ENRICO PALISOC – Toronto
Look towards the horizon. Do you see that volcano erupting with great ferocity? What if I told you that you can get to that peak at any time, whichever way you want, with just your starting abilities? Let that sink in for a bit. When it does, realize that this is the true definition of what an open-world game is. This is what The Legend of Zelda on the NES set out to do from the beginning. This is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Nintendo’s games have a history of marking leaps in innovation for their respective genres. From Super Mario 64’s mesmerizing jump to 3D to GoldenEye 007 being the catalyst for the console first-person shooter genre, it’s no wonder the company that once brought videogames back from their crash is once again redefining genres, particularly the open world genre with Zelda: BOTW.
While having familiar Legend of Zelda tropes, this new adventure’s rebuilt gameplay mechanics are the real meat of the story, from the moment you awake from Link’s 100-year slumber to the first time you step out of the tutorial area and glide down/climb down/accidentally-lose-your-footing-and-fall-down a cliff into the great unknown. Even before then, with little to no hand-holding, making your way throughout the tutorial area is still an experience unique to yourself. An example of this is when the game first introduces you to that mechanic of unconstrained freedom. One of the shrines you will have to reach when you begin is set atop the snowy peak of a mountain, and as you make your way up you’ll notice that without proper preparation the temperature will go down to unsafe levels as you climb.
Most seasoned gamers would generally look for a quest that would let them complete their trek, such as looking for a particular item in which to brave the cold. I realized after getting said item and discussing it with other people that played the game that there were many ways to approach this task. Some went and packed a whole lot of apples to heal and toughed it through, some went and prepared spicy food (which made your body temperature higher), while some never even attained the item I sought out and accidentally discovered that carrying a torch was just as effective at keeping you warm.
You learn – or in this case re-learn – what an open-world game is – and realize that’s how it always should be. You shouldn’t be bogged down by markers across the world map telling you to (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) go to this area and move the story along. You have to want to go there because it looks interesting, and in turn makes you prepare for your journey there. In Zelda: BOTW, you make your own story within the prepared storyline with whom or what you interact with, and many times a journey from point A to point B had memorable moments as opposed to the usual get-it-out-of-the-way side-quest chores that are the poorest part of a lot of open-world games.
Other mechanics reinforce the idea of exploration and discovery, such as the effects of weather and the weapon degradation. At first glance the fragility of your weapons can be downright frustrating and seem to cause more problems than they solve, but the less time you spend hoarding your weapons, the more combat becomes strategic. You plan your attacks on the unfortunate minions of Calamity Ganon, and battles are also as unique as they can ever be because the enemy AI makes adjustments depending on your approach, creating some unfortunate but mostly hilarious deaths or epic moments. Weather also comes into play in the form of thunderstorms creating hazards to both Link and his opponents .
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild really is a unique piece of gaming and will yield unique experiences and memories for each player. It will begin a new shift in the genre – and probably already has. We will hopefully see more games like this in the future follow suit as most did before with the previous innovator in the series, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I look forward to seeing what other developers will do going forward, and what the future has in store for this series.
Incomplete run of the game played on Nintendo Switch
Hours played: 55+