Why Breath of the Wild is a Breath of Fresh Air

Ever since the release of the very first game, The Legend of Zelda, in 1986, every single instalment has followed a pretty linear structure. Side-quests aside, the games force you along a set path in order to progress in the story. Even against the vast backdrop of Hyrule in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, Termina in Majora’s Mask and the Great Sea in Windwaker, there’s still that structure that you have to follow – the second temple can’t be defeated without beating the first one, this objective can’t be tackled without this item, etc. Some places can be explored to a degree, but you can’t progress in the main quest unless you’ve ticked the right boxes. The story is set. Your path has already been determined.

Then Breath of the Wild came along, and suddenly, we had something completely new – a completely open-world Zelda game.

Polarising? Yes. There are those who praise it as the best of all the Zelda games, some who argue it doesn’t really feel like a Zelda game, and those who have been left feeling indifferent. Sure, the same arguments have been made about a lot of the games, particularly the Oracle games and Skyward Sword, but Breath of the Wild has introduced an entirely new concept for a Zelda instalment. Nintendo have changed the game, and they changed it good.

Because, differences of opinion aside, Breath of the Wild just…works. Before I even get into anything else, the visuals are indisputably stunning – important when it comes to creating a world that people should want to explore. For me, part of the appeal of the game was how beautiful and crisp everything looked. Even the tiniest things, like the little bulbs of apples that hang from the trees, have been painstakingly created, and it shows.

And then we come to the sheer size of the world. I’d be lying if I said I had any idea how gigantic the world would be before I played the game. I’m accustomed to the likes of the worlds in Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time, and sure, while neither of their versions of Hyrule are particularly small, they’re still dwarfed by the one in Breath of the Wild.

As is par for the course with Zelda, there are the specifically tailored areas where the different races reside, like the Gerudo and the Rito, but there’s so much more than that. Getting from Point A to Point B is no longer a quick trip across Hyrule Field. There are wetlands that stretch for what seem like miles and forests that are easy to get lost in, not to mention the hundreds of tiny, hidden nooks that you’ll want to explore.

Best of all, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. Sometimes, yes, you’ll need to find certain items to traverse certain areas but they’re all accessible, if you know where to look. Nothing is blocked off, not even Hyrule Castle. Yep, that’s right. Once you’ve obtained the Paraglider, you can walk right up to Calamity Ganon with nothing more than three hearts, a branch and a pot lid and take him on. You won’t win, obviously, but the point is you can try, and having that option is great. You can also liberate the four Divine Beasts in whatever order you fancy. There’s a recommended order, but it’s nothing definitive. Again, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. No Zelda game has ever been that open before.

And then there’s the obvious thing that really is the icing on the Zelda cake – Link can climb, and I don’t just mean up ladders or vines.

For years, Link couldn’t even jump, unless it was off the edge of a platform or with the aid of certain items. He could walk, run, ‘hyaa!’ and that was about it – until Skyward Sword first introduced the concept of a stamina bar in a Zelda game. That in itself was refreshing. But Breath of the Wild suddenly has Link Assassin’s Creeding across Hyrule, and it suits him. As a strong, adventurous swordsman, climbing seems like something he’d not only be able to do, but would have to do. As much as I love Ocarina of Time, nobody should simply be able to walk up Death Mountain as if they’re out for a Sunday stroll. The clue’s in the name, people.

Naturally, with the world being so vast, there are endless side quests and numerous detours from the main quest that you can take if you’re so inclined. There are tribes of monsters to fight through around every corner, shrines to seek out and defeat if collecting the spirit orbs is your thing, and characters dotted all around the landscape that need your help in some way or another, including the famous Great Fairy sisters. You can buy new clothes and accessories to add to Link’s outfit or dye his clothes whatever colour you want. You can tame and keep up to five wild horses, all with their own markings, temperaments and speeds. There’s the Yiga clan, the challenges presented to you by the Koroks (not to mention the whopping 900 Korok seeds you can search for throughout the game), and of course, the extensive list of food you can scavenge, and the even more extensive list of meals and elixirs you can cook from that food. Oh, and don’t forget the memories of Princess Zelda that you can recover if you look in the right places.

The list goes on. And on. And on, and on, and on.

Breath of the Wild is the kind of revamp that the Zelda franchise seemed ready for. That’s not to say that it was struggling in any way, although Skyward Sword and Tri Force Heroes weren’t exactly knocking the ball out of the park – but admittedly, the franchise’s formula needed a little tweaking.

Don’t get me wrong – as a huge fan, I love any and all of the Zelda instalments by default. They’ve all brought something new to the table, and some of those things have worked, while some, unfortunately, haven’t (I’m looking at you, Spirit Tracks). But for me, playing Breath of the Wild was genuinely exciting. It reminded me of the way I felt at ten years old, playing Ocarina of Time or Windwaker for the first time, feeling the thrill of it all and really, fully losing myself in them. That’s what good games do. They tell stories that make you want to keep playing, that make you forget you’re even playing at all. Nobody can deny that Breath of the Wild is a good game – if you need reminding why, just go back and read this entire article again. But most importantly, it’s different. Nintendo took those decades-old rules, tossed them straight out of the window and now here we are with the biggest, best-selling Zelda game of all time – a title that Breath of the Wild fully deserves.

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