Remember when video games were fun? If this seems like a weird question to you, bear with me. Let’s leave the world of games behind for a minute and talk about movies.
When the Star Wars prequels were released, a great many fans of the original trilogy complained that the new movies simply weren’t as good as the old ones. The new ones, they said, didn’t make them experience the same sense of joy and wonder they felt when viewing the originals back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In response there arose a variety of excellent in-depth critiques of the newer films, explaining deficits in storytelling, acting, and various other aspects of the filmmaking craft.
Many of these critiques were indeed spot on, and the prequels are undoubtedly inferior to episodes IV, V and VI.
But it soon became apparent that all the various flaws the critics identified weren’t actually responsible for that initial disappointment. The movies had changed, yes, but so had the fans — they were older, 30 or 40 years old instead of eight or 12, and there was simply no way any film, no matter how good, was going to make them feel the way they did when they were children, with a child’s unmatched capacity for awe, joy, and, well, having fun.
The fact that children were loving the new films as much as their parents had loved the originals proved that point.
So, back to games. Yes, gamers also get older, and what they enjoy and how much they enjoy those things change. But I’d argue that, unlike in the above example, games have changed a lot more than gamers, and in recent years many have changed to become a lot less fun.
Ask yourself, honestly, if you’re working to clear that 126th icon off the vast world map because you’re having so much fun doing it, or because you feel compelled to see that magical “100 per cent completion” message pop up?
Have you become addicted, and worst of all, addicted not to fun, but to completionism?
Are you playing games because you’re having fun while playing them, or are you playing them because they’re supposed to be fun?
If you’re not sure, then there’s a test that I guarantee will give you the answer, and it comes in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest entry in the 30-plus-year-old fantasy franchise by Nintendo.
Breath of the Wild (BotW) is many things, but above all, it is an exceptional amount of fun. Play it, and you will instantly realise what’s missing from so many games that dominate today’s marketplace.
BotW adopts yet subverts some of the open-world tropes that have become so stiflingly de rigueur.
Yes, there’s a vast, vast map to explore, but instead of some procedurally generated, soulless expanse, this is a lovingly, meticulously built hand-crafted world.
There’s crafting and cooking, but it’s always in service of the utterly unfettered exploration that lies at the heart of the game, instead of being tacked on to tick some boxes on the “how to build a modern best-selling-game” checklist.
There are side quests and the ability to enhance the health and stamina of Link, the player character, but even that is optional, existing only as a means to enable you to be better prepared to take on the exploration and combat opportunities this world offers.
If you so choose, you could run straight to the final “boss battle”, but why would you do that when there are so many wonders to explore?
This game doesn’t hold your hand like other supposedly open-world games that only give you the illusion of freedom while in effect forcing you to take on the world in an order and manner determined by the game’s creators.
BotW doesn’t do that, it doesn’t need to do that, because it knows how much fun it is, and so it has the confidence to leave your to your own devices.
There’s so much more that can be said about BotW. It’s already one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, holding a 97 per cent rating on metacritic, and receiving perfect scores from some of the most highly regarded reviewers out there.
I could give you a 100 reasons why it’s a masterpiece, an instant classic and a true game-changer. But the only real reason you need to go and play it as soon as possible is that it’s fun, real fun, and a reminder of why we play games in the first place.