I, like seemingly everyone in the games press, have fallen into a deep Zelda hole. There are many other games I could be playing right now. Horizon: Zero Dawn sits uncompleted, Disc Jam seems like a fun take on Windjammers, I started Titanfall 2's amazing campaign a while ago but stopped, my Kerbal Space Program attempt to build a drilling base on the satellite Minmus hasn't been worked on in weeks, Rocket League will probably get some more attention this Wednesday when a new mode hits... However, all of that has been put on hold. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) has consumed all my free time. I don't have an hour count for you, but it's gotta be approaching 50 if not more. Given all that time spent, I've been noticing some influences on the game that are kind of surprising given Nintendo's usual rinse and repeat strategy with Zelda games.
This has been noted by others, but it bears repeating. The worlds of Minecraft feel infinite, even the compressed version that exists on the Xbox 360. The space is massive and it gives you a sense of unending possibility. BotW somehow captures that feeling. Granted, I have come up on the game's invisible wall at the edge of the map (it has a simple message saying "You can go no further") but it's so out of the way and hard to get to the edge that I only got there by really trying. You won't stumble across it in typical gameplay sessions. The experimentation with cooking recipes also mirrors Minecraft's. There are basic rules in both, trying variations leads to interesting results.
While Dark Souls and its ilk are not games that speak to me personally, I have watched Vinny play a bunch of them. As such, I've gotten a certain feel from them that BotW has in spades. Namely, the world you play in is a harsh place that won't hesitate to kill you. This is nothing new to Zelda games, but it's been absent for quite some time. I can't remember the last time a basic baddie one shotted me in a 3D Zelda game, and it honestly might not have happened since Link to the Past. This gets you on your guard and makes you think a little harder about the things you're doing. You have to plan out every enemy encounter, because it might be your last if you don't (okay, not really, you have infinite respawns, but you know what I mean). The fact that weapons degrade over time also makes you consider what to bring to each party of Moblins you see.
This is a minor spoiler, but there are giant monsters in BotW that you have to (for lack of a better term) puzzle into submission. While you don't have to scale them from the ground up like in Shadow of the Colossus, you do have to navigate around inside them and figure them out, much like the giant beasts in Team Ico's finest work. It's a great callback, intentional or not, to another game with a massive world that gives the feeling of infinite possibility.
It seems weird to say that The Legend of Zelda influenced... The Legend of Zelda, but hear me out. The very first Zelda game has little structure. You get a wooden sword and the option to go in three directions. No tutorial, no guide posts, no friendly/annoying fairy telling you what to do, nothing. You just get to explore. BotW had me deeply worried at the very beginning of the game. I thought I had broken the scripting of the game somehow. I could not find anything to do in the Temple of Time. It took me a while to discover the first tower and actually get the game going. Then I realized the developers were telling me something powerful with this game, "We're relying on you to figure this out. Good luck." This level of trust is unheard of in modern games. Everything holds your hand, points you in a direction, and says, "Go this way first, this way second, this way after that..." BotW does none of this. You're free to encounter the world at your own pace and in any order you see fit. There is no "first" dungeon. There are four, any can be tackled at any time with the tools you start with. There are now speed runs of the game that last less than an hour. People have figured out how to take down Ganon in an hour. That's awesome and a true achievement, both for the speed runners and that Nintendo has produced a game this versatile. I'll probably spend 100 hours with the game exploring every nook and cranny I can. That a game can be satisfying in that way to both audiences is unparalleled and hopefully speaks to the future of the company. I cannot wait to see what they've done with Mario and his trip to New Donk City.
Anyway, that's what I've got so far. I'm sure there's more to unearth.