feels fresh no matter where you go. The same dozen or so enemies can be in any combination of situation and, depending on the weather, the terrain, the status of your weapons, it can be a fresh take every time.
Is the game perfect? Of course not. Without any way to gauge your weapon’s status other than “new” or “about to break,” inventory management can be frustrating, consistent Tests of Strength can be formulaic, and crafting via cooking has some needless animation that the slows down the process. But these are small prices to pay for an otherwise INCREDIBLY rewarding game. It’s a huge step for Nintendo, which, of course, is the other small caveat with this game. No, not every game should be Breath of the Wild, but at the same time…right now the Switch is a Zelda machine. Are there more games like this in the pipeline, or should we expect more nostalgia pandering and free-form cow milking? I won’t get into Nintendo Console Philosophy here, but when it comes to the means to play this game, it’s worth considering.
All in all, Breath of the Wild is the non-linear interactive experience I’ve always wanted. With little to no limitations on exploration and creativity, this is a game to be celebrated. Yes, it’s the best Zelda game I’ve ever played, and yes, it does serve as a shining example of what games can still be if we turn control of the narrative over to the player. It’s rare for a game to be so universally celebrated, but then again, this isn’t a regular game. It’s a Zelda game, and a great one at that.
Alex Russo freaking loves this game. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.