Nick Smit describes why the new Zelda game is a breath of fresh air
If you took the Legend of Zelda franchise, threw it in a pot with Skyrim and added a generous seasoning of Dark Souls, along with one hell of a lawsuit you’d also get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW).
“Nintendo? Taking tips from other video game developers?” you might be thinking to yourself. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. And, while they’re at it, they’ve taken a franchise increasingly characterised by linearity and turned it into something truly worthy of the word ‘adventure’.
As a Zelda fan who was disappointed by the Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword trajectory of “cinematic”, formulaic, and at times condescendingly hand-holding entries in the franchise, the arrival of BoTW as an open world RPG has me over the moon. Stepping out onto a ledge overlooking the land of Hyrule, everything you can see is to be explored. And this time, you’re doing it hunter-gatherer style.
“The complementary relationship between exploration and preparation really helps to sell the feeling of being out in the wilds.”
Rather than filling Link’s inventory with unbreakable one-of-a-kind items, you’ll be scrounging for resources from the world around you. Flora gathered and fauna hunted, you can take part in the delightful cooking system which allows you to mix and match items into dishes for restoring your hearts, stamina, or giving you stat boosts like increased speed or resistance to cold. These can come in handy when preparing for a quest involving a foot race, or looking to scale an icy mountain where Link would otherwise succumb to the weather, and the complementary relationship between exploration and preparation really helps to sell the feeling of being out in the wilds.
Mostly abandoned and overgrown, Hyrule has become a beautiful yet dangerous place. Weapons and armour both old and truly ancient lie across the forgotten kingdom, with scores of enemies to test them against. In this respect, the basics of BotW’s combat is perhaps simpler than its predecessors but bolstered by the variation provided by weapons and other abilities. Different classes of weapon like shortswords, longswords and spears have their own movesets and occasionally elemental effects than can prove advantageous in certain situations. Exploiting the environment is also possible as well as thoroughly satisfying. Sneaking up the ridge behind a dangerous monster and pushing a boulder to let gravity do the work for you, or setting a whole camp ablaze with a fire arrow, makes you feel resourceful as well as skilled and gives you options other than simply throwing yourself into the fray over and over.
“Makes you feel resourceful as well as skilled and gives you options other than simply throwing yourself into the fray over and over.”
As for the more explicitly identifiable puzzle sections that the franchise is also known for, they can still be found although in a somewhat different form. Shrines that pose tests to Link’s abilities lie scattered across Hyrule with discrete 5-10 minute sessions, making use of your new powers like magnetism and time-freezing, that lend well to quick bites of gameplay either to break up the world exploration or fill up a bus ride. Completing these gives you what you need to increase your maximum health and stamina, allowing you to traverse farther and connecting back to the main story thread of Link gathering his strength to take on an ancient evil. The main storyline isn’t anything ground-breaking, perhaps punctuated by some extremely ok voice acting that seems to swap between being weirdly ‘yelly’ when the situation doesn’t warrant it and being weirdly docile when the situation really should be a bit more tense, but it does provide sufficient motivation to travel widely and right wrongs as Link is wont to do. Indeed, like any good RPG I’d argue the best bits are in the distractions and side quests.
The degree to which BotW leans into the joy of discovery is admirable. Other than the basics of fighting, moving and gathering, BotW seems content to let you find its treasure trove of secrets on your own. The sheer amount of contextual dialogue alone, which can have characters scold you on “jumping to your doom” or commenting on your lack of clothing, is astounding. Similarly, whole game mechanics are left to be uncovered naturally through experimentation, leading to fantastic little eureka moments that have you leaving every session with a victory.
I see BotW as a hopeful turn from Nintendo’s recent rut of sticking to its old formulas for good or ill. By lending from the open world RPGs of today while keeping the Nintendo stamp of playfulness and fun, Breath of the Wild has put itself among the best in the genre and perhaps pushed the bar up a little with it.