I've never been a big Zelda fan. I mean, okay, yes – I love Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and A Link To The Past. But those are givens right? Classic staples, each one having a profound impact on game design and our idea of interactive adventures. But the others? Skyward Sword? Twilight Princess? The countless DS games? Not for me.

I approached Breath Of The Wild with a fair amount of skepticism. To be frank, the game wasn't even on my radar until our cover story last month. I remember coming around to the game a little bit when our video producer Ben Hanson described it as very systems-driven. I like systems-driven games. I like weird, freaky games that feel jumbled together and are rough and alive like Far Cry 2, so I was intrigued but not excited, especially in a season of games where we have riches like Yakuza 0, Nier: Automata, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Horizon: Zero Dawn all either here or just around the bend.

Kyle's review and the constant bombardment of hilarious gifs on Twitter finally sparked my interest in full, as well as the fact I just happen to have a copy of the game, so that I had to go find out for myself what the heck everyone was raving about.

Last night a friend of mine and I went over to someone's house to play with the Switch and see The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild in action. I played about 45 minutes of the game and when I left, I went home, hopped online, and paid an extra 50 dollars over retail price just to get a Switch to my door as soon as possible.

I played the game from the beginning and was struck by how odd and un-Zelda-like it was from the get-go, with Link waking up from what looked like long nap in a weird jacuzzi. And suddenly he had an Ancient Artifact That Totally Isn't A Smartphone Nope Nope in his hands. Breath Of The Wild is constantly introducing strange-but-wondrous nuggets of discovery. I emerged from the starting cavern out into the wilds and was immediately taken with just how gorgeous the environment was. I had seen screens of the game while we were prepping the issue but seeing this gorgeous, Ghibli-esque world in action, with leaves and grass blowing in the wind and mountains looking massive and imposing in the distance, I was immediately hit with a desire to explore every inch of this world.

I took off down the slope and immediately ran into a Bokoblin. I proceeded to beat him to death with a stick and laughed merrily as I did, the poor creature's corpse bouncing down the hill. Then I took a right and saw some apples on a tree. Surely they were scenery? Nope. I could jump up and smack them off the branches. A minute later I found a giant rock hanging atop a ledge. I brushed against it and watched, in amazement and horror, as it tumbled down, rolling into an unsuspecting group of Bokoblins below and killing one of them. The other did a panicked dance at the rock and ran around in horror. Even though I had murdered one of their kin not two minutes earlier, I felt a slight tingle of guilt, as everyone in the living room with me laughed at the unexpected causality that had just happened before us.

In her review of the game, I think Julie Muncy over at Wired nails why Breath Of The Wild is special:

For the past 20 years, this has been the order of the day for 3D Zelda games, and as a result they’ve grown staid, formulaic, and mildly dull. They all have the same scope, the same ambitions, and hit the same story beats. The most successful titles have attempted small, strange experiments in tone (2000’s Majora’s Mask) or recontextualized the formula in inventive ways (2002’s The Wind Waker) but none have bucked the formula entirely.

Breath of the Wild is the long-overdue obliteration of that structure. It has superficial resemblances to its predecessors – scripted moments and familiar plot beats in its vital places—but the body that delivers them could not be more different. It is quiet, beautiful, and remarkably lonely.

My time with Breath Of The Wild was fantastic because hardly a minute or two passed without me running into some action or event that left me feeling a child-like sense of wonder. I descended into a shrine and was suddenly given the ability to lift certain kinds of metal and throw them about telekinetically Magneto-style. I used my power to smash a robot to bits and construct bridges. Later on, I got the ability to use bombs from another shrine and then proceeded to roll them like bowling balls into Bokoblins, watching in delight as the explosions sent these poor fools soaring over cliffs and into each other.

The biggest skepticism I had for the game was that it was simply another open-world game but with the Zelda brand attached to it, and that's why people loved it. But Breath Of The Wild is more than that. Yes, it has parts ripped from other games. You can collect ingredients and cook them. There's a huge world filled with things to do and collect and explore. Yes, these are all things we've seen for years in other games, but Breath Of The Wild wraps them up and presents them in a way that makes them feel new and bold and innovative.

Back in 1998, I fondly remember playing Ocarina of Time on my Nintendo 64. It was one of the earliest, most transformative experiences I can recall as someone who plays video games. I'd stay up from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn exploring Hyrule, completing quests, and meeting all the local folks. I'd get up late while my parents were sleeping to play the game in our living room on low volume. At school, I'd dream of how to beat Ganondorf and I'd thumb through my copy of Tips & Tricks and memorize where all the heart pieces were. I couldn't tear myself away from that world no matter how hard I tried and I haven't felt this strongly about a Zelda game, or many other games, since. 

Even now my mind is drifting back to the plains of Hyrule in Breath of the Wild. I'm wondering where secrets lay hidden in temples and towers, in the bottoms of lakes, and what beasts await around the crumbled ruins in the distance. I've always been skeptical about whether or not "killer apps" are a thing or if any single piece of software was worth buying a console for.  However, Breath of the Wild has demolished that notion in less than an hour. The rest of the console's lineup can be a series of duds for all I care. There is something special about this Zelda. It has a soul. It trembles with wonder and delight, and I'm counting the hours until I can get back to saving the world.

For more on Breath Of The Wild, be sure to check out our podcast roundtable discussion on the game here or our cover story content by clicking on the banner below.