Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Geek.com

For too long the definition of “Game of the Year” has been unfairly narrow. How boring is it to see every website shower the same stale AAA games with praise at the end of each holiday season? So at Geek.com, we’re doing what we can to put a stop to this in Game of the Year, a new column celebrating worthy alternative picks for the year’s greatest game regardless of genre, platform, year of release, or even quality. Here, any game can be Game of the Year!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is very much like the original Legend of Zelda on the NES. Except Breath of the Wild is playable and good. Free from 30-year-old technical limitations, Breath of the Wild delivers that same sense of freedom and mystery (only greater) while giving players enough ways to actually meaningful interact with the world to make exploration enjoyable. And while there is a lot to learn like how to reach certain spots or how to simply not die, you’re rarely left completely in the dark about how to achieve the macro, story goals. In this way, Breath of the Wild’s open-world fundamental re-imagining of Zelda finally fulfills the initial promise of the series, and that alone makes it Game of the Year.

Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Geek.com

After playing dozens and dozens of hours of the biggest launch game for Nintendo Switch (as well as the last real game for Wii U), I’ve been agonizing over how to review it. It’s so dense and enormous. You could spend so much time in the opening Great Plateau area, and it’s really only a tutorial space for the crafting and stamina exploration systems Nintendo’s nails after experimenting with them in Skyward Sword.

But the moments that stand out best are the small ones. Breath of the Wild is the rare game where spoilers I think can have a truly negative impact on a player’s experience. Like Skyrim crossed with No Man’s Sky but Japanese, discovery is the point. So here’s what I’m going to do. If you want more traditional thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you can read my preview on how it’s Nintendo’s first AAA game. But in this post, I’m just going to recount one of my play sessions with the game, a play session I believe demonstrates why this is this week’s (and maybe this year’s) Game of the Year. I’ll try to keep this action-packed travelogue vague, but again, watch out for spoilers.

So here’s what I was doing at 1:00 AM instead of sleeping.

Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Geek.com

I had just finished the dungeon in the desert region. The elaborate affair began with me surfing on a seal and shooting bomb arrows at a giant, mechanical, (Shadow of the) colossus. From there I entered the machine and discovered it was an elaborate 3D puzzle box to rotate and solve. The game’s dungeons are more compact compared to past Zelda games, but this allows them to be more complicated while still making sure the player completely understands the space. It’s a nice contrast to the overworld that’s more sprawling and full of secrets than ever before. Plus the maps remind me of Metroid Prime.

Solving the dungeon revealed the boss. Beating the boss advanced the story and awarded me with more health, a powerful spell, and some good weapons and treasure from the grateful princess (not Zelda). Opening the chests of course played the classic franchise chime.

This seemed like a fine place to stop playing. It was already late. But there were a few more things I wanted to clean up. And more importantly, this is a game I never actually want to stop playing. It can only be forced by the need to eat or sleep or go to work.

Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Geek.com

Before entering the dungeon I first had to reclaim a stolen heirloom from a tribe of ninjas. It was a brutal stealth sequence full of treasure too risky to grab at the time. But now, the tribe had vanished. So I put on my heat-resistant clothes, ran across the desert sands, waltzed into the hideout, and picked up some nice, valuable, precious metals, along with a bunch of bananas.

I warped to a village to sell my goods to the nervous merchant and used the rupees to buy some knight armor with upgraded defense. I then headed into the nearby forest and spoke with the Great Fairy to see if I could upgrade these clothes even further. I could! But I was missing some key items. I also realized that I only needed a few more parts from the fearsome, robotic Guardian enemies to upgrade my Sheikah Slate tablet with better bombs and time-stopping abilities.

I then decided to make one last personal quest for the night to make these upgrades. But first, I noticed a tower near the fairy fountain. So I climbed up the rock wall, glided over the valley, and ascended the tower. From the top I could see more towers and shrines if I zoomed in, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to explore them now. So I marked them on my map for later.

I was mostly missing monster materials. So I warped to an earlier area in the game to farm some more horns and fangs. I didn’t want to use my better swords and risk breaking them. So I scanned in my Wolf Link Amiibo and had the dog take care of some low-level foes. I then used the monsters own clubs and bows and arrows against them. One material was particularly rare, though, and called for a different strategy. While doing this I also casually stumbled upon the rock monster miniboss from the E3 trailer, defeated it, and earned some more gems.

For the Guardian parts, I decided to test my new spell and discovered it could take out stationary Guardians in one lightning blast. That was great since the spell could only be used three times before needing to recharge for 12 minutes. Unfortunately, the stationary Guardians didn’t give me the specific piece I needed. Maybe the mobile, spider-like Guardians would be the ticket? Earlier in the game, when I immediately rushed toward evil pig cloud Calamity Ganon at Hyrule Castle and accidentally unlocked one of Link’s 100-year-old lost, voice-acted memories, I secured a tower surrounded by roaming Guardians. That was where I needed to go next.

Deep in enemy territory, I searched for my prey. In the meantime, I avoided angry ninjas and happened to kill some monsters with material I needed for armor upgrades. I then spotted a Guardian and zapped it. However, unlike the stationary Guardians, the mobile ones could withstand multiple hits. The blue tunic I was wearing revealed an enemy’s exact health. I would need to hit this Guardian two more times, but the spell needed to recharge. And if I warped away the foe would recover its health.

So I ran. I ran so far away. I ran until my stamina ran out. I let my stamina recharge and ran some more. I hid behind rocks where the laser can’t spot me. I used my horse, L-Horse, for extra speed, even though I had only managed to wrangle a slower, spotted horse instead of fast one with a single color. I heard the tense, excellent battle music kick in. I ate one of my home-cooked meals to buff my defense and stealth to increase my chance of survival. I did everything I could think of, and most of it worked. Many previous deaths by Guardians had taught me much.

Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Geek.com

Finally, the spell recharged, and I took down the Guardian in a most satisfying electric light show. Previously, lightning in this area had killed me because of my metal weapons. Now lightning did my bidding. I took a screenshot because the scene was visually stunning, animated but still operatic. Plus, with the right added text, I could make it into a great meme later. As I predicted, the Guardian left behind the last part I needed. I returned to the mad scientist and unlocked my tablet’s maximum potential.

Now I just had to get those last monster parts. Through trial and error I learned that the part was more likely to drop if I killed stronger monsters in combat rather than relying on bombs. But that didn’t mean I still couldn’t use tricks. My upgraded stasis ability now froze enemies as well as objects. This was great for killing sneaky beasts that pop out of the ground, the same beasts that provide balloons from strapping to things as if this game couldn’t be even more like Metal Gear Solid V.

I found the monster I needed and stopped it in its tracks. I equipped a better scimitar and struck its frozen body. When time restarted, it felt all my hits at once. But that wasn’t enough to finish it off. I targeted it and drew my sword and shield. Z-targeting has always made Zelda’s combat look more cinematic, but it’s particularly eye-catching in Breath of the Wild. I perfectly dodged its sword strike and unleashed a flurry of my own. The material was mine!

I returned to the Great Fairy and received my stronger clothing. I drank a glass of milk hoping it would give me an empty bottle to catch one of the smaller fairies but it didn’t work. I’ll have to think of a new strategy. Maybe I just need to snatch them? I put on my better clothes, sold my excess treasures, and cooked all the food I had harvested along the way into meals.

Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Geek.com

This surprise detour was longer than I expected but totally worth it. It’s one example of the seemingly endless, emergent, entertainment exploring this world can provide. Your experience after playing for the same amount of time may be entirely different. But now that my mini midnight odyssey was over, it was time for the next real adventure. I warped to a tower I had climbed earlier near another dungeon, the water dungeon considering all the rivers to swim through, and prepared for a new journey.

Oh, and this whole time, I was seamlessly switching between playing the game in my hands on my bed with the Switch tablet and blowing it up on the big screen with the dock and Pro Controller.

The stamina limit and weapon degradation can be a little harsh and there are some slowdown frame rate issues in large grassy open areas but who cares. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the Game of the Year.

Check back next week to read about the next Game of the Year!

Want to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about the Nintendo Switch.

Game of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Geek.com

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