The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I will never forget the first time that I watched the official reveal for a new Zelda project during E3 2014, when we saw Link soar through the air after leaping from his horse and launching an arrow at what we would later find out to be a "Guardian". Although it was only a brief glimpse into what the future held for the franchise, it seemed as though Nintendo had something slightly different in mind for the forthcoming installment. While I knew that the franchise was in desperate need of a refresh, with a steady decline of fan reception, I was cautious on expecting any stellar changes since this was, after all, Nintendo we are talking about here. Hell or high water, they walk to the beat of their own drum as the rest of the world refuses to slow down. After multiple delays that seemed to indicate the likelihood of a title that could ever possibly live up to the hype seem to slowly slip away, to say I was anxious to get my hands on the title was a severe understatement. After more than 60+ hours into the experience, I can safely report that not only did Nintendo somehow deliver a game that actually lived up to the incredible hype and expectation, they actually managed to give us a game that will be discussed and praised for years to come.
While Zelda: Breath of the Wild still has its flaws, when you begin looking at the gameplay mechanics and the way that they mesh together, there is no denying the levels of greatness this game hits in several moments of the game. From magnet abilities, to bombs, and to the glorious attribute of climbing nearly every surface, Link no longer finds himself being held back by the usual tropes and barriers that have silently outlined what we have come to expect in a Zelda game- but instead hands over the reigns to the user and says, "go ahead, give it a try". With every insane idea that I had, or combination that I was sure was going to "break" the game, I was instead rewarded in a way that I have never experienced before in a video game. The result? An experience that has literally challenged the way I think about gameplay mechanics in a sandbox that only wants to provide you with the tools to succeed the way that you want.
From the moment you begin your journey, you find yourself in the all-too-familiar scenario in which you are woken from a deep sleep and off you go. However, this is where the familiarity ends. Following the exit of your sleeping chamber, paired with your newfound ability to climb nearly any surface, you stand atop a cliff that overlooks the vast landscape of a Hyrule without any invisible barriers and more challenges than you could imagine. This is where you begin shaping your adventure, while you get a sense for a general flow that you could follow, the fact is that you can run in the opposite direction for hours avoiding any sense of true responsibility until you are ready. This kind of freedom ensures that no two players will experience the same adventure, but can instead swap stories of how they beat the game.
Anyone that has played a previous entry in the franchise will understand the usual flow of the game: you spend some time in the first areas available to you trying to acquire some bombs, which then allows you to move a rock, and thus gives you the ability to access a water temple at some later point down the road. Essentially, while it may seem like you are given an open world, you are still guided by invisible hands that ensure you check the boxes in the order that they want. Breath of the Wild crushes this expectation, and hands you all of the tools that you will need to complete literally every aspect of the game within the first hour or two. With all of your abilities in hand, you are thrust into an open world that screams to be explored, with no area that you can't immediately get to. While there have been games before it that offer a vast open world in which you can explore such as the Fallout or Witcher series, none have empowered the player to explore, bend, and twist the mechanics of the world to this degree, and all the while maintaining the same level of polish that you learn to expect as you scavenge every nook and cranny. BOTW does this so well, that there is no doubt in my mind that this will be game developers and analysts alike who study just how they mastered this level of gameplay experience.
Now there are a couple of small additions to the system that can and will cause some frustration: the introduction of breakable weapons and of course the stamina system. While neither are a first time for the genre, previously executed in some of the other franchises I named earlier, I can definitely understand the feeling of defeat when you lose that sword you were so excited about after a short time. There was more than one instance that I found myself cursing the makers of the game as to why I needed to lose a bow after one boss battle. However, as with everything else in the game, you learn to adapt and later understand this system is implemented to force us to try new things instead of hoarding the same 4 weapons from beginning to end. As for the stamina bar? While it will impede the distance you run or the heights you can climb, again you learn to adapt by finding higher areas to glide from, as well as the ledges you can scale to. Throughout your journey, you will have several opportunities to expand your stamina meter, not to mention the use of food ingredients you can consume that will give you a temporary buff.
If by now you haven't guessed, I enjoyed this game thoroughly. From the shrines and trials that you wished never ended, to the peaceful music and sound of the breeze as you ride your horse across the countryside in search of another easter egg, this game is a masterpiece in nearly every aspect and must be played. It is a game that will continue to dominate water cooler conversations, and pop up in casual conversations of the greatest of all time. This game has earned every praise and acknowledgment that it has received, and will continue to dominate the background noise of my mind. Simply put, I can't get enough of this game -- and I cannot wait to see what is next for Link and Princess Zelda.