It’s funny how gamers will get locked into rigid templates for the series they love. Exclamations of “It’s gotta have this!,” “It’s not a (insert longstanding series name here) game unless it’s got these,” and/or “It just looks too different” permeate discussions among gamers everywhere, perpetuating the idea that some games just have to meet particular criteria lest they be stricken from the canon.
Of course, many of these criteria are subject to change, depending on who’s talking. For a series as popular and acclaimed as The Legend of Zelda, fan discussions can easily generate more than a few notions of what a Zelda game entails. Naturally, when something new comes along and looks different, brows start to furrow …
And Breath of the Wild, to a decent number of Zelda fans, looks fucking bonkers.
Okay, it’s not that crazy. Before I go any further, let me say here and now that I absolutely love the new game. But, with some of the seemingly drastic changes made to the so-called “Zelda formula,” some folks are saying BotW (as we’ll now call it) is nothing less than a traitorous endeavor, a betrayal of the values that previously held the series together.
Yeah, let’s get the big one out of the way. In BotW, there are, technically speaking, no dungeons. I mean, there are definitely a good handful of dungeon-like challenges which you may take on, but there are no dungeons in the classic sense. You know, go into a deadly maze of rooms, fight off hordes of violent creatures, and work your way to a weapon or item that allows you to reach a boss and fight it to the death in glorious pixelated technicolor.
So yeah, there isn’t that. However, there are dozens upon dozens of challenges strewn about the land in enigmatic locales called shrines. Every shrine involves at least one of three things:
- You have to solve a puzzle to reach the shrine.
- You have to solve puzzles inside the shrine.
- You have to fight bad dudes inside the shrine.
Most shrines can be found chilling on the good green earth, or the good yellow sand, or the good brown mountains … you get what I mean, they’re everywhere throughout Hyrule. Once you see one, you typically try to get to it, and if you do, you can then go inside it. That’s usually when you do either option 2 or option 3 above.
Sometimes, though, shrines aren’t just laying about, waiting for you to de-puzzle and plunder them – sometimes, you’ve got to make the shrine appear, by solving an environmental puzzle of some sort.
The good thing is, when you deal with these hidden shrines, you usually just ride the fancy Sheikah elevator down into the shrine and snag an easy treasure chest. Bingo! No fighting necessary.
So anyway, shrines are the new thing in BotW. As you find and conquer each shrine, you gather items called spirit orbs that allow you to purchase upgrades to either your health or stamina. Oh yeah! There’s stamina now, and Link can climb just about any surface you find throughout your traversals of the Hylian hinterlands.
That’s good news, right? Link is still there BUT WAIT A SECOND, STAMINA?!
Now now, don’t be hasty. There was stamina in Skyward Sword, and it wasn’t the craziest thing imaginable. The coolest part of BotW, in my opinion, is something I hinted at earlier – the sheer size of the game world.
Yep, I almost referred to the Skyrim effect a little earlier in this post, mostly because I said something like “If you see a shrine, you can get to it” – a little too similar to Todd Howard’s infamous (or maybe it’s famous) remark about Skyrim, which went something like “You see that mountain? You can climb it.” I’m mostly paraphrasing here, but the wondrous sentiment remains: Skyrim was a huge game, and BotW, for what it’s worth, feels even bigger.
“Whaddaya mean, an open-world Zelda game?!” Well that’s exactly what I mean: aside from a small, centralized introduction to the game’s mechanics (an introduction that may still take hours to complete), BotW is wide open for you to explore as you see fit.
Does that mean you can go anywhere following the introduction? Well, yes and no.
You can certainly try to go wherever you’d like, wherever your fancy and your intuition take you, but there will probably be some sort of obstacle to overcome. This can be as simple to accomplish as beating a small gaggle of Bokoblins, or as difficult as trudging up snow-covered mountains with the wrong clothing on and freezing to death along the way.
That’s another thing: the environment affects the temperature, which in turn affects what clothes you should wear, which, of course, affects where you can go, depending on what outfits you’ve found.
“But wait, Chris! Slow down! There are realistic environments that make me sweat or freeze, AND I need to be DRESSED for them?! What is this shit?!”
This shit, my friends, is just one of the many awesome reasons you should give Breath of the Wild a chance. It’s bigger than any Zelda game that came before it, it’s got some interesting ways of immersing you in its huge tracts of land, and the combat is some of the most intense stuff that Zelda has ever offered gamers.
Oh yeah, I probably should mention before I end this piece: all of your weapons will break. You have a large inventory to ensure you carry as many weapons as you’ll need.
Well, there are some of my wacky thoughts regarding the newest Zelda game, and I should say here that I’ve played the game on and off since the middle of March and I still haven’t finished it. I could have challenged the final boss of the game a month or two ago, but I have this thing where I really want to find all the shrines before I beat the game. And Dark Souls 3 was calling. And I was still in school. And damn it, I’ll beat the game within the next week and let you all know how I feel about it. It’s been a deliberate process, exploring and appreciating the latest iteration of Hyrule, and every second has been worth it.
In the meantime, keep on gaming, folks.