“Endless possibility” is the phrase that comes to mind when I consider of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo’s first truly open-world experience, Breath of the Wild boasts a world of over 5000 acres of land (according to Reddit user Noob10), which is bigger than even the most impressive open-world games, including both Skyrim and The Witcher III). What makes this so remarkable though isn’t just the size but the sheer possibilities within the game. This is what makes it so incredible, with a truly gigantic map to explore and hundreds of weapons, enemies, animals, and edibles to collect. It’s for this reason that Breath of the Wild is the single most extraordinary open-world game I’ve ever experienced.
The newest adaptation of Hyrule is more than enormous – it’s gorgeous, too. The beauty surrounding each individual part of the game brings the enormous environment to life. Colorful, detailed landscapes stretch further than the eye can see. From mountains to lakes to forests to deserts, almost every kind of climate and weather awaits you in Breath of the Wild. Hills and valleys are filled with Bokoblins, Chuchus and Wizzrobes, and the ruins strewn about Hyrule are patrolled by vigilant Guardians.
Breath of the Wild doesn’t hold your hand. In fact, you’re thrown into the familiar-but-new landscape with hardly any direction at all. Going back to the roots of the original Legend of Zelda games, the player is given only the most necessary exposition. This leaves the rest up to you to discover through exploring the landscapes, towns, and dungeons that are strewn throughout Hyrule. The story and the reason for Link being the “Hero of Hyrule” isn’t fully explained through the main quest alone, which leaves plenty for the player to discover. The concept of recovering memories with the use of Link’s “Sheikah Slate” is introduced early on, which adds even more possibilities and capacity for detail in rediscovering the story.
This is also one of the more difficult Zelda games I have played, right up there with the originals on the NES. During my adventures, I found myself dying a lot. From falling in battle to monsters to slipping off of cliffs–or even from my own bomb explosions. Nintendo has done a great job of keeping the difficulty high, but not punishing the player for taking chances. When I die my game will load back to only a few moments before. This allowed me to tackle difficult situations without worrying about my progress, which made me feel that Nintendo wanted to keep the idea of adventure and discovery at the forefront of player minds.
The gigantic open-world allows for the ability to choose what you do, and when. There’s no pressure to pursue the main storyline – in fact, I’m more than 50 hours into the game, and I haven’t done anything to complete the main quest outside of finding memory locations. I’ve spent my time hang gliding over beaches, conquering mini-dungeons, and taming wild horses to ride over the vast terrain. I’ve found dozens of different weapons and shields, traversed mountains, islands, and villages, and met more Koroks than I can count. Finding the edge of the map is possible, but it takes a long time. Nothing is off-limits – there is no area you aren’t allowed to explore, no enemy you aren’t allowed to face, and no absolute order to anything. You can immediately run around the map and discover everything, or complete the main quest out of order. If the first thing you want to do is to face Calamity Ganon and beat the main quest, you can (though I wouldn’t recommend it right off the bat).
This ability for creativity is what keeps me coming back. If I find a camp of enemies, my options are endless in how I vanquish them. I can hack and slash, or play the role of silent archer. Running in gung-ho will likely result in several broken swords, but if I also have the option to use my tools and abilities to creatively kill my foes. I can roll boulders down the hill, use balloons to bring in an air assault of bombs, or even coax mother nature into striking them down with lightening.
Hyrule is absolutely dense with things to do. The world never feels closed or boring – in fact, Nintendo has perfected that side of open-world gaming. I haven’t met a mountain, ruin, or other hard-to-reach area that hasn’t rewarded me handsomely for my trek. Locations, quests, dungeons, and even interesting side-characters seem endless. The “Blood Moon” resurrects fallen foes and replenishes harvested ingredients, which means there will never be a lack of enemies to fight or combination of foods to cook with.
The Legend of Zelda series has always set the bar high. Breath of the Wild came to being in a world of disadvantage, with a community already saturated with open world games and 3D graphics. Even still, somehow this game has managed to produce the same feeling of excitement I had as a kid when my mom and I found the secret entrance to Hyrule Castle in A Link to the Past, or the sense of anticipation that filled me as I first stepped foot onto Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild strays from the linearity of earlier games in the franchise by taking risks, letting go of the player’s hand and introducing a brand-new open world in which a player can do whatever they want. For these reasons, Breath of the Wild is not only one of the best open-world games of the year, but one of the best open-world games ever.