Zelda: A Game of Exploration
Zelda Breath of The Wild is perhaps one of the best games to ever grace my lucky slightly freakishly long fingers. It is a breath of fresh air to the open world genre and mainstream games and something that will be looked back on with incredible fondness. Already the 55+ hours I’ve managed to put in (in just over a month) have contained some of the most exciting, beautiful and breathtaking moments I’ve experienced within games.
There are so many brilliant things I could talk about when discussing Breath Of The Wild. I could discuss the hundreds of different ways to play, the way it is perfectly engineered to suit so many different types of gamers, I could talk about the item breaking or the probably thousands of interlinking systems. However, I’m going to discuss the thing closest to Breath Of The Wild’s heart.
Whilst playing, a slow realisation dawned upon me. Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about Link being the best hero, the best wolf or the best person. Zelda: Bad Breath (because let’s face it, with the amount of food Link consumes without ever even cleaning his mouth, he must have bad breath - Pip) is a game where Link slowly becomes the best explorer within Hyrule. Every single ability Link gains allows him to explore just a bit further, a bit quicker, a bit easier.
Let us start off with The Great Plateau — Breath Of The Wild’s equivalent of a tutorial. Everything in Breath Of The Wild’s tutorial has two purposes. The first (we’ll come to the second later) is to teach the player how to approach and traverse Breath Of The Wild’s landscape. The Great Plateau is a microcosm of its surrounding world. There is water to traverse, tall mountains and grassy plains. The player must learn to adapt themselves to their surroundings, cooking potions to keep them warm, managing their stamina and health in order to travel and explore further. The player slowly works out through play, how to traverse and explore Zelda’s varied environment.
The second reason (ah, you’d thought I’d forgotten, hadn’t you?) is to gain the paraglider from a mYsTeRiOuS old man. And what does this paraglider help you do? Explore more! It allows you to travel further, faster. It lets you jump off of the plateau and explore the rest of Breath Of The Wild’s huge kingdom. It is one of the first really exciting pieces of equipment/discoveries of the player. These discoveries also show us how focused on pushing the player to explore the game actually is.
One of the first great discoveries is getting a horse. I remember slowly sneaking up on some and choosing the one that ran the fastest away from me - a jet black beauty that I probably spent a little too much time trying to catch. However, once I did, the distances I needed to traverse suddenly became a lot quicker and a lot more fun to do! Moving across landscapes at great speeds enables the player to get places faster. Also you can pet horses, which I tend to do at a semi-constant pace, ensuring my horse knows that he is The. Best. Horse. The. Best.
In addition to horses, another delightful discovery was shield surfing - using your shield as a snowboard. By doing this, not only does it reward players with a fun and satisfying way to quickly get down a hill, but it also encourages players to explore more, by decreasing the durability of your shield and forcing you to find more. Shield surfing gives the player more incentive to explore by simply being a lot of fun! Sand Seals are perhaps similar if not identical in this remark, if not for the fact that they are potentially one of the best fictional creatures ever made and I would very much like to hug one and take it home and feed it all the food it ever wanted.
The most important and obvious incentive for the player to explore is the immaculately crafted landscape Breath Of The Wild boasts. Whilst I’ve wittered on about how everything points the player to exploring, I’ve failed to mention how breathtaking Zelda’s environments truly are. Huge vistas, mountains with freezing peaks, with secrets hidden at every turn. The player’s heart should be drawn to exploration within this game. Nintendo’s world here is the opposite of bland - it is varied, immaculately handcrafted and has the beautiful feature of simply pointing towards a location, yelling “ONWARDS” and marching off into the distance.
What is interesting is when the game subverts the freedom of the player, particularly in the Lost Woods. The Lost Woods is one of the few places players simply cannot just wander into. In creating this restriction, Nintendo instantly create a sense of mystery around the place. Add on top lots of characters mentioning that there may be a certain sword in there and it is fair to say that the player’s interest may be piqued.
Breath Of The Wild then is a game of exploration. A game which enables the player at every turn to work out how to get to somewhere and then enact their plan. To point at a place on a map or in the distance, judge the obstacles in between and simply walk there (or sand surf or ride). It is one of the best walking simulators I have experienced.
(ps I am away on holiday in Wales and had to use these images from a google search please don’t hate me for my lack of nice screens from BOTW, I’m sure I’m going to do another article at some point ❤ ❤ )