I’ve sunk nearly twenty hours into Breath of the Wild so far and its never been more apparent that it’s changed the landscape of open-world video games and even gaming in general. To say BotW is massive would be an enormous understatement, the map ranks right up there alongside Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3 in terms of shear size but the level of detail and care shown in populating the world is where Zelda shines the most.
Nintendo developed the game with an advanced physics engine and I think that’s the game’s greatest strength, and it builds from that into something spectacular. It makes Hyrule feel like a living, breathing world. In my time with the game, pretty much anything that makes logical sense can be done. For example, early in my playthrough, I came across an enemy camp so I cleared out all the Bobokins but realized the treasure was on a raised platform with the ramp suspended in the air by two ropes. I started to make my way to a nearby tree so I could climb up and glide over to get my treasure, but I realized that maybe I could throw a sword and cut the ropes. Sure enough I was right. Often times the simpler solution is a perfectly valid one. Not to say the only one either, I could have easily gotten to higher ground and used my handy paraglider to reach the platform. There are multiple solutions to puzzles in the game so it truly feels open-ended and nothing feels more satisfying than outsmarting the various shrines throughout Hyrule by using logic.
Another quest had me trudging up a snow-covered mountain to retrieve an item. I was warned beforehand not to just rely on my cold-resistant doublet but I should also cook food to up my cold resistance, I only had enough for one meal and the effect wore off in three minutes. About four minutes later I was trying to think of what to do and on a whim I equipped a magic fire weapon and sure enough my temperature raised since it was slung over my back. It’s little touches like this that continually impress me with Breath of the Wild.
With the map being so large, it’s hard to imagine that the entire world would feel alive and populated but BotW subverts these expectations as well. Each section looks and feels unique, from the barren desert to the southwest where the Gerudo dwell to the Atlantean-looking Zora Domain. The fact that you can reach any of these locations from the jump also speaks to the freedom given to you. Most games will hit you with restrictions to keep you from going to certain areas prematurely, BotW embraces and encourages it.
I think a lot of games are going to pull from the Zelda handbook going forward, as well they should. To me, Breath of the Wild isn’t just one of the best Zelda games, its on the Mount Rushmore of video games and its due to the evolution of the open-world game that this game was the first to adopt.