[ For what it’s worth, I originally called these “Pleasant Surprises” instead. ]
1) The combat uses Z-Targeting, in a way that is very faithful to Ocarina of Time, a game released 19 years earlier. Gone are the waggle strikes and motion control. For someone like me, who grew up playing Ocarina and loved Majora’s Mask, being able to backflip away from an attack and circle around an enemy immediately felt natural – and enjoyable.
2) There is a twisted irony in how Breath of the Wild makes the player appreciate the simple pleasure of outdoor sights, like a sunset over water or a shadow rolling across wide grassy plains. “There’s no greater adventure than simply climbing a cliffside!” says the video game. Seriously though, if I had to describe Breath of the Wild to skeptical non-gamers, I’d tell them it’s like going on a great hiking trail, and there just happens to be treasure chests and monsters along the way.
3) There are enough little canon references and callbacks to prior games that I have to wonder if Nintendo literally had a checklist to make sure they included as much as possible. There are Zelda games that take place in an entirely alternate universe from Hyrule, yet still get hat-tips in Breath of the Wild.
4) Sure, it’s extraordinarily “open world.” But along with the openness of exploration is an openness in play style that came as a pleasant surprise for me. Breath of the Wild is a great walking simulator, if you want it to be. It’s a great stealth-action game, if you want to play it that way. It’s probably a solid third-person shooter, if that’s your thing. Personally, I feel like I’m often playing Breath of the Wild like it’s a Bomberman game. “Hide behind a rock and chuck bombs at a confused foe until they die” is my often my go-to strategy, heh.
5) I’ve said this before, and it’s probably a little insane, but I’m already really looking forward to the next Zelda game, if only purely because I wonder how the hell Nintendo will try to top this. Yet, I remember how amazing Ocarina of Time was for me at the time – yet, in my mind, Majora’s Mask managed to eclipse it. The possibilities are crazy.
6) Third-person action, nuanced inventory management (with expandable slots and ammo conservation), the rising of the undead, locales that span from a quaint village to a foreboding castle… somehow, Breath of the Wild is managing to scratch many of the same itches that Resident Evil 4 does.
7) My wife, a 100% non-gamer, watched me play for a couple minutes the other night while we had a quick conversation. She ended up helping me solve a shrine puzzle. She’s always been an excellent gaming co-pilot when the occasion calls.
8) Breath of the Wild does this really cool thing that, I’m not sure what the game-design terminology is for the phenomenon so, you’ll just have to forgive me for describing clumsily: By having key sites like towers and shrine identified visually, rather than on a given map, this changes the dynamic of the player’s motivation and feelings towards the discovery. First of all, there’s the pleasing “ah ha!” moment of spotting a shrine. But then the process to get there becomes a matter of personal pride. After all, I’m the one who found it! All by myself! And, darn it, I’m gonna get there. Obviously, there’s intentionality behind the towers that usually include a last obstacle before you can climb them, whether environmentally or in the form of enemies. Thinking back, I can say that many of my most memorable, most satisfying moments have been conquering the journey to reach those destinations. The ones I found for myself. It’s a subtle-yet-potent difference in sensation, one that I find myself welcoming with open arms.
I am becoming convinced that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great video game.