Did “Breath of the Wild” Deserve to Win Game of the Year?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Nintendo)

Last night saw the annual Game Awards crown the greatest games of 2017, with Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” winning the coveted Game of the Year Award, proving that the earnest Japanese game publisher is back on top in a big way.

“Breath of the Wild” represents years of careful planning, as Nintendo, led in this instance by long-time “Zelda” overseer Eiji Aonuma, completely reinvented the formula for one of their most popular franchises.

That said, 2017 was a pretty spectacular year for gaming (leaving aside all that messy business with loot boxes). The past twelve months have seen a lot of fantastic games hit shelves and online stores, making this one of the more interesting release periods in a while.

Also contending for Game of the Year were the likes of “NieR: Automata”, “Horizon: Zero Dawn”, and “Mass Effect: Andromeda”.

(That last game title was a joke. The Game Awards don’t give out recognition for Worst in Show.)

So did “Breath of the Wild” genuinely deserve to win? Or has it been carried to success thanks to a familiar name brand, and the fact that it simultaneously kicked off the Nintendo Switch, earning the game more goodwill than it might have otherwise enjoyed if it had only been released on the horrendously unpopular Wii U console?

Certainly, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” has won a lot of love over the past few months, and is probably the most beloved of the year’s releases that haven’t debuted on a Nintendo platform.

Horizon Zero Dawn
Source: Guerilla Games

Unfortunately, though, “Horizon” launched mere days after “Breath of the Wild”, meaning that a lot of its momentum was swallowed up by the “Zelda” title. Both games feature similar gameplay, with large open worlds, crafting and survival elements, and large robotic monsters that the player must find a way to overpower.

In any other year, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” would have been a shoo-in to win Game of the Year. It sadly debuted at just the wrong time to be able to overthrow Nintendo’s current reigning champion.

Besides, no fans are more zealous and enthusiastic than Nintendo fans. On this rare occasion of Nintendo actually releasing a technically and artistically impressive game, it makes sense that fan campaigns have rallied around “Breath of the Wild” to carry it to victory.

Even though The Game Awards have a panel of judges picked from within the industry that decide their winners, it’s hard to separate the cult that has formed around “Zelda” from the positive experience that actually comes from the game.

Nier Automata
Source: SquareEnix

The good news is that a title means little – if a particular person thinks that a different game was their personal Game of the Year for 2017, that’s absolutely fine. The Game Awards aren’t legally binding, and while recognition is nice, it doesn’t matter if “NieR: Automata” or any other game got overlooked in all the commotion surrounding “Breath of the Wild”.

What matters is that players have fun, and if that means that your personal Game of the Year is something awful (even if it’s “Mass Effect: Andromeda”), then nobody can take that away from you.

Unless your favorite game this year is “Star Wars: Battlefront II”, in which case you’re probably wrong.

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