The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
People said Zelda needed to change. For years. And years. And years. People said Zelda needed to change.
Zelda changed. To the point that the people screaming that it needed to change went “…well did it have to change this much?”
Nintendo ripped apart almost every core convention the series had and built something brimming with ambition, care, and wonder. They took open world games, a genre I historically have not liked at all, and made me care about them. For the first time I looked at an open world and didn’t just see a bunch of buildings and obstacles in my way. It truly felt like an open world where the point wasn’t to get to a waypoint cough for the next story beat but to just get to wherever it is you think you might want to go, and to have fun on the way. I didn’t ride a horse for more than 10 minutes in this game. I walked, I savored, I went places I might not have been ready for but I used the mechanics the game gave me to get through anyway. If I tried something that didn’t work out? No big deal. Death only ever set you back a couple of minutes and I could bail out with fast travel if things felt too overwhelming for me. I always got back out there and tried again. I was always wondering what was over the next hill, what was on top of that far off mountai-what is that is that a FUCKING DRAGON WHERE DID THAT EVEN COME FROM???
I will always remember what I felt getting to the top of a tower in this game. One of the best design decisions in the game is how they handle the towers. They fill in map topography but nothing else. You just stand up there and you look. You look out onto the world and decide your own path through it. It seems simple and that’s what Nintendo does best. They made a beautiful, ambitious game that executed so well on everything it wanted to do. Their first stab at a well worn genre felt like nothing else in it. Big Developers should have certain luxuries. They should have ample time to design, a budget to play around with, and the resources available to build things we wouldn’t expect. Zelda was the game from a Big Developer this year that lived up to and then broke clear through my expectations.