Breath of the Wild is still one of the most unique and gorgeous takes on a post-apocalyptic world in modern games, in my opinion. A lot of games with post-apocalyptic settings are very stark and colorless and alien and while those are interesting in their own right I still think that BotW’s take on it is just as fascinating and makes it stand out.
Hyrule was utterly destroyed. No matter where you believe it lands on the Zelda timeline, it’s undeniable that it came thousands of years after well established kingdoms we’ve seen within games in the franchise, and that’s before we even discuss the Sheikah technology that predated this iteration of Link. We know that the wild and open Hyrule we have now is a far cry from the established kingdoms we’ve seen. People were killed. Civilizations were ravaged, destroyed, and left empty. Existing towns are small, scattered, and isolated by a violent wilderness full of monsters.
Enormous mechs with land-altering properties and minds of their own threaten the livelihood of those remaining.
There are fields littered with the remains of nigh-unkillable robots, and some of them still prowl the forests and mountains. At the very center of it all, the apocalypse-bringer itself is only barely restrained from releasing its absolute fury on what’s left as it continues to bring monsters back from the dead time and time again.
And yet… the world is still so alive in spite of all its struggles. The dust has settled, but instead of being dark and devoid of life, nature has crept over the ruins and roads. Wildlife thrives, birds sing, and plants grow, including the rarest flower thought to have been nearly extinct making a slow return. The sunrise and sunset are still beautiful, even if that light is cast mostly on empty, grassy fields as far as the eye can see. Wild horses frolic among the remains of guardians. Strange and beautiful spirits soar through the air or shine between the trees. Great fairies watch over towns. Even though the terrain is dangerous, people have made roads and paths for merchants and adventurers who connect the towns and villages. Monsters and guardians haven’t stopped them from exploring, scavenging, and pioneering the wild. Yes, the people know that the world is full of danger which threatens to engulf them- it’s hard to ignore that when Hyrule Castle is so visible- but that hasn’t stopped them from gathering the remains and making the most of it. It isn’t the shining kingdom it once was, but the people have a newfound appreciation and respect for the wilderness that now spans it.
There’s just something so lovely and humbling about a setting which looks at the fallout of a magical kingdom and the new lives its people lead in the midst of a world that’s dangerous, seeing how they’re working on stringing themselves together again, and watching as they rekindle their hope… and all the while, the rest of the world keeps breathing. The sun still rises and the sun still sets.