What a wonderful time to be a gamer! The first quarter of 2017 isn't even over and the video gaming industry has launched a new console, provided new life to Resident Evil alongside a large variety of new virtual reality experiences; brought back Halo Wars and Ghost Recon, and launched several new (and super cool) triple-A IP including For Honor and Horizon: Zero Dawn. And did we mention what may be the best Legend of Zelda game ever just released too? We won't even get into Mass Effect: Andromeda coming in two weeks for the purposes of this article.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild debuted alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3rd as its only must-play "killer app" launch title, and it's the smartest thing Nintendo could have done to give their hybrid portable/home console platform some purpose for early adopters. It is also available on the console it was originally intended for, the Wii U, hardware that Nintendo has already stopped production on.
And just days earlier, Sony's big PlayStation 4 exclusive, Horizon: Zero Dawn, released on February 28th. Both are massive open-world, third-person action adventures and both are mysterious with how their lore and stories unfold. Both also mix fantasy with tech in unique ways, and yes, the obvious, both involve lots of melee and bow-and-arrow combat to go alongside creatures of all different shapes and sizes.
Some will say they shouldn't be compared, but we'd argue that rarely has there been games so absolutely comparable. And it's especially interesting because one is a new instalment and a long-running and beloved, recognizable brand, while the other is entirely new and from a developer who previously didn't make games of this nature (they made the Killzone first-person shooter games).
On Metacritic, an aggregator of review scores from certain publications where different outlets are assigned different weights in the final average, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a whopping 97%. This isn't a percentage of positive reviews like Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer mind you, this is the average score based on Metacritic's algorithm. That's how big of a deal the new The Legend of Zelda is.
By comparison, Sony and Guerrilla Games' Horizon: Zero Dawn has 89% on Metacritic, another extremely positive response across the board from game critics, though not as high as Link's new adventure.
This is where subjectivity really is the thing. Having played both for hours, it's hard to say one is really that much better than the other overall. One has visuals and art design lightyears ahead of the other and vice versa, there's a sense of wonder and a neat play on nostalgia with Breath of the Wild. Gameplay mechanics in Horizon: Zero Dawn are more dynamic and advanced in combat, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sees game elements interact with each other in unexpected and innovative ways.
Each has unique highlights and we can be nitpicky about either (Horizon: Zero Dawn's repetitive hide-in-tall-grass stealth kills or Breath of the Wild's inventory woes and degrading weapons/stamina) but both are noteworthy achievements in game design and it comes down to preference - the ultimate obviously being gamers have the opportunity to experience both!
As we said in our discussion/review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the value of getting the Switch just to play it, we said it's a must-play for anyone who has a Wii U or is an early adopter/Nintendo diehard. And Horizon is one of PS4's best games, not only an amazing exclusive.
Interestingly, despite The Legend of Zelda having a built-in audience and being one of the most iconic and recognizable video game licences - and despite Breath of the Wild being available on two consoles - it was outsold by the new hotness, Horizon: Zero Dawn. That's very significant to how Sony's marketing, the size of the PS4 user base is, and how word of mouth carries. In fact, Horizon: Zero Dawn is PS4's biggest launch of a franchise yet and now holds that record.
This really makes you wonder then how much Breath of the Wild would sell if it was a multi-platform game on all consoles and PC.
As for the more popular game (at the moment), we totally get it. Our Screen Rant editors who've played and have both like Horizon: Zero Dawn more then The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or at least, it's the game we choose to play and think about more. Who knows how or if that can change after a hundred hours of each.
Horizon: Zero Dawn's world is so vast and engaging, and it takes the open-world elements and formula of franchises like Far Cry and improves and perfects it. You don't have to climb up a dozen towers or clear out a dozen cookie-cutter outposts to progress geographically. Side-quests don't repeat and are layered - All of them involve diverse characters which may be the real key to its success and none of them are simple fetch-and-retrieve style errands. You're always experiencing or seeing something new And it looks gorgeous, from one area to the next, there's every type of environment you can think of. Think Uncharted 4 style visuals but grander and open, its only drawback being faulty face animations during dialogue. And there's a lot of dialogue giving its protagonist so much more personality and intrigue versus The Legend of Zelda's Link.
But that's the subjective element when comparing two great games.
It's a great time to be a gamer and with what's still to come in 2017, this year's game awards season is going to be a tough one! If you've played either let us know your thoughts on each and what you want to see from followups to both!