On Saturday night I went to bed, stared at my ceiling in the darkness. I pursed my lips, brows narrowed in thought. Then I nodded to myself, resolute in the decision I was about to make.
Yes. Decision made. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: best game I’ve played since Dark Souls.
I took a deep breath, exhaled, secure in this big decision I had just made. I made a half attempt to explain the sheer importance of this decision to my wife, who gallantly restrained her laughter.
I made this call after a three hour stint with Breath of the Wild. A stint that began with one plan, which splintered into another, then another… to the point where I ended up in a strange land doing weird shit that had nothing to do with my original goal to begin with. Good times. This is par for the course with Breath of the Wild; a video game where adventure is loosely-defined but exists around every corner. Plans evaporate with every rolling vista, every suspicious trail of smoke, every strange looking shape on the horizon.
Adventure is out there!
I had originally wanted to cash in my Korok seeds. That was the plan. After completing all four dungeons and finding the Master Sword, I was finally at a point where I could feel confident heading to Hyrule Castle to take on Calamity Ganon, but nah… I was feeling something out of the ordinary. In a time where I usually rush towards endgames, towards final bosses and new video games and new worlds, I was feeling a new sensation… a sadness, a nostalgic sadness I guess. For the experience I just had, and was currently still having. I had a feeling that I would look back on this fondly and I wanted to somehow stay in that moment.
I didn’t want this video game to end.
For me, Breath of the Wild crawled its way towards greatness. I began a little confused. “What’s everyone so excited about?” That apathy soon turned to resentment. “Why is this world so empty?”
Eventually I grew to enjoy Breath of the Wild‘s commitment to pacing, to its sparse set of goals. Eventually I’d fall completely head over heels for its pure sense of adventure. I can’t imagine ever going back to managing a quest log in Fallout after witnessing the seamless world Nintendo built, with its endless surprises. With the sense you are alive within this eco-system, that adventure is a consequence of these systems that collide in opposition to one another. Chemical reactions unique to you and the impact you have on the world. Tread on a butterfly and next minute…
One time, at the base of a mountain, fighting my way through an army of Bokoblin, as you do. I’m at the base of the tower and one pesky bastard is firing bomb arrows from above. At one point he barely misses me, setting some nearby grass alight. Soon, a blazing inferno. I spot the resulting updraft and jump into it, flying skyward. At that point I draw my bow, time slows. I take my time, headshot three bad guys. I float safely to the ground in awe of what I had achieved and the systems that allowed me to get there.
This video game, man. This video game.
But that wasn’t the moment. That wasn’t the moment when I realised that Zelda might be one of the best games I’ve ever played. That came later.
That moment came on Saturday night, when I was supposed to be exchanging korok seeds for weapons slots. That was the plan, but plans are useless in a game like Zelda where curiousity is a 180 degree head turn away from another three hour adventure. Instead I found myself lost in a labyrinth for an hour, then stuck inside a shrine or two.
Eventually I decided to make my way back to Eventide Island.
Eventide Island: it’s arguably Breath of the Wild‘s most fascinating ‘Shrine’. When you land you are stripped of your gear. Your food, weapons, clothes and armour is gone. After spending the many hours comfortable with the ‘stuff’ you’ve accumulated, players are shocked straight back to square one. You must survive with your ‘wits’ alone. It’s a fascinating transition.
First I found a stick, then a spear. Eventually I’d come across a bow and, ultimately, a halfway decent sword. All the while you’re slicing up Bokoblins and trying to survive without your usual stock of handy, health replenishing foodstuffs.
It can be quite brutal.
The island’s ultimate challenge: a tremendous Hinox that you must take down in order to complete the Shrine.
“What am I gonna do?” I asked myself. “Hit it over the head with a fucking tree branch?”
I started off stealthily. I tried to roll a giant rock on top of his head, which barely missed. Then I decided to slash at his feet with the one good weapon I’d found on this god-forsaken island.
Panic set in around the time my sword shattered. That was the moment I realised I had nothing in my inventory except a wooden spear and a lonely, sad tree branch. That’s the moment I realised I was one hit away from death with no way of replenishing my hearts.
When I charged up a nearby hill and stumbled across a trove of explosive barrels my heart began pounding furiously against my rib-cage. Holy fucking Jesus Christ this is it! My only path to victory. I waited, barrel above my head as the Hinox plodding aggressively up the hill.
“Is he in range?” I asked myself.
“IS HE IN RANGE?”
I throw the barrel. I screw it up. The resulting explosion sets of a chain reaction, exploding all of the barrels. I’m hit, bad. I roll lifelessly down the hill. I have two hearts left. But did I hit the Hinox?
DID I HIT THE FUCKING HINOX?
I don’t know but I soon get my answer. Yes, I hit the Hinox, but he’s still alive. He’s plodding towards me and I only have one viable option. I start lobbing bombs in his direction, one after the other, slowly — oh so goddamn slowly — depleting his health as I try to keep at range.
The Hinox, in his desperation, rips a literal fucking PALM TREE from the ground and starts swinging it at me like a baseball bat. I had never seen that happen until that very point and, in the midst of this incredible duel to the death, it feels like an impossibly amazing and emerging inevitablity. Of course this happened. It had to happen. Because this is Breath of the Wild.
Bomb. Reload. Bomb. Reload. Bomb Reload.
He is dead. It’s over.
It was as draining as a Dark Souls encounter, but the culmination of something. Eventide Island is frequently referred to as Breath of the Wild in miniature. It functions as a perfect vertical slice of what you might expect outside of that island. Perhaps that intense, shrunken experience helped reaffirm the brilliance of what I’d been experiencing, on a far broader scale, for the past 60 hours. An experience that put into perspective the genius of Breath of the Wild.
Adventure is out there. But it was also here, in miniature scale, and it was awesome.