The Enduring Legacy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released in 2017 and is a masterpiece of its video game genre

by Sededin Dedovic
The Enduring Legacy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
© Encrypted Duck / Youtube channel

Seven years ago today, the open-world landscape of video games changed forever with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BOTW) on the Nintendo Switch. This wasn't just the next iteration of the beloved Zelda franchise; it was a bold reinvention, a game that dared to break the mold and redefine what an open world experience could be.

Before BOTW, the Zelda series had a long history of success. Each new entry seemed to outdo its predecessor, leaving fans in awe and eager for the next adventure. However, with the advent of the Wii console, things began to change.

The Wii's lone Zelda title, Skyward Sword, arrived late in the console's lifecycle, and while it was a solid game, it felt a bit dated compared to the burgeoning open-world genre. Recognizing this, Nintendo set out to "break the conventions" that had defined the series for more than two decades.

Development for the next Zelda game proved challenging. Originally planned for the Wii U and a 2013 release, a series of delays ultimately led to BOTW becoming both the launch title for the all-new Nintendo Switch and the final game for the Wii U.

This decision proved crucial, as the power and flexibility of the Switch perfectly complemented the game's ambitious vision.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild© Encrypted Duck / Youtube channel

BOTW modernized the Zelda series in several key ways, most notably the introduction of the fully open world of Hyrule.

While there were occasional loading screens when entering certain shrines, the vast majority of maps offered seamless exploration. After the opening section, players were free to chart their own course, with the game even allowing (though not necessarily encouraging) players to face the final boss from the get-go - if they were capable, of course.

Another notable change included the removal of traditional dungeons, a staple of past Zelda games. Instead, BOTW offered plenty of smaller, more varied challenges. While this was not universally popular with fans, the ability to approach these challenges in a number of ways, often using creative and sometimes unusual solutions, was a welcome innovation.

A major contributor to this openness was the game's revolutionary physics engine. Unlike most games of the time, BOTW's physics system realistically simulated the behavior of objects in the world, leading to opportunities and challenges.

An often-cited example is the effect of thunder on metal weapons. If caught in a storm while wielding a metal weapon, players risked attracting lightning strikes. Combat in BOTW, at first glance, looked deceptively simple. There were no complex combos to unlock, no weapon-specific finishers – a departure from the series norm.

However, combined with a robust physics system, combat has become a playground for experimentation and emergent gameplay. Players could, for example, strategically place flammable mushrooms on the ground, lure enemies into attacking them and set them on fire, then use the resulting updrafts to launch themselves into the air and fire arrows at their enemies.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild© Encrypted Duck / Youtube channel

While BOTW's environment might initially seem sparse compared to other open-world titles, its level of interactivity was unmatched. A simple tree, for example, could be climbed to gather fruit, cut down and used as a weapon or a makeshift bridge, set on fire to move around a cold environment, or even levitated and thrown at unsuspecting enemies.

Similarly, the game's visuals, while not stellar at launch, set a unique standard that still resonates today. The grainy details of the world, from the way the grass reacts to Link's sword swings to the dynamic weather effects, immersed players in a world brimming with life and believability.

It's important to acknowledge that BOTW was not without changes that resonated differently with some fans. For the first time in the series, key scenes featured full voice acting, although Link remained silent, a choice that resonated with some, but not all, players.

The decision to launch BOTW with the Nintendo Switch proved to be extremely successful. Despite some technical difficulties, the game garnered widespread critical and commercial acclaim, selling over 31.6 million copies – the best-selling Zelda title in over 30 years.

Many publications named BOTW Game of the Year 2017. Today it is considered one of the best games Nintendo has ever produced, and while for many we got its worthy successor, Tears of the Kingdom, the original open world Zelda still holds a special place in their hearts.

Seven years after its release, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild remains a landmark achievement in open-world game design. Its innovative approach, unparalleled level of player freedom, and captivating world continue to inspire and challenge players to this day, cementing its place as a modern classic and testament to the enduring legacy of the Zelda franchise.