If I was to define my favorite thing in video games I would say exploration. But that feels a bit to broad. Lately I've been using the phrase "video game archaeology". What does that mean though? What I mean is this:
Imagine your in a game and you find a location or a place or item. This is exploration, if done incorrectly it's just the feeling of, "hey, thats a thing i've got/found now". With "video game archaeology" its more than that. You find this new area and it feels forgotten, like there is more than just the surface level interaction. I came up with this concept when thinking about why I like dark souls so much. For me its less the combat, which is fun, and more that there is a deep sense of mystery and loneliness in these locations you discover.
(I should note that I played this game with the pro hud, so no map and I turned off the little beeping indicator for shrines)
Zelda has this in droves. The music, the art, the environmental sounds. Everything in breath of the wild feels so organic and mysterious. Travelling from one point to the other on the map is the game here. On a journey from the starting location to a large tower on the map I found numerous things that caught my attention. These would then splinter into small journeys off the beaten path or in some instances huge diversions that led to something incredible. Walking down a road and seeing something off in the distance, such as a destroyed building or a cave and then exploring this point of interest was always, always fun to do. I cannot think of an instance where I saw something, said "that looks interesting" and didn't find something to do there.
It is a crazy accomplishment that the world feels so incredibly vast, things feel so far apart, but at the same time the world is dense with detail, little secrets around every corner. And when I say vast, I mean huge distances. It feels like the desert is in a different world than the snowy portions of the map.
The shrines in the game are also incredible. For some, the act of finding the shrine is the challenge, but others have puzzles which are solved with your core ability set. These are often short but some are on the longer side of things. None felt too long and almost all of them have a unique challenge to overcome.
The major dungeons are, completely optional, but more importantly offer the same unique puzzles on a larger scale. My only issue here would be that most of the bosses feel very similar in aesthetic and gameplay design.
The cooking is fun and dumb, watching these foods jump around to yield a seafood paella is entertaining. The importance of this and potion making is essential to survival in this game. After a while it does get a bit tedious especially because it seems that certain status effects have way more ingredients in the world in others. The amount of stuff that increases the effectiveness of sneak seemed way to high.
The combat is fairly basic on its face but the combination of abilities, weapons, and environmental effects provides a crazy amount of options to dispatch enemies. And if that doesn't float your boat, you can just beat them to death with a sword. These environmental interactions can be used in a number of interesting ways. I remember brute forcing through a puzzle section of a shrine by laying out all my metal weapons to connect a circuit because I couldn't figure out the "actual" solution.
I've probably put around 200 hours in to this game now, on a O.G. game and a master mode, and I am still enthralled with it. The mystery of the world combined with your traversal capabilities are amazing.