Now Fallen Out of the Console Wars, Nintendo Seeks Fresh 'Breath' in New Zelda Game

Link, the blond boy hero who's featuring in his 19th The Legend of Zelda video game, wakes up from a dark-lit shrine and slowly makes his way outside to a massive open world in the newest franchise game, Breath of the Wild. Soon, Link stands atop a cliff and looks out on volcanoes, glaciers and ruins—all available for him to explore. It is a long deviation from its tight narrative structure that has turned Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker into Nintendo classics.

But Nintendo probably knew it needed to try something different. Once the third company in the video game console war between Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo has fallen far behind. Its new console dubbed NX was expected to be announced in this year's E3, but Nintendo made no such news.

Compared to Sony or Microsoft, Nintendo's E3 presentation felt very slim. As Microsoft announced two new consoles and Sony a variety of new games, Nintendo showed neither this week. Aside from Breath of the Wild, the only game available for play in E3, Nintendo announced Pokemon Go, a mobile game which can also played in a custom wrist-worn wearable.

Exploration was never Zelda's strong suit. Breath of the Wild marks Zelda's 30-year anniversary, but this may be the least Zelda-like Zelda video game ever released thanks to its focus on non-linear gameplay.

But of course, this does not mean there is no plot. The awakened Link must defeat an evil force locked in a faraway place before it breaks loose and wreaks havoc in the world. But the plot is loosely progressed, with Nintendo entrusting players to write their own story.

In the meantime, Link hunts, collects bows and arrows, cooks stir-fry skewers, chops trees and more to survive in the vast wilderness dotted with monsters and club-wielding goblins. It is more The Revenant than Ocarina of Time from its initial impressions. "This is what our fans have been asking for from [the next Zelda game]," Nintendo spokesperson Ken Jager tells Newsweek during a game demo.

Fans showed up in droves to check out this new world at E3, which is at least 12 times larger than the largest past Zelda game, according to Jager. The line waiting to get a glimpse of Breath in the Wild snaked around the enormous Nintendo exhibition, filled with people tired after waiting for hours. Nintendo fans were all there to see a single game. One Nintendo employee told Newsweek that while fans have waited in long lines for Nintendo games in past E3, the line this year "was far longer than what we were expecting."

But Breath of the Wild is the big experimentation game for Nintendo, taking off its well-worn hand-holding formula of its most popular franchise for something contemporary. Open exploration games like Fallout 4, The Witcher 3 and The Division—just to name games from the past year—have been the growing trend, built by a new generation of video game developers. For the Zelda lead producer Eiji Aonuma, that was enough to break with tradition and take the risk.

"When you think about it, maybe those things really didn't need to be there in the modern world, those traditions," Aonuma says in an interview with Time. "Because we were destroying everything we'd done in the past, and rebuild new ideas from the ground up, that was the hardest thing, and it's really taken a long time to create the thing I most wanted to create."