Why Breath of the Wild is the Most Important Game of the Generation

Art by Jeremy Fenske

Nintendo has proven to be a great company many times, but I think it’s only with the release of Breath of the Wild that they have proven to be legendary: committed artists and creators who really want to create innovative and beautiful video games, which is something that’s rather uncommon as most major developers and corporations mainly care about short-term profit rather than about making games that are really memorable and fun, especially for new generations that will surely keep playing these games in the future.

It’s especially impressive since this is the third time The Legend of Zelda series has managed to completely reinvent itself, which is something unprecedented in the gaming industry. The series has always been about an androgynous boy exploring a large world filled with mysterious dungeons and challenges as part of an epic adventure, and with this entry Nintendo actually bothered to look at what other game developers were doing with the “open world game” formula, and decided to do something way better than everyone else.

The most momentous thing about Breath of the Wild is that it offers a real glimpse into a type of game that has gone mostly unexplored in the gaming industry, a form of open world gameplay that’s way more advanced than the one commonly found in other mainstream games, a type of game that makes series like Red Dead Redemption and The Witcher feel outright primitive. This new Legend of Zelda game shows what amazing things can be done when you provide a player with the tools to explore a truly dynamic open world game with the power of real freedom and determination.

In the past some developers have come close to entering this world, but previous attempts have been more like mirages: The Elder Scrolls franchise and Metal Gear Solid V have managed to scratch the surface of this new world of possibility, while smaller-scale titles like Mount & Blade and Minecraft have prematurely entered into this uncharted territory with a small degree of success. However Breath of the Wild is the first major title to truly enter into this unfamiliar domain and return with amazing and wondrous results.

Wings of Freedom

What differentiates this game from previous mainstream open world titles is not just that it has some of the best open-world design ever (which it does), but rather the way it treats this world. This world is not an empty map with points of interest spread around, or a bunch of markers and checklists that you have to follow and complete. The world of Breath of the Wild is a massive physics playground in which the gameplay possibilities aren’t determined by a sweatshop quest-designer, but rather by the player itself playing around with the multiple systems put in place by the developer.

You can see this in the wide variety of enemy camps, where each camp has an unique design so that it challenges the player in a different fashion each time, which encourages planning and improvisation. But Breath of the Wild goes far beyond this, with the entire world being a carefully designed playground in which the developers anticipated the way the player would explore and discover, while also giving players the freedom to experiment on their own.

When exploring you can always see a point of interest

This freedom is also provided in the way that every single object in the game responds to the same rules and physics, which is fundamental to the overall design, because it allows players to come up with unique solutions on their own. So Breath of the Wild is not a game about completing challenges in a pre-determined fashion, but rather about coming up with creative solutions and finding your own path in this breathtaking sandbox.

In order to accomplish this goal the player is given the power to manipulate water, earth, fire, air, electricity, gravity and momentum in order to solve a huge variety of problems and challenges, and there is certainly a great variety of problems to solve: puzzles, labyrinths, encampments, mini-games, treasure-hunts, mini-bosses, along with survival, exploration and climbing challenges. The best part is that you can use all your tools at all times, so you can use your puzzle-solving tools in combat, and you can use brute force to solve puzzles.

Legends Never Die

The world of Breath of the Wild is magnificently designed, almost to a fault since its feels a bit artificial at times, but the true height of its design resides in Hyrule Castle: a massive dungeon that can be infiltrated and explored in countless ways, full of secret passages and unique routes filled with a large variety of enemies and challenges that can be solved in all sorts of ways in order to advance into its entrails and find unique treasures and weapons.

Although Hyrule Castle shows one major limitation that Breath of the Wild has, which is that when you reach the central room of the castle you have to fight a big boss and save a princess, and then game just ends, imagine that.

some of the music is also amazing

The game is so different from previous entries in the franchise that it feels like Nintendo had this great open-world game idea, and just decided to stick the Legend of Zelda name in it since it had so many similarities. This is the main problem with the game, all the freedom in the world is constrained by a hero that has to follow a predetermined destiny and end his quest at a prearranged point in time.

This weird combination of story and gameplay just doesn’t feel right no matter how hard Nintendo tries to solve the problem. They certainly tried since they came up with the idea of using memories and flashbacks to tell the story, but all this backstory just feels disconnected from the quest that is created by the players themselves, their own adventure that’s not determined by destiny, prophecy or the last testament of a long-dead princess…

…em, the princess is not dead, that’s just metaphor for The Legend of Zelda franchise being allegorically dead, and Breath of the Wild being a completely new thing that’s different from almost all the previous games in the franchise.

Hopes and Dreams

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is both old and new, it’s evocative of previous games in the franchise while also being wildly original, it’s a wonderful new game that pays tribute to the past, and yet the greatest thing about it is the glimpse into the future that it provides.

It also helps that it is a really engaging and awe-inspiring video game on its own right, and easily one of the best open world games ever made. And while it’s constrained by the limitations imposed by the The Legend of Zelda franchise, it nevertheless shows the path to a new world of possibilities that’s yet to be explored.

Such a great game will certainly inspire a new generation of artists and developers who will create amazing works of art of their own, young people who will have to fight their own quest in order to pursue freedom and self-realization in order to create a better world for everyone.

Please tell me we’re not alone
In this world fighting the wind.
Life can be simple if you can only see
The best is yet to come.

pseudo-philologist writing about politics and war, also video games