After much deliberation, TSG has elected to give our 2017 Game of the Year Award to…The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild!
In truth, there wasn’t much of a concerted argument. If you’ve been following this site over the past year you’ve read, or at least seen, numerous articles about this game. But it’s not the number of articles that’s significant, it’s the fact that there was so much to say about this game that we just couldn’t help talking about it for months after release. From the ways it breaks Zelda conventions, to how it compares to other high-profile releases, to the intricacies of its astounding open-world, we and gaming culture at large simply never ran out of things to say about this game. For nearly an entire year, the games industry was held in rapture by Breath of the Wild’s numerous surprises. We’ve been waiting to say it for years, but Zelda’s back on top.
A World Apart
Open world games are the new World War II shooter, a genre so oversaturated and weighed down by convention that there hasn’t been a truly innovative title in years. Breath of the Wild took the standard form of open world design, threw it out the window, and made gamers feel like they were falling in love all over again. Open-ended design encourages exploration and personal discovery rather than list-checking or collectible hunting (though there’s a bit of the latter in a cute, well-done way). The freedom to go anywhere and play the game how you want makes every players’ journey unique. The sheer amount of things to discover means there are hundreds of hours of worthwhile adventuring to be had.
All of this is thanks to the most intricately designed game world ever made. Realistic systems layer on top of one another. Manipulating elements like fire or lightning while paying careful attention to your stock of weapons and shields might seem overwhelming at first, but once you learn to play each system off the other, utilize stat-boosting potions, and cook health recovering meals, you feel true mastery and control of the world. There are many reasons to love Breath of the Wild, but in terms of design this suite of intricately-layered systems inserted into a game with absolute freedom makes this title one of the most astounding achievements in video games and an easy contender for 2017 Game of the Year.
Of course, we here at TSG never give an award simply for quality. To be named 2017 Game of the Year, a game must also have had an impact on the industry. This past year had its share of massive hits and surprise revelations. No other game, however, left an extinction-level impact crater on the industry quite like Breath of the Wild. Not only did it revitalize a classic series sagging in popularity, not only did it redefine a genre with systems that will be studied and emulated for years to come, it brought Nintendo back from the brink of ruin and made the Switch a successful console. Heck, the Switch version of the game sold more copies in its first month than the console itself.
Breath of the Wild was everywhere on the internet, with relapsed Nintendo fans and new adventurers alike sharing information and discussing the intricacies of the game. For the entire month of March, the internet was filled to the brim with Zelda and the game continued to be a hot topic throughout 2017. Nintendo had a solid lineup of games this past year, but even the Switch’s inspired design, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and ARMS wouldn’t have been able to carry the console through to the holiday season when Super Mario Odyssey could take up the torch. For seven months Breath of the Wild piggybacked Nintendo up a steep mountain and, by the time Mario was finally ready to take over, Link had already deposited the company off at the peak.
The Year of Zelda
2017 was a great year for games. Titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, Prey, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus foregrounded mature storytelling with visceral gameplay. PUBG crashed through conventional game development with a bulldozer and took over streaming content. Cuphead, Sonic Mania and Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy kept old-school gaming going strong while Resident Evil 7 was another game that returned an aged series to form. And Star Wars Battlefront II may be a tipping point in the tense relationship between gamers and publishers. Many of these games could have been worthy recipients of our 2017 Game of the Year.
Yet looming over this entire year was Breath of the Wild’s massive shadow. It brought Zelda and Nintendo back to the fore, showed us that games can still take our breath away, and is one of the most tightly designed and well put-together experiences ever released. 2017 was the year of a lot of gaming history, but to us here at TSG it will always be the year of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.