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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is USgamer's Game of the Year for 2017

GAME OF THE YEAR | The game that has already defined a console.

Feature by Kat Bailey, .

I didn't know what to make of Breath of the Wild the first time I played it at E3 2016.

It was jarringly different from anything that had come before—an open world game with almost too much freedom. I was encouraged by the PR team to wander around and try some things.

It reminded me uncomfortably of Xenoblade Chronicles X, a featureless open-world RPG defined by fetch quests and some of the most boring open-world exploration I've ever encounted. If that was the future of Zelda, then I wanted no part of it.

Thankfully, Breath of the Wild proved to be the best of both worlds: a subtly guided experience that also felt almost endlessly open. The core of its exploration was revelatory in an age where so many open-world RPGs are inclined to hold your hand. It was a throwback to the days of the original Legend of Zelda, when Hyrule was a huge and forbidding place, full of mysteries and secrets.

Our freelance contributor Doc Burford did a great job of capturing what separates Breath of the Wild from other open-world games in his piece "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Shouldn't Be This Good."

The big problem with open world games is how they drown you in information. Remember the complaints about Assassin’s Creed Unity’s map? The game itself was surprisingly fun after the performance patches, but the map was a nightmarish stew of icons. Unity had hundreds of icons dotting its map, all demanding your attention, but it was far from alone. Comparatively Sunset Overdrive, one of my favorite games, has a huge number of collectibles that all look different but are obtained in more or less the same exact way.

Breath of the Wild’s map is refreshingly empty. Much like Skyrim, you discover items in the world through proximity. Most open worlds give players a gigantic checklist to complete, but Breath of the Wild lets players discover its 900 korok seeds. Spot an interesting rock formation? Get curious. Try to figure out what makes it so special. You’ll almost certainly be rewarded.

That's the difference between Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles X, I think: In Zelda, there's always something interesting to be found. In Xenoblade Chronicles X, you're meant to admire the terrain.

As Doc writes in his piece, Breath of the Wild certainly has some decisions worth debating. Old-school Zelda fans (and Caty) aren't too big on its samey dungeons. The weapon degradation system is certainly a point of contention.

But it's not often you see a game this widely popular, and this widely loved. Moreso even than most Zelda games, Breath of the Wild really caught on with the general public. In the weeks and months following its release, it was a popular topic on social media, with players sharing crazy gifs of shield surfing or just random oddities. Earlier today I was laughing at this. Also this. Breath of the Wild is an endless font of amazing images like these.

But look beyond all the funny gifs, and you see all the ways in which Breath of the Wild gives you the freedom to solve your own problems, and it almost never feels broken or contrived.

I think Doc put it best when he wrote:

Breath of the Wild captures that intuition; things happen because it makes sense that they would happen. Of course carrying a spear is almost certain to attract lighting! Yes, if there’s a cliff and you've got a nearby tree that’s long enough, you can chop it down and use it as a makeshift bridge. Rather than rely on dull, predictable game logic of “find the key to get through the lock," a series staple that can be unfathomable to non-gamers, Breath of the Wild teaches you a new way to think. Yet this wouldn’t work without simplicity.

I think Breath of the Wild will be one of those games that we'll still be talking about in five years, as we still do with Dark Souls and The Witcher 3. It's not easy for single-player games to transcend their release windows these days, but Breath of the Wild feels significant in a way that many games do not. Crazy as it is to say, the Nintendo Switch may already have its defining game.

In setting out to freshen up a franchise that was in danger of becoming stale, Nintendo accomplished much more: they not only redefined Zelda, but open-world games at large. And in so doing, they put the Switch on a fast track to success not seen since the release of the Wii more than a decade ago.

In a year filled with incredibly worthy games, that makes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild USgamer's Game of the Year for 2017.

