One of my Favorite Moments in ‘Breath of the Wild’
It captures the serious and whimsical parts of the game equally well
Take a look at this picture. On it, Link, the hero from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sites astride a deer facing a mysterious landscape. Fog swirls around him, a torch burns in the distance, and the sky is obscured by the local atmosphere.
Of course, there are smaller details as well. Link is wearing fairly powerful armor, emphasized by the formidable shield on his back. There’s also a hint of menace, of uncertainty in the unclear landscape. It’s clear that whatever is ahead, it’s unknowable from his current vantage point.
All of this long prelude is to say that this picture captures several of the reasons why I love Breath of the Wild. This game combines a beautiful mix of seriousness and whimsy. It’s a captivating recipe for gameplay and immersion, and allows players to pursue the game in whatever manner they want to. And for me, this picture captures all of that beautifully.
In this game, players are tasked with the ultimate challenge of beating Ganon (that’s not really a spoiler). This is an overarching goal, one that guides the game from start to finish. And as part of this broad objective, players are given several smaller (but still fairly large) tasks that help prepare Link for this challenge. When I took this screen capture, I was pursuing one of them. So that’s part (a) of this picture’s appeal — it happens as part of an important game juncture. There is a clear, defined goal to this part of the adventure.
Part (b) is also part of the overarching objective, or the “serious” part of the game. It’s embodied in Link’s armor. This alternate angle helps show it slightly better:
You can see that Link is essentially wearing a knight’s armor, complete with helmet, pants, and shirt made out of armor. This ensemble is complemented by the shield on his back, one of the higher-level models the game provides. Finally, thought it isn’t quite as visible, there’s also a sword and bow on the hero’s back, stowed in preparation for any challenges that may arise. From the objective he is following to the clothes he’s wearing, Link is ready for his next task.
But there’s also another part of this picture, one that’s immediately obvious from both angles. Here, Link is riding a deer. Or more accurately, a Buck, as evidenced by the antlers. So this is the third and final part of this picture, the animal that the hero is riding.
Link’s (or rather, my) choice of steed is important because deer aren’t a suggested mode of transportation. Horses are introduced fairly early in the game, and various NPCs explain how to catch, ride, and train these animals. What the game doesn’t tell you is that these same mechanics can apply to several other animals in the game. For example, deer.
As I approached this part of the map, I saw a deer out of the corner of my eye. Wanting to experiment, I pursued it stealthily for some time. Deer are notoriously difficult to catch — they can see you coming easily and are exceptionally fast. However I persevered, and finally caught one along the path. With a mixture of sneaking and sprinting, I hopped on the animal’s back and calmed it enough to let me stay there.
Or how real-world disasters provide a tangible link between the material and the imagined.medium.com
Deer are also difficult to ride. They’re slower than horses (largely because they refuse to run at top speed with Link on board), and as a whole this is an inefficient way to travel. But I love it. If for nothing else than the sheer absurdity of it, it’s fantastic. And the deer’s silent majesty meshed perfectly with the surrounding landscape to create these two pictures. As weