The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Puzzle-Solving can make you feel like a hero
I'm still playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I can't stop.
Most of the time I drop open world games as soon as I've filed a review without much compulsion to keep clearing all of the little icons taunting me from the map screen. Last month alone I was playing my way through Horizon Zero Dawn and Ghost Recon Wildlands, but the open world game dominating my free time at the moment is Zelda. I've even stopped playing my beloved Rainbow Six Siege for it.
I had a think about why that was. What is it that Zelda manages to do so well when other open world games typically leave me so cold? The last one I enjoyed enough to want to finish everything was Watch Dogs 2, and that was because I enjoyed being a cool hackerman with computer powers.
Link doesn't have computer powers — although he can stop time and control metal objects with a wave of his hands — but he's not the draw for me anyway. Link's role is simple: He's my avatar to interact with the fallen kingdom of Hyrule, and Breath of the Wild's vision of Hyrule is the reason I can't stop playing.
Hyrule is fascinating, because although there are still plenty of side quests and plenty of nonsense collectables to acquire, the game doesn't tuck them away behind a map icon; the real difference is every collectable takes the form of a puzzle. To get a see from a tree spirit, you might need to jump into a circle of lily pads or push a rock down a hill. Climbing towers — for a long time the absolute bane for open world explorers — is here often just a new type of puzzle: How can I climb when lethal turrets are shooting me? How can I reach the top level of a tower I can't climb? What's the best way to take out the next camp?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does a lot of things successfully, but it's most rewarding when you're just shooting the breeze, meandering from place to place, poking and prodding at Hyrule's multitude of systems.
To Link, everything is a puzzle.
The combat system steers clear of being a simple whack-'em-up because of the constant nag of weapon durability. It's a pain when a cool sword you've found breaks a few hits later, but it does encourage you to steer clear of "bashing everything" as a strategy. Instead, you'll have to fight smart, whether this is by rolling a bomb down a slope into a group of sleeping enemies or setting a weapon on fire to ward off clouds of bats. The situations change on the fly too, so even though enemies are resurrected by the Blood Moon — a bright red moon that brings back every single enemy you've taken out so far — you won't be fighting the same way. Maybe this time it'll be raining, making fire weapons useless, or you'll have no bomb arrows, or perhaps a worse collection of weapons.