Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I was able to pick up a Switch on Friday although I probably made it harder than it needed to be. I showed up at my local Fred Meyer around 5:30 in the morning and stood in the cold and the rain until they opened at 7am. Later that day a bunch of folks from the office went over to the local Amazon store and just walked right in and bought Switches. Of course if I had done that, I wouldn’t have this awesome cold I caught. Looks like I might be patient zero at PAX East this week!
I am completely in love with Zelda: Breath of the Wild. First of all it’s beautiful. There are plenty of big open world games out there but they often feel procedurally generated and empty. This entire world feels hand crafted. Far off land marks are perfectly framed by carefully placed mountains. No matter where you are, it seems like there is some sightline that inspires the desire to investigate. Essentially every single frame of this game looks like a painting from a Miyazaki film.
The gameplay is equally compelling as is the story. I’m not the sort of player who reads books in games. I just don’t do it! But Goddamnit, I have been reading NPC diaries every chance I get. The story has me hooked and it’s only just begun to unravel! I could almost certainly be further into it but I keep getting sidetracked. I spent almost all of my time last night just gathering ingredients and cooking. I spent another session playing with horses and investigating the little side stories around one particular village. I set off with a distinct goal in mind and end up wandering off because I saw something interesting on the horizon. My time never feels wasted though. Nothing in Zelda really rushes you. The world is here and you can discover it at your own pace.
In some ways Zelda feels like a return to simpler times. It is an open world game without all the trappings of an open world game. There is a great article over on Forbes by Paul Tassi that does a great job of explaining what I’m getting at. So many games are about checking boxes. What you do to complete the tasks doesn’t seem as important as the fact that you completed all the goals. We talk about our time with these games in terms of percentages and track our progress via bars. Zelda is not about filling up bars, it is about playing Zelda. It is unforgiving, surprising, and mysterious in ways that make me feel like a twelve year old again. It actually feels refreshing and energizing to play, like some sort of video game palette cleanser. Even with only three days of gameplay under my belt, I can tell you that Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a master class in game design. Its open world is exciting and beautiful. Its dungeons are challenging and unique. The systems and mechanics are easy to learn and immediately fun but offer deep and satisfying levels of complexity as you investigate them more. It is certainly the best Zelda game I have ever played, and (I believe) a high water mark for games in general. If there is such a thing as a “must play” title, I think Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of them.