One thing I see alot since BOTW came out is "this is the breath of the wild of______". It reminds me when everything was the skyrim of _______ or dark souls of ________. But as someone who played breath of the wild why does it seem to get credit for elements that seem to be pretty common in open world games. Open world games with freedom of choice isn't new...shadow of the Colossus, Skyrim, even the witcher seems to have equal if not more unique open world elements, but being that zelda is an influential franchise, and it adopted a popular game design philosophy it gets a ton of credit for inventing them even tho it existed. Maybe I'm over analyzing but it now seems any game with the "you can play how you want" is automatically breath of the wild of its genre.
I mean this kind of post is exactly why the discourse around Breath of the Wild has become so poor online, it has devolved into an endless succession of bad faith "pfffft yeah like BotW invented burning grass amirite" arguments coming from the same people who for some reason have a giant chip on their shoulder about Nintendo being one of the most influential companies in the industry.
I'll try to address the subject even if I have no illusion about the kind of reception my post will get but basically the point is an influential game isn't necessarily one that invents a mechanic or does something entirely new for the first time but moreso a title that puts familiar elements together in such a way it creates a template that'll later inspire others, and to illustrate that I'll take the example of Dark Souls.
I think not a lot of people would disagree about Dark Souls being one of the most iconic and influential games of the 2010s. It has entered the collective imagination of players worldwide and has spawned countless clones. Some of its design elements have impacted games that don't directly copy its entire formula too, so it might be surprising to claim that the fundamental mechanics and systems that define Dark Souls have all been lifted from other titles: the weighty combat with an emphasis on uncancellable animations forcing you to commit, the risky healing mechanic and the stamina bar are all lifted straight out of Monster Hunter. The interconnected, labyrinthine level design with unlockable shortcuts, elevators connecting different areas, emphasis on environmental storytelling and exploration loop bringing you back to a safe starting area can all be found in the Metroid series. The corpse run is an obvious mainstay of the MMO genre since at least Everquest in the early 2000s and of course the Z targeting and heavy use of shields in combat evoke Ocarina of Time.
Having listed all of that it'd seem particularly idiotic to then act as if the blatant soulsclones released afterwards weren't inspired by Dark Souls but instead by Monster Hunter, Metroid or Everquest. Technically, in the pettiest, most nitpicky way it's correct, but in reality it's obvious it's Dark Souls that became the template all these games followed because it's the game that put all these elements together in such a way it became a reference for a lot of people.
So what does BotW do that all these other open world don't which justifies the praise? Well the obvious answer, which everyone should know at this point if they were arguing in good faith is that BotW brought down the walls associated with the genre and went all in with freedom left to the player which manifests itself in multiple ways:
-One of the stupidest criticisms leveled against BotW is that it has "Ubisoft towers". This is of course an idiotic statement specifically because BotW avoids the problem generally associated with Ubi towers which is the myriad of activity icons popping up on the player's map once activated. In BotW activating a tower only gives you the general topography of the region, even the names of places aren't shown before you visit them which means that cartography becomes a gameplay element: it's the player who has to pay attention to his surroundings, use his eyes to scout for points of interest in the distance (the entire point of a tower) and annote his map with markers he'll place himself. Instead of being put on a treadmill of amusement park style activities you get to choose where you go and what peeks your interest. The game leaves agency to the player.
-Speaking of scouting for points of interest, the map design is perfectly conceived to allow for navigation by sight only. There's no waypoint or magical GPS system and the bare minimum of map markers. The player is expected to carve his way through the world just by looking around and the world design does an amazing job guiding him by placing landmarks of varied size and shape throughout the map. The map is so well designed that a little known fact about Hyrule is that you can see every single main regions from the cliff on the Great Plateau at the very beginning, can pick and choose one of the large landmarks and follow the direction towards it to reach the associated region: Death Mountain brings you to Goron Village, the Great Deku Tree to the Master Sword, the Dueling Peaks guide you towards the start of the main quest etc. Even if this kind of design has already been used in open world games, to my knowledge it's never been used so extensively and efficiently in a map of this size.
-The map itself is constantly alternating between plains and more elevated mountainous regions, it's remarkably vertical and "chaotic" in the way a natural landscape tends to be and yet it doubles as a perfect playground because, like other things in the game I'll come back to later it's perfectly laid out to synergize with the traversal mechanics and the aforementioned "exploration by sight" philosophy. The way you can climb every surface isn't just a gimmick, it's a fundamental aspect of what makes the game so liberating compared to other open world games because climbing a mountain isn't just a marketing argument, it's at the core of the entire gameplay loop: you climb a wall (which is neither restricted like in every other game that have clear climbing spots nor automated because you have to manage your stamina and spot parts of the cliff where you can rest beforehand), use the vantage point to find something you want to check in the distance and then parasail or shield surf to it. You constantly go up and down freely in a way that has never been done before and you're always engaged and in total control of your actions throughout (again, no map markers or waypoints, just your eyes and mind).
-And finally and most importantly the game simply grants the player an insane number of possible interactions due to the "multiplicative" nature of its gameplay. By that I mean that it's not simply that the game has a staggering number of mechanics, which it does, but mostly the way these mechanics interact with eachother and end up having multiple uses in multiple context: in BotW the same mechanic can be used at the same time for combat, traversal and puzzle solving, like how the parasail can obviously make you move faster but also allow you to drop bombs from above or execute a dive attack or help you gain enough height by riding an ascending air current which then allows you to activate bullet time bow shots which allows you to land critical headshots on enemies which stuns them which makes them drop their weapons etc etc etc. The game's systemic design is simply vastly above what the competition offers and I don't see how anyone could deny it, console war shitposting notwithstanding.
So to sum up and mercifully conclude, BotW identified what the main draw of an open world was which is obviously its open nature and gave players more options and more freedom than anything done before thanks to a complete lack of handholding, gameplay based on unrestricted exploration, a trust placed in the player to navigate the world by sight and choose his own path by himself and incredibly solid synergy between world design and core mechanics. You can spend your days impotently screeching about how Just Cause 3 did aerial traversal before, or how immersive sims are nothing new, or how GTA already allowed players to find their way through the level design itself but as my Dark Souls example showed that'd be missing the forest for the trees. Breath of the Wild is the game that took these elements and put them together in a coherent whole that became the new standard of the genre for millions of people, including the creators of one of the most lucrative hits of the past few years in Genshin Impact. You're free to delude yourself it's all a fanboy conspiracy to the tune of "it's ok when Nintendo do it" until you're blue in the face but that won't change the game's overwhelmingly positive reception and its already solidly established place in the gaming pantheon. Cope, as kids say.