I’ve always been a big fan of the The Legend of Zelda series. I’d say it’s likely my favourite gaming franchise of all time and is home to a large chunk of my all time favourite games.
But one game in the series has always held a special place in my heart: Ocarina of Time.
Ocarina of Time was the first game I’d ever played that felt like I was exploring and interacting with a world that was alive, with actual inhabitants that had their own personalities, daily routines and goals. It was the first story in video games that I was able to form a real connection with. I wanted to know more about every single character. I wanted to explore the world from top to bottom and uncover everything it had to offer.
But there’s a feeling I experienced as a kid when playing Ocarina of Time that no such game has ever been able to replicate. A feeling unique to my own experience that I often reflect on whenever I pick up a game for the first time.
I’d just left Kokiri Forest for the first time, and I’d just entered Hyrule Field. The camera swooped around, showing me this incredibly vast area the likes of which I’d never seen from any video game before and shortly after, I was given control of my character, and was able to walk freely across this humongous open field.
I was awestruck and a little scared, but I proceeded forward with all my little kid courage and headed straight for the castle.
But then something happened. Something that changed my experience with video games forever.
As I got close to the castle of Hyrule, the skies began to turn a bright orange and the sun began to set. And as the sun was setting, ever so calmly, the previously epic and heroic melody that was playing in the background grew calmer and softer, as though it were accommodating the beautiful scene of the sunset playing before me.
And in this moment, with my controller in hand, I suddenly stopped walking. I stood there in absolute awe and I came to realise something important. This game was special. It was really, really special. This beautiful scene in front of me some how made me feel happy. It made me feel calm. It made me feel a positive emotion that I have no words to describe other than “good”. It was the best feeling I have ever had from a video game in my life and it’s why Ocarina of Time is arguably my favourite game of all time. It’s a feeling that no other game has ever been able to replicate since.
Or so I thought, until I played Breath of the Wild.
I’m not a fan of open world games. From Skyrim, to Witcher 3, to Fallout and even games I liked such as Fantasy XV, open worlds just aren’t my thing. They often feel big solely for the purpose of being big. Exploring these worlds has often felt unrewarding. They don’t feel alive and there’s very little to do beyond: “go here and kill X amount of monsters”, “go here and get me Y amounts of items” or “go talk to Z for me”.
So when Breath of the Wild was announced as an open world Zelda game, I was worried. I was very worried. The Zelda fanbase has been demanding an open world entry in the series for years but I never got on board with the idea. Because to me open worlds were always barren and lacked the life that the world of Ocarina of Time had. My favourite thing about the Zelda series has always been the personality and liveliness of its worlds.
But Breath of the Wild manages to be an open world Zelda game while continuing to maintain the sense of liveliness that makes the series so special to me, and it does it so damn well that I’m genuinely impressed.
Allow me to run through my first few moments of the game:
I started up the game for the first time and after a brief cutscene, I awoke in a cavern. I moved forward, I got a few tutorial sections and some items and it was generally the usual stuff you’d expect from a Zelda game.
But then suddenly, my path was blocked. There was a wall in the way and it was far too high for me to pass. So I did something I never thought I’d do: I tried to climb it.
And to my surprise, Link climbed the wall. He scaled it all the way to the top and I was free to leave the cavern.
Upon leaving the cavern, I walked out into a large open field. Then, in a moment of pure nostalgia, not unlike the moment from Ocarina of Time, the camera swooped across a seemingly endless open space that stretched for miles. Only this time, it was more than a thousand times the size of the Hyrule Field from my childhood. The best part? It was brimming with personality and life and it was mine to explore.
And then, as I regained control of Link I stood at the edge of a cliff and I took in the view of the vast and beautifully crafted world while the quietest and most relaxing soundtrack I’ve ever heard from a video game played in the background.
And you know what I felt?
I felt that feeling. For the first time in almost 20 years, I felt it. This game was special.
Breath of the Wild is special. It’s an open world Zelda that feels very much alive. Everything you can see, you can walk to. Everything that looks climbable can be climbed just like the wall in the cavern you emerge from at the beginning. And while travelling to all these new locations, there’s just so much stuff to do.
Breath of the Wild is far more than just “go here and do this”, it’s about taking your time to explore the world around you and being handsomely rewarded for your efforts. My favourite thing about the game is that I’m constantly being sidetracked when I’m on the way to do something important to advance the story. I’ll be heading to the next village or main story point, only to see a towering structure far off in the distance or enemy camp down by the water and I’ll end up going there for the sake of seeing what it’s all about and what’s there.
Then, on my way to those interesting places, I’ll find something else interesting which will distract me from going to those places that served as a distraction from the main quest and by the time I’m done with that interesting thing I’ll forget why I was sidetracked and decided to go to that far off area in the first place.
I haven’t lost myself like this in a video game in years. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever have. I’ve been playing this game for over 20 hours now and I still haven’t reached the first main story dungeon because I’ve been sidetracked so much.
But while Breath of the Wild’s exploration is by far its more engaging element it’s not the only incredible thing about the game. Arguably the most interesting thing about it, is the sheer number of methods to tackle every obstacle the game throws at you.
I came across a part early on where I needed to scale a large icy mountain. So I went ahead and started climbing, and as I got higher and higher I noticed something peculiar. Link began to shiver. At first I thought this was just a neat little animation that played for the sake of personality, only to soon realise my health was dropping. I was dying from the cold! Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get back to safety in time and I died.
I had no idea what to do. I was stuck. So I started exploring the area around me, when I found something interesting. There were some chilli’s growing near the entrance to the icy mountain, so I picked them up and the game described them as a useful ingredient for dishes that can increase my body temperature.
Ingredients? Dishes? Body temperature? I can cook?
Those were my thoughts.
Then I looked to my right and saw a group of enemies camping out. What did the enemies have? They had a cooking pot! So I took out the enemy camp, lit a fire under the pot and threw the chilli’s into it, and I cooked something.
I then returned to the icy peaks that bested me before, and when Link began to shiver from the cold again, I opened my inventory and scoffed down the dish I just cooked. And Link stopped shivering and I was able to progress, no longer a victim to the harsh temperatures.
But what makes this so interesting is that there are so many other ways I could have tackled the cold. Unknown to me, there were actually many other methods to getting past the area such as cold resistant clothing. What’s so incredible is that the above scenario is my story. It’s no one else’s. It’s how I did it. It’s not the way to do it because is no set way to go about doing anything in this game.
What’s even more interesting is that I had to figure it all out by myself with no assistance from the game what so ever. I mistakenly scaled the mountain unprepared and I died because of it. Then I used my own initiative to figure out what to do next while learning the importance of ingredients and how to cook while doing so. And that’s the most exciting thing about Breath of the Wild: it teaches you through interacting with its world and by doing so it makes the world feel rich with life and personality. The world is harsh, but it also helps you. The world itself is an obstacle, but it’s also an ally.
The gameplay is also very solid and despite a few tweaks to the formula, it still plays like a Zelda game. The combat is engaging and intuitive and it’s an absolute joy to play. The game relies heavily on breakable weapons, something I was initially skeptical about, but it’s a system that works surprisingly well for Zelda and creates an enjoyable experience in the form of resource management. Something I never thought I’d enjoy. Ever. But it works and it works bloody well.
Then there’s the presentation of the game which is absolutely stunning. Say what you want about the Wii U and the Switch being “underpowered”. Breath of the Wild is arguably the best looking game I’ve played in years, if not ever. It may not be the most “graphically impressive” game to come out in recent years, but the art style and its presentation is unparalleled.
There’s also a story in amongst everything too, and it’s actually really, really good. Nintendo have never been known for their stories, and while Zelda has always been one of their more narrative driven series, it’s never quite lived up to the storytelling of most modern games. But so far, it seems that Breath of the Wild has a very emotional and character driven storyline that’s difficult to not be impressed by. Every character has their own unique personality, the world has a deep and intricate backstory and there are cutscenes. Not dialogues with NPC’s. Actual cutscenes. There’s even voice acting. In a Zelda game. And it’s really good!
I could rave on for hours upon hours about what makes this game so great, but I really don’t want to go down that endless rabbit hole.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is special. Not only is it likely the best Zelda I’ve ever played, it’s arguably the best game I’ve ever played. It’s the greatest open world game I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing and it has dramatically changed my favourite gaming franchise forever in the best way possible.
But most importantly, it’s the first game I’ve played since Ocarina of Time that’s provided me with an indescribable feeling that helped shape me into the individual I am today. Through Breath of the Wild, I had the chance to relive one of the most memorable moments in my life all over again and that one single reason is why this game is the best damn thing I’ve played in over a decade.