You know a game is good when it sells more copies than the platform it's released on. That's exactly what happened with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch earlier this year when the game enjoyed the kind of attach rate that would make any developer weep tears of unbridled joy. We're not going to make any bold claims like "best game ever" here, but we're definitely comfortable venturing the notion that it might well be the strongest launch title we've ever seen for a new console.
The question is, then, what made Breath of the Wild such a must-have title? Of, course much of the demand comes from fans starved of Zelda, desperately waiting for a new entry in the series. But hype will only get you so far, and the reasons why this new Zelda was universally praised are numerous and varied.
The biggest reason for all that acclaim was the successful transition into an open world format. The Hyrule in Breath of the Wild is a joy to explore. There are a number distinct areas that blend together beautifully to create a tapestry of adventure, with each region rich with things to do to not only further the main narrative push, but also distract you from it.
Nintendo's crowning achievement is how the gameplay systems layer on top of world and enemy design to create a thought-provoking adventure. For example, if you want to venture into cold mountains you'll need to find a way to overcome Link's physical frailty, whether that be some sort of recipe to warm him up from the inside, or new threads to keep him all snuggly while he explores. The world around you is wonderfully reactive and needs to be fully considered, which might slow down your progress at times, but it connects to the player to the environment in a way we rarely see outside of fairly niche RPG experiences.
If there's one area where you might level a hint of criticism at Zelda, it's the fact that the story isn't as cinematic as those we enjoyed in Horizon: Zero Dawn and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. It's still a lovely fairytale adventure, and there's plenty of impetus driving you forward to the next challenge, but this isn't a game that relies on slick cutscenes to tell its story; the narrative comes from the world around you, the people you meet, and the adventures that unfold organically while you explore.
As your mastery of Link improves, so too does your ability to traverse the world, to climb higher and swim further. As Link toughens up the world opens up with him, and as you explore further, you find new weapons with which to tackle adversity. Some people were unsure about the decision to make weapons limited-use, but we thought it a bold move that keeps Link pushing forward; you can never rest of your laurels and coast around Hyrule with an OP character build, instead, you need to weigh up your options at any given time, using the right tool for the right job.
The combat system isn't the most complicated, but it does the trick. Nuance and complexity can be found all over Hyrule, however, in particular via the shrines hidden throughout the world. Even getting to the entrance of some of them is a puzzle in itself, and then once he's underground Link has to tackle some brain-melting challenges that require both careful consideration and, at times, a fair amount of physical dexterity. Breath of the Wild isn't a one trick pony, then, but a mixture of gameplay challenges that requires players to think fast and act with care.
And really that's only scratching the surface of what The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has to offer. This a deep and involving fantasy world that holds untold secrets for players to discover. The simplistic visuals don't compare to the likes of Horizon, but the art direction is exemplary and the beautifully paced soundtrack does an incredible job of drawing you deeper into the adventure. The atmosphere of the world, and the sense of place you feel as you explore it, is second to none, and never before have we played in an open-world that feels so thoroughly authored while also allowing such degrees of freedom.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is, simply put, a masterpiece. It's grand in terms of scale and scope, and every single facet of its design has been thoughtfully and cohesively implemented. It was also the perfect game to launch the Switch with, giving Nintendo's new console a rock-solid platform on which it could grow and enjoy immense success throughout the year. 2017 has been an incredible twelve months for gaming, and Nintendo has more than done its part by delivering arguably the greatest Zelda they've ever made.