Sometimes a game becomes an escape, its world and characters opening their welcoming arms and allowing you to leave your life behind every time you start it up. In 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the best escape and the most unforgettable game of the year.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of the greatest gaming experiences not just of the year but of the past 30 years, evoking a unique feeling of aimless adventure with an undercurrent of immense purpose only made possible by the series’ 30-year history.
It starts with seeing the Temple of Time, a ruin atop the Great Plateau starting area, nodding back at Zelda’s past and setting the tone for the entire game — something incredible was built on this land, but it’s been beaten down and left to fall apart.
The world in Breath of the Wild went through something traumatic, its glaring blight of a scar stirring at the center of everything, looming with purpose and almost always visible from even the farthest edges of the map. Hyrule is teeming with enemies, especially its epicenter, but all around is little pockets of life.
Hyrule is a world filled with color, dotted with memorable characters, challenges, and little treasures to discover. Climbing mountains, foraging for food, delving into shrines, and conquering the massive Divine Beasts; Breath of the Wild is full of unforgettable moments.
Everything in the game reveals itself so organically: Taming your first horse, running into your first Lynel and either escaping in fear or dying spectacularly, seeing the Master Sword for the first time, and finding out you can snowboard down a mountain on top of a shield. Breath of the Wild continues holding onto little secrets long after most players finish the main objective of the game: killing Calamity Ganon and restoring peace to Hyrule.
Along the way, the game begs you to explore and experiment. Every square foot of land has the potential to contain a little reward, both large and small. Whether picking up a rock and finding a little Korok or sailing out to Eventide Island and struggling to survive without any of Link’s gear, the game doesn’t stop delivering.
When things get repetitive, like seeing the same kinds of enemies over and over, there are seemingly infinite ways to creatively tackle challenges and keep things fresh. Link can sneak in and take a bokoblin by surprise, unleash a flurry of arrows from the sky on multiple enemies, toss bombs from a distance, or go in swords blazing and swing his blade around to deal as much damage as possible.
Even after 100 hours of gameplay, the game can still surprise you, or you can figure out a new method of madness to toy with the world.
On top of the endless ways to play, there are dozens of lovable characters that populate the colorful world. There are travelers, teachers, wayward lovers, and people who are up to no good. Each character Link can interact with is unique and rich.
The most fleshed-out characters, the ones Link’s tasked with bringing into his quest, are filled with emotions and have their own backstories that tie into Link’s attempt to remember his own past. With their help, Link gains new abilities and gains an advantage over Calamity Ganon, which turns making allies into a key part of the game.
But at its heart, Breath of the Wild is a solitary experience. Out of the hundreds of potential hours you can pour into the game, most of it will be spent alone, with no companions except Link’s mute horses and the beautifully minimalist music that plucks along the way.
I spent hours climbing to the tops of every mountain in sight, by myself. When I got tired of that, I explored the valleys below to tackle shrines and find new weapons and resources, by myself. And when I got tired of that, I moved onto the main objective and met new characters, securing their homes from the dangers brought on by Divine Beasts gone haywire.
After gliding down from the starting zone, you can do anything and everything, even run straight to the final boss and see if you have what it takes to beat the game in under an hour.
There’s something comforting in that solitude, knowing that every move you make, every task you set for yourself is based solely on what you want to get out of the game.
The world of Breath of the Wild is like your own personal playground, but on a massive scale, teeming with things to find and challenges to overcome, and it’s the only game from 2017 that I can keep coming back to and always finding that warm embrace.
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