In 2017, a very good game called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released. It received rave reviews, wound up on countless ‘game of the year’ lists, and was praised for its innovative open world and use of minimalist storytelling. In the years since, many other gorgeous, open world games with a minimalist focus have launched. None of them are Breath of the Wild clones.
It’s a label that’s become a strange catch-all term for any game making use of a stylish open world, climbing mechanics or player-led adventures. First, it was Genshin Impact landing the unfortunate label. Then, Ubisoft’s Immortals Fenyx Rising (once known as Gods and Monsters). In the same way Dark Souls became a flippant term for any gothic-style game with a high level of difficulty, Breath of the Wild has become the measuring stick for all open world action-adventures.
But calling either game a Breath of the Wild clone is unfair.
While they all share bright, open worlds and similar exploration mechanics, the differences are far clearer when you dive into each game on its own. Genshin Impact has a focus on cutesy characters and world-spanning quests. Immortals Fenyx Rising is an dialogue-heavy action-adventure peppered with quests and complex environmental puzzles. In many ways, it plays out like a miniature Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (it is made by the same developers, after all).
The criticism both games faced appears to come from two factors: their open world-style gameplay and exploration mechanics. Like Breath of the Wild, both games feature climbing and gliding mechanics that require the conservation of stamina. They also pepper gameplay with challenging puzzles and collectables. But there’s a core difference between a ‘clone’ and a game that wears its inspiration on its sleeve.
The developers behind Genshin Impact acknowledged their love for Breath of the Wild when initial reports suggested the game was trying to profit from Zelda‘s major success. But they also made clear the game would build its own identity through an original story, an intriguing cast of characters and different styles of gameplay. Reviews for the final release unanimously decided the critics were wrong to draw comparisons between the two titles. Many reviews, including Kotaku’s own, made clear it wasn’t the shameless clone it was previously made out to be.
Video games have a long history of iteration and building on formulas that work. Modern innovations like the nemesis system found in Shadow of Mordor later appeared in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. The idea of a ‘sanity metre’, first found in tabletop RPGs like Call of Cthulhu, has become a staple of the horror genre. As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun — and the same is true for video games. Popular mechanics often find their way into newer and different games.
Calling Genshin Impact and Immortals Fenyx Rising ‘clones’ does a disservice to the passion and thought behind both games. It also sets up false expectations for their audiences.
If you’ve yet to dive into Immortals Fenyx Rising, you might be surprised to learn it’s actually a strongly narrative-focused adventure about the struggle of the Greek pantheon against a monster known as Typhon. While it shares DNA with Breath of the Wild in that it’s an action-adventure set in an open world, the combat and environmental puzzles differ drastically. As does its combat system and quest-based gameplay. Outside of the game’s cartoonish visuals, there are only rare similarities. Players looking to dive into a Breath of the Wild-like game will be sorely disappointed.
To be clear: it’s a fantastic game and superbly entertaining, but it’s not a Breath of the Wild clone by any measure. The same can be said for Genshin Impact. They’re both great games in their own right, and cynical comparisons between them and Breath of the Wild only discourages players from experiencing the fun (and wildly different) adventures they offer.
Video games will always build on what came before. Breath of the Wild was a game with huge significance. It changed what players expected from open world games. Arguably, it also changed how players viewed the function of narrative in gameplay. Its influence can be seen strongly in the latest iteration of open world games, and it’s likely it will continue to change how video games are made. That’s a good thing.
Iteration is how we get great games like Immortals Fenyx Rising and Genshin Impact. It’s why Fortnite is still seeing such incredible success. Building on what works is how video games get better. It’s why they’ve come such an incredibly long way in the last few decades.
To discount that progress by labelling games ‘clones’ is wrong.