The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been out for over two years, having debuted alongside the Switch console itself on 3 March 2017. But while acclaimed games released around the same time - the likes of Nier: Automata, Nioh and Horizon Zero Dawn - today sit at relative budget prices for both new and second-hand purchases, BOTW comfortably commands big money, even when pre-owned. I just looked it up: £45 at a widespread high-street trade-in business. Two years into its life, that feels extraordinary.
Or: is it so extraordinary? It's a genuinely amazing video game, one of the greatest of all time, and one that I have, according to my Switch, put 200 hours into. Using the DLC-delivered Hero's Path Mode (see below) to track my navigation of BOTW's version of Hyrule, I can immediately pinpoint areas of the map that Link's yet to peruse, and head there (usually wearing my Korok Mask, to uncover more of those little seed fellas). What's surprising is that I'm still finding new things to do, this deep into BOTW, and three 'endgames' later - the game simply reverts to just before you take on Calamity Ganon, to continue exploring.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Hero's Path Mode / Credit: Nintendo, author's own
The other day, I came across a running race for the first time, in the Ridgeland region of the map - a sprint up the side of a mountain against a character called Konba. Before then, probably a good 20 hours or so ago, I discovered the golf course - well, the golf hole - that's down in Tanagar Canyon, a barren area that you'll likely only wander around before or after a visit to the Guardian-packed Forgotten Temple (where you'll also find the Hero of the Wild armour set once you've completed all 120 shrines).
And even when I'm not participating in previously unseen mini-games, BOTW remains compelling. It's always in the back of my mind, tugging the grey matter, tempting me back. I've tried to put my finger on why I'm walking its hills and valleys again, when there's so much else I could be playing on Switch, or any other platform.
And the only thing I can really think of is that it's a kind of home, to me. You spend that many hours in one place, in one game, and it becomes a comforting space to simply exist in, somewhere that you're content. A virtual destination that you can retreat to when the Real World is just too noisy. Hyrule, on this handheld screen, is a true home away from home. Forty-five quid you say? Bargain.
Despite an array of other options before me right now - RAGE 2, Mortal Kombat 11, Resident Evil 2, and more that are installed and waiting for me to pay them any significant attention on my home consoles - my limited-availability television play time has taken a turn for the familiar again of late, too. Over the last few days, I've reconnected with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (one of only two pre-2018 games that have never been removed from my PS4, alongside P.T.), which I have apparently now spent 400 hours in the company of.
The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine / Credit: Bandai Namco, CD Projekt RED
That's a number that I feel I need to question somewhat - as while I was certainly obsessed with this game, and its DLC, 400 hours seems like a miscalculation on my console's part. Nevertheless, I've walked in the shoes of Geralt of Rivia for way longer than any other video game protagonist of this generation, and much like BOTW, I'm still discovering things in its sprawling world.
Last night was mostly all guarded treasure spots and smugglers' caches around the Skellige Isles, and a little whale watching; but fancying a change of scenery (much to the frustration of my wife, who was waiting for me to stop so we could watch Game of Thrones), I sailed back to Toussaint, the region added to the map(s) via the Blood and Wine DLC. I meant to return to my vineyard, say hi to Yennefer, ditch some of my recently acquired swag as, at level 54, I've no real need to sell it (I tell myself I will, eventually... so many boots), and save the game.
But somehow I found myself on a hunt for new(-to-me) 'Grandmaster' Witcher armour, and that was that: off to the north of the map to take names and immediately decapitate their owners. Been up to Arthach Palace Ruins recently? Lot of bodies there now, my friends. A lot of bodies.
While The Witcher 3 has no Hero's Path-style indicator of where Geralt's walked - though that would be awesome - that I still have a healthy smattering of question marks littering its world illustrates just how much more I'm yet to see, even so far deep into proceedings and the game's credits long, long behind me (since you asked, I got a good ending). And, sure, a lot of these will be inconsequential things - save a person in distress, destroy a monster nest, clear out some bandits. But much like my hot-footing it around Hyrule, I'm here, from Temple Isle to Bald Mountain, simply for the view, for the air, for the escape. Even the rain-lashed and war-ravaged landscape of central Velen resonates with a scarred beauty that I can't not be forever struck by.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt / Credit: Bandai Namco, CD Projekt RED
And I'm happier here, much of the time, than I am massacring my way through new experiences - not because these other options aren't as good (well, they're not - but they are good, all the same), but more because BOTW and The Witcher 3 are my games that I cannot say goodbye to. That every return to fills another week's worth of play, or more. I don't feel close to exhausting either, yet; but when I'm absolutely spent at the end of a day, these are the heroic protagonists and hidden places, widescreen vistas and warm feelings that I crave. I don't see that changing, this side of gaming's next generation.
Over to you: what are the games, and the game worlds, that you cling to? That you won't remove from your consoles, that you revisit regularly, even well after you've done most of what they've been designed to offer in terms of, ahem, content. Where are your virtual happy places? Let us know - we're on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo