It is no small secret that I’ve praised and lauded CD Projekt’s Witcher series and most recently the third (and probably final) adventure that Geralt of Rivia embarked upon. It is very much a dark fantasy universe in every sense of the genre and quite possibly the closest we will ever come to a truly spectacular Game of Thrones adaptation as well. So how exactly does a dark and gritty fantasy game match up with a more childhood friendly (and less-nightmare inducing) fantasy title? You’d be surprised just how well they fit together when taken apart and looked at side by side. Each finds their major strength in the most expansive element of all- open world roaming.
Breath of the Wild isn’t just another game in a decade-spanning series, excellent though the majority of the games in that series have been. In its own right, taken away from The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild would stand on its own as an even more impressive statement in an otherwise over-saturated open world market. Ubisoft, god bless ’em, churns out semi-open world shooters and third-person action titles multiple times a year. Open-world had sort of plateaued a bit until The Witcher 3 came along. And now with Breath of the Wild here to push the bounds of credibility and monumental achievement in virtual fictions ever further, there’s certainly a new benchmark that games will have to meet in order to be impressive.
Let me sidestep for a second to express my love and attachment to a third open-world title here before I move on to bigger and better points that must be made. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a phenomenal action-adventure game with constant role-playing elements littered in between its mechanics. Guerilla Games has an astonishing level of quality on most of their projects- certainly with the Killzone series, and it goes to show that they aren’t limited in scope to first-person shooters in the slightest. However, that having been said- Zero Dawn very much utilizes the same well-trodden tropes that Ubisoft and Bethsoft and virtually everybody else has and does in order to play it safe with open-world titles. Now, admittedly this works for Horizon, but it doesn’t push much past the plateau.
Hustling back to our previous sentiments, two titles on the open-world radar have piqued my interest in the past few years- The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed plenty of other games in the genre- we’ve seen The Elder Scrolls V, Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal, and plenty of other quality games as well. But none of those have done things with the same level of attention to detail or attention to the simple things that CD Projekt Red and Nintendo have done. Really, I wasn’t at all surprised that Breath of the Wild was a good game- the Zelda series typically has been, especially on consoles. However, I was thoroughly surprised and impressed by its attention to the overall mythos as well as its ability to both connect back to that and also start things relatively anew. There are plenty of shout-outs to previous iterations and yet there are also plenty of things we’ve never seen before.
To give you the barest of glimpses at the level of creative detail that both teams have exercised with these two projects, allow me to blow your mind with some interesting information. Wild Hunt is so varied in its narrative exposition and exploration that it has roughly forty possibly ending combinations- that alone is impressive to say the least. But let’s steer clear of story and focus on gameplay shall we? As a Witcher, Geralt can utilize so-called signs which generally perform a variety of functions from shielding him in combat to blasting flames from his palm- essentially for those of you Bioshock fans out there, think plasmids. There is a depth to the upgrading of these various genetic mutations that should be similar to any role-playing fans used to a couple of skills trees a la Borderlands or any notable RPG. However, what isn’t well-known or old at all is the level to which the combination of these signs can impact enemies, allies, and the world itself. For example- casting a Fus Roh Da kind of force-punch will not only bowl enemies over but put out environmental hazards such as flames licking at their skin. So theoretically in combat you could engulf your opponent in flames, put them out, knock them over, and then coup de grace them as well. And that’s just the tip of the veritable iceberg.
So we get it- The Witcher 3’s attention to detail is pretty much unparalleled in many ways. Now let’s talk about where Breath of the Wild comes into play, shall we? You could very well compare the newest Zelda game to the post-apocalyptic stories of the Fallout universe- the degrading weaponry, immense customization options, and varied enemy types are all there, excluding the actual post-apocalyptic narrative elements that are also present. So while this is an impressive change for the series in and of itself, it is exactly how every system fits together in the well-oiled machine that is Breath of the Wild that further impresses me. Like CD Projekt, Nintendo has more than likely put there hands on every minuscule detail in the game- so if you find something that seems like it shouldn’t be possible or seems really odd then you’ve more than likely stumbled upon yet another intricate detail they’ve added into the game.
If you’ve been around long enough and paid enough attention, you’ll more than likely have already seen the multitude of ‘Mythbusters’ sort of videos regarding Breath of the Wild. I urge you to check them out on YouTube or elsewhere if you haven’t already, as it’ll really open your eyes to the possibility that this may be the one game we’ve yet to see in our lifetime that offers virtually everything you can think of, and then some. For example, you can utilize the environment in nearly every way thinkable- even going so far as to climbing onto sleeping Hinoxes by riding their hand up after essentially tickling it with your touch. I mean, literally the lengths to which you can go to even just explore the world is incredible- you can move boats with magnetism, power a felled tree into low-flying orbit thanks to explosive powers, and much more.
So on some base level, even once you’ve moved past the obvious comparisons- they both have ‘wild’ in their titles, they are both fantasy adventures in expansive worlds, so on and so forth, Breath of the Wild and Wild Hunt are immensely comparable games and experiences. And the most dramatic irony of all is that in this comparative greatness, no two games could be any more different than them as well. They are highly comparable in the fact that they do many important things right that few games have ever done before, as well as the fact that they accomplish an untold number of even greater, minuscule things as well- the extent to which we may never find out. At the end of the day, despite any small amount of glitches or rough patches they may show as they age, it seems a no-brainer to me that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are destined to be included on plenty of lists of ‘greatest games’ both in their genre and in the industry as a whole.