Last night I spent about 30 minutes trying to climb a cliff.
Seeing a tower in the distance which I very much wanted to climb, this cliff was coming between me and it. I hated this cliff on first sight. After running out of energy and hurtling down the thing on many occasions, each time the momentum making sure there was no way I could stop until I hit the bottom, I managed to time my climb so I could get to certain sections where I could stop and take a breather until I finally managed it. The sense of satisfaction achieved was akin to finishing a lot of other games and here I was celebrating climbing a cliff to get to one of many towers dotted across this bloody enthralling world I've spent "20 hours or more" playing in under 2 weeks. This is the feeling you get playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and it is stunning.
I have never played a Zelda game. Yes, I know of them. I know Zelda isn't the person you control. I know it takes place in Hyrule. Going in that's about all I knew. Handily, our hero Link knows less. Having an amnesiac as your protagonist is a device as old as the hills but my word it is appreciated by me.
You wake up in a chamber where you're told you've been asleep for 100 years and some serious shit has gone down. The magnificently named "Calamity Ganon" has taken hold of Hyrule, turning his enemies weapons, the Guardians and the Divine Beasts, against them in a seemingly insurmountable position which Link has to try and stop. This is all very important of course but hey, there's a Shrine over here to puzzle through... oh there's a guy there who wants me to see how long I can glide for... look another tower I haven't climbed yet! You know what, maybe that mean old Calamity Ganon can wait...
At 20 hours into Breath of the Wild, I have done very little "story" work. I've completed a bunch of puzzle Shrines, lovely little 5-10 minute long puzzles which give you rewards you can exchange for extra health or stamina, climbed most of the towers in the insanely large landscape, made enemies accidentally set fire to themselves by forcing them to burn the grass around them and completed exactly zero side quests. I've just been wandering around, biting off more I can chew with some enemies but loving that I'm not powerful enough yet to defeat them. Yesterday I discovered an island which every time I go to it, the screen turns white and I find myself back where I started. I really want to find out what the hell that's about.
The funny thing is, despite all this, I don't know whether I'll go back and play old Zelda. This frankly hypnotic world full of its little mysteries and busy work which feels utterly vital throughout feels like a shift, away from linearity, into a level of game where it feels like you can do anything if you put your mind to it and that's something I've never seen before. I've been trying to play Horizon: Zero Dawn every now and then, I recently bought a PS4 Pro and on occasion I need me some 4K gaming, but I'm always drawn back to Zelda despite its frame rate problems and weird pop-in (dropping down into an area which you suddenly find is filled with enemies is one of the rare annoyances here). Horizon is a very good game and deserves attention it feels like it's maybe not had due to Zelda but then... Zelda's better...
The Switch should also be praised here. PS4 and Xbox have had elements of Remote Play for a while now but there's something unique about what the Switch is doing here. Being able to play on a fantastic screen while my daughter is watching something on the TV is a joy and being able to bring this with me to my work break room or the train on my commute is stunning. The world loses a sense of scale for sure but the sheer intimacy makes up for this, you feel IN this world instead of looking at it. It is quite something.
I'm going to be making an effort to get on with getting the Divine Beasts on my side soon. I completed the first of four last night, but I'm going to be sad when it wraps up, There's a lot of other media to consume but I doubt this year that much in the pop-culture world will touch the experience of Breath of the Wild. I'm not well-versed enough to call it the best game ever made by any means but is it my favourite? It could be.
P.S. The music when you cook is the best.