From the moment you break out of that cave to the moment Ganon finally falls to your sword, there’s an inescapable, pervasive feeling to everything you do. It itches in the back of your brain as you try to throw a sword at a Hinox to get lightning to strike it. It burns when you realize you solved a shrine puzzle in a completely unintended way.
It’s a single, unavoidable thought: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games ever made.
Of course, only time and careful, thoughtful dissection will tell, but it doesn’t hurt that the preceding 100-plus hours many of us have put into the game are making a compelling argument for a positive diagnosis. Because if it’s not one of the best, it certainly is one of the most momentous, thoughtful, and important titles of this still young medium.
Consider that as much as Super Mario Odyssey is a step along the Mario track—evolutionary in almost every regard—Breath of the Wild is damn near revolutionary. Not necessarily for games as a whole (as plenty of open world survival games exist already), but absolutely within the Hyrule kingdom, and with the amount of fully considered design put into these open world tropes, it is a shock to a system bloated and dying of Ubisoft-like map vomit. This is an open world designed by someone who detests open worlds.
And that’s because most of them don’t do the one thing they should do: encourage exploration. Put experimentation up on a pedestal. Hold the player accountable for what they want to achieve but give them every tool to achieve it. And if not every tool, a means to create the tool that they need.
The design of the world is meticulous in the way it should be. At every turn, the game should push you to search for something just over the horizon, and that’s what this game does. Each rock outcropping that looks random or incidental is purposeful (a nearly impossible task to make the deliberate seem accidental), made to frame the landscape in such a way that you see just a hint of a shrine’s shine or part of a river you’d never seen or just something really fucking weird that you absolutely, unquestionably just have to see what it is.
And set within this world is an entire ecosystem of causes and effects, all of which are made to make you curious. They’re made to make you thin, to ponder what is possible in this increasingly real world. Lightning is drawn to your metal spear, huh. Don’t you wonder, then, if you can use it to connect two electrical conduits in that one puzzle that’s been vexing you? And if you can do that, what’s stopping you from laying an electrifying trap for that Lynel out in the stormy field?
It’s a nonstop game of one-upping yourself. If you think you can do it, then you probably can. This is an open world that fully embraces the idea of being open, its bones laid bare for you. It doesn’t use its size to deceptively make fetch quests seem longer and more meaningful. It doesn’t hold your hand as you journey across the land to your final boss. It just opens the door, kicks you in, and let’s you have at this immense, enthralling world.
That is an apt word for talking about this game. “Thrall.” This is a game that grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go for anything. You set a goal and you want to accomplish it, but first these ten other things that have piqued your interest. This is a game that has created something this medium has delivered maybe once or twice—if ever—in its existence: a world of genuine, unending, undeniable curiosity.
And that’s why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is our game of the year.