A very long time ago indeed, in the ancient year of 1986, there existed a NES game called The Legend of Zelda. It was like nothing else at the time, a sprawling and freeform fantasy adventure that thrust you into an open world with little guidance, and left you to figure out how everything worked.
In the subsequent 31 years the series has evolved and adapted, keeping hold of a curated set of features for which Zelda has become renowned – maze-like dungeons, clever boss battles and elaborate puzzles – while freely discarding others.
Consistently left by the wayside in later Zelda games is the sense of freedom and exploration that defined the original. Sure, Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker offered open worlds, but they never completely trusted the player to wander off on their own, to become truly lost. Dungeons had to be explored in order, and the guiding hand of an unseen designer would always nudge you towards an inexorable objective.
It’s in this context that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild arrives. It’s the most freeform Zelda yet, dumping you in the middle of one of the best and most understatedly beautiful videogame universes ever created.
From the scorched deserts of the southwest to the wind-beaten bluffs and snow covered mountain peaks of the north, every inch of Hyrule is accessible from shortly after the outset. You meander from landmark to landmark, filling your adventure log with sidequests, tackling challenges in any order you please, and fighting with a variety of weapons.
Link’s newfound ability to climb and paraglide from high perches means he can travel anywhere he likes, giving you a sense of dominion over a landscape that stretches out to the distant horizon.
Some sacred cows have been slaughtered to make way for this non-linear design. Items like the bow and the boomerang, which in previous games were withheld for later chapters, now routinely tumble from the hands of dead enemies. Dungeons have partly been replaced with hundreds of small shrines dotted about the world, which act like Portal-style puzzle rooms.
But rather than overwhelming, this newfound breadth of choice instead feels empowering. And far from directionless, Breath of the Wild proceeds in a direction chosen by you.
Nintendo has swiped the best ideas of the genre to achieve all this, while dispensing with the mini-map littering junk that causes other open world adventures to trudge.
Breath of the Wild is the best Zelda title since Ocarina of Time, and the best Nintendo game since 1990-something. Also, you can use your shield as a snowboard to slide down the side of mountains, so there’s that.