Where to even start with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? This is my pick for Nintendo’s best game of the 2010s, but I believe that it’s genuinely one of the most important games the company has ever released. Nintendo has released so many games, dozens of them influential masterpieces, and a few of them changing the course of the industry as we know it. And Breath of the Wild, the 19th game in a legacy series, deserves a spot in that last list on the same level as any Super Mario game.
Breath of the Wild was a breath of fresh air
Leading up to the release, many of us were expecting Nintendo’s take on Skyrim, but that’s not what The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is at all. Superficially, they’re both massive open-world games with ludicrous amounts of items and memorable side quests for good measure. However, this is where the similarities end.
Breath of the Wild‘s story is lighter in tone overall, albeit with incredibly dark insinuations. The game begins when Link awakens in a post-apocalyptic Hyrule after losing the war to Calamity Ganon a hundred years prior. It tells a dual story in an ingenious way: There is the present, which is bleak, desolate, and sorrowfully beautiful, and it in turn intertwines with the past, which is bright, hopeful, and ultimately doomed. A third tale of a hero 10,000 years in the past underscores it all. Breath of the Wild‘s pedigree lends it a deep history, which the development team used with gusto. No other game in any other series could have delivered this story with the same gravity.
The mechanics are as perfect as I’ve ever experienced. Instead of earning new items in dungeons, Link receives everything he’ll need in the first hour or so — four invocation runes, a glider, and some sword practice. The rest of the game is spent mastering these abilities, as well as the dozen or so new moves this Link has at his disposal. This subversion — but not abandonment — of the decades-old Zelda formula lends itself to a unique experience that I doubt we’ll ever see again.
As a result of these factors, I often say that Breath of the Wild is possibly the best game ever made. The development team at Nintendo crafted a masterpiece. The masterpiece. Level design never took a backseat to the vastness of its world, and things like object placement and geometry were taken as seriously as everything else. The game’s “chemistry engine” that creates emergent, believable cause-and-effect reactions in the game world is especially game-changing. Ultimately, quality emanates from this game from the moment you turn it on and long after you turn it off.
So it’s funny to think the developers proudly pointed to the original game as their inspiration and made an 8-bit-style engine to test out certain concepts. In many ways, Breath of the Wild rose to new heights by simply going back to basics and building from there.
Zelda saves the day
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Nintendo Switch enjoyed a potent symbiotic relationship. Prior to both, Nintendo had been in trouble. The Wii U was a commercial flop, and they needed to prove that their new console would be worth their fans’ time and money.
Breath of the Wild, with its enormous Hyrule, expansive story, gorgeous graphics, tight gameplay, and undeniable Zelda-ness sold the Switch (despite originally having been in development exclusively for the Wii U). It was the biggest Zelda ever, and yet you could play it on TV or take it with you on the go. The game featured prominently in the console’s advertising, establishing itself as Nintendo’s killer app. At one point shortly after launch, the game outsold the console itself. It was the hero Nintendo needed, a light in the darkness. The Switch went on to be one of Nintendo’s best-selling consoles, and we’re anticipating the release of the direct sequel — a rarity in the Zelda series.
So Breath of the Wild is a hero. And a story of a hero. And a story of ourselves. It’s an open-world adventure game with an epic narrative, enormous world, and deep mechanics. It contains a tribute to the late, great Satoru Iwata. It gave an iconic character a brand new look. It’s the culmination of over three decades of game design and possibly the pinnacle of video games in general. And it’s easily Nintendo’s game of the decade.
Of course, we all have different opinions, and fellow writer Andrew Rockett talks about Super Mario Odyssey as his game of the decade. Check it out!