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Comments 25

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  • Avatar for LunarKnite #1 LunarKnite 10 months ago
    Well deserved! Despite anybody's personal opinions on Breath of the Wild, I think it's hard to overstate the genius of its design. Even so, Nintendo accomplished quite a feat with this game: a masterpiece in design, but one that begs for a sequel to fix a few universal problems.
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  • Avatar for DrCorndog #2 DrCorndog 10 months ago
    A lot of people are upset that Breath of the Wild broke with so much series tradition. I prefer to think of it as the long-awaited follow-up to the 1986 original.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #3 NiceGuyNeon 10 months ago
    I can't think of one game that has made me feel the way Breath of the Wild still does. It is arguably my favorite 3D game of all time. It engages your intellect in ways that make sense and lets you focus on what the core of an open world game should be: the sense of discovery and adventure.

    The weapon degradation is a key component to the experience. The shrine puzzles impress upon you the need to keep exploring. And after 9 months I finally, FINALLY found the Miyazaki-esque lord of the mountain.

    I am in constant awe of this game and I'm happy to have played it as obsessively as I did. I never believed a game in 2017 would be a formative and defining moment for me as a gamer. I figured those moments belong to childhood. And yet, both Dark Souls and Breath of the Wild have given me those feelings.

    It sounds cheesy to say, but we all say 2017 was an amazing year for games. That year would have been far less amazing without this one to carry us home. I am so happy and grateful I was able to play BotW.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #4 Arvis-Jaggamar 10 months ago
    My personal GOTY 2017 is Trails in the Sky 3. I'm curious: is BotW a more high-profile selection, do you think?
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  • Avatar for lanmao #5 lanmao 10 months ago
    The console it defined was the Wii U right?
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #6 Flipsider99 10 months ago
    Of course we all saw this choice coming, but that's because it's legitimately one of the best games of 2017, so no problem with that! (Even if personally on my list I'd put NieR at #1 and Persona 5 at #2.)

    I agree with everything in this article except the bizarre choice to choose Xenoblade Chronicles X as a "typical" open world game to compare it to. Pretty odd, since XCX is also one of the most forward thinking open world games with some truly brilliant mechanics. A good example of a stale, crappy open world game is the new Assassin's Creed game. Or even Horizon Zero Dawn, which is not crappy but still pretty stale in it's design.

    Zelda is an amazing game though, and is very forward thinking in many aspects of it's design. It really does point the way forward for open world design in the future, and I hope many developers pick up on it. I hope we see more open world games without cluttered crap and missions all over the screen in the future!
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #7 Kuni-Nino 10 months ago
    Skyward Sword was better.
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #8 Neifirst 10 months ago
    Great choice with Breath of the Wild, although I encourage you to give Xenoblade Chronicles X another shot one of these days. Talk about secrets!- that game is a big, wet kiss to all of us who adore intricate overworlds just begging to be explored. X marries on-foot terrain combat and then the skells that allow for re-exploration from a totally different point of view.

    Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is my personal GoTY, but Zelda and Mario are close 2nd and 3rd. It will be nearly impossible for Nintendo to top 2017 in my eyes.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #9 link6616 10 months ago
    @lanmao it kind of did though? Constantly promised, delayed, not coming out when it needed to, underusing the game pad.

    Although it's more a summary than a defining.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #10 jeffcorry 10 months ago
    It has been so rewarding to explore this game this year. I still have 20 shrines to go and the Master Sword Trial.
    I did get my sweet motorcycle today though...
    The fun never ends it seems.
    Now...how about some rebuild Hyrule Castle/Castle Town DLC?
    Maybe?
    Er...okay.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #11 cldmstrsn 10 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino SS is a great game and I love it. I played it like 2 years after it came out and all the hubbub around died and I couldnt stop playing it. That said I enjoy BOTW for a whole bunch of different reasons and to me one is not "better" than the other just different and both a great time.
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  • Avatar for chilon #12 chilon 10 months ago
    BotW has some serious problems, it's samey, easy (pause and refill health at any time) and occasionally boring (climbing, certain shrines). Odyssey was a more inventive, original and exciting game.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #13 Kuni-Nino 10 months ago
    @cldmstrsn I was just being cheeky lol. I do adore Skyward Sword though.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #14 TheWildCard 10 months ago
    I do have some significant problems with BotW, but I am impressed Nintendo actually the major rethinking and rebuilding the series from the ground up I've wanted for some time but didn't think would actually happen.
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  • Avatar for acrowatz #15 acrowatz 10 months ago
    @lanmao I thought Mario Maker defined the Wii U.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #16 The-Challenger 10 months ago
    I liked it. But it didn't capture my attention like I thought it would.Edited December 2017 by The-Challenger
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  • Avatar for pimento #17 pimento 10 months ago
    I'm very curious to see what the long term feelings will be on this game, especially after the followup is released - this was far too successful for a follow up to not take a lot of what it did well but the possibilities for things to be added to it and other things to be streamlined are pretty huge. I rather hope (because I love this game and want more amazement) that it ends up being a sort of lost gem that people end up glossing over in a way, and I mean that as a potential compliment to future games in the series.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #18 mattcom26 10 months ago
    Not sure if this is my personal Game of the Year, but it's almost impossible to overstate its significance in helping turn around Nintendo's fortunes and laying a foundation for the Switch's bright future. For those reasons alone it can be seen as the most impactful game of 2017 in terms of it's ramifications for the industry. But its legacy will become even more apparent when we start seeing games that seek to emulate its experience in the next few years.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #19 MHWilliams 10 months ago
  • Avatar for MetManMas #20 MetManMas 10 months ago
    I'm looking forward to playing BotW (If I really wanted to right now I could get it for my dusty ol' Wii U), but I can wait until I get a Nintendo Switch. 2017 was a really great year, and there's tons of stuff I still want to play on the PS4 I already own.

    I still really want to get both NieR:Automa and Nioh, and once the Egyptian History Mode is added to Assassin's Creed Origins I will definitely be there.
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  • Avatar for moochan #21 moochan 10 months ago
    I agree with the people that talked about Xenoblade X. X was a joy to explore and find little secrets and new things all around. It was more than just "admire this beautiful sight" or "do this random side quests" like you said. Sorry but while you don't talk about Xenoblade X a lot the few times you do you really seem to punch it to the ground and I never really agree with your feelings on it. Me playing Xenoblade 2 I'm thinking more about X and how amazing it handled it's world and combat and it just makes me feel 2 really missed the mark on so many things that X did so well. That being side Zelda really is a great game that I'm happy everyone seem to really love. It really reminds me of Morrowind in how vague everything is and just let you explore things and find everything on your own. And I really did miss that in games.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #22 cldmstrsn 10 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino You cheeky bastard! Got me all about accepting Zeldas of all faiths haha
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  • Avatar for Xemus80 #23 Xemus80 10 months ago
    @chilon Agreed.

    Breath of the Wild is good but vastly overrated.
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  • Avatar for MarioIV #24 MarioIV 10 months ago
    Amazing game.
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  • Avatar for nimzy #25 nimzy 10 months ago
    I played Breath of the Wild to the point of exhaustion over the holidays. Any time I attempt to describe the game to people I end up mashing a whole bunch of games together to illustrate how many systems from other games are present and polished in this one. "Skyrim Morrowind Assassin's Creed Dead Rising Just Cause Half Life 2" is quite a mouthful.

    Breath of the Wild is the culmination of a decade of development in the industry and it shows. The emergent gameplay that results from all these systems working together is nothing short of breathtaking. They focused on logical consistency and it appears in the smallest details: things like the temperature going down in the shade, or being able to light arrowheads on fire, or the "troll physics" at work on rafts when using magnetism to push it forward. They invoke the weather as a storytelling device, something few games even attempt, let alone implement with such varied effects. And the food, well, you'd be hard-pressed to find a cooking system this attractive outside a Vanillaware game. Let's not forget you can climb just about everything you can see, too.

    Nintendo created another world, and invite you to adventure in it. They captured what it feels like to genuinely explore something and reward you for doing so in ways that feel less like game mechanics and more like actual discoveries. The game has its critics but it would be difficult to understate the impact Breath of the Wild is going to have on any open world game going forward -- this is the genre's "Half Life 2."Edited January 2018 by nimzy
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