Tobold’s Game of the Year

This year my prestigious (that is to say totally unknown) game of the year award goes to, *drumroll*, The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch. None of the other games I played on various platforms this year comes even close to the level of craftsmanship of Zelda. It is an explorer’s paradise: Huge is both quantity and quality of handcrafted features in the landscape, the next discovery feels always right around the next corner. No procedurally generated landscapes here! There is a great mix of different challenges, from fights to puzzles to riddles to crafting, which always keeps you entertained.

This game really is a “system seller”: if you can afford to spend $400 on a game, buying a Switch to play Zelda is totally worth it. And because it is hundreds of hours of gameplay you do get your money’s worth back in entertainment (some people tried to finish the game as fast as possible and the fastest speedrun of 100% completion took already 49 hours). And inversely I’m not sure buying a Switch without Zelda is worth it, unless you are a fan of Mario (I like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battles). The non-exclusive games on the Switch tend to be older and overpriced. And the Switch’s famous “mobile” mode is somewhat hampered by low battery life.

What makes Zelda such a great exploration game is the absence of any invisible walls. If you see something ahead of you, you can get there. It might need a bunch of stamina food to get to the top of the highest mountain or building, but you can get there. And there is probably a reward too for getting there. The terrain isn’t just there to walk or climb on it, it often has tricks to deal with the local monster population: You can roll down a boulder into the bokoblin camp to crush them, or explode their camp by throwing a bomb barrel in their camp fire or set grass on fire. You can open a drawbridge by shooting the ropes that hold it up with fire arrows.

The landscape never feels empty. Besides finding major stuff like the 120 shrines, you can also discover the 900 locations of Korok seeds, or the countless resources from mushrooms to ore. Interaction with your environment is fun because the game always goes a step beyond what you’d expect from other games: My niece tried to feed her horse a carrot and I was surprised to see that it worked! I was equally surprised to see that while I couldn’t kill chickens by hitting them with a sword, they did lay eggs when I did. Or got angry and called all their rooster friends that attacked me. 🙂

Another feature that makes Zelda a great game is how it handles difficulty. Don’t be fooled by the game’s colorful look, it can be quite challenging. You will die. Many times. But fortunately the game isn’t punishing death all that much. Which means that you’ll be back in the action and trying again in no time. And sometimes again. And again. Until you finally manage that challenging fight or puzzle, or you give up and decide to do something else first. And the game also constantly challenges your intelligence: Unless you look everything up on the internet, you need to figure out quite a lot of how the game works by yourself. Ultimately you end up having quite a lot of control over the level of challenge: Different zones have different monster difficulties, so you can go the easy way and do them in the right order or skip ahead to farm harder monsters for better weapons. You control the difficulty of puzzles by deciding how much help you want to get from sources like YouTube. And if the normal mode of the game is too easy for you, you can switch to the much harder master mode, which makes Dark Souls look like a game for wimps. If you want the game easier, you could also use Amiibos (haven’t tried those yet) to get various gear, or a horse, or a wolf pet.

In summary, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great game. It fully deserves its 97% Metacritic rating. The game doesn’t just play well, it also has far more handcrafted content than other open world games. Recommended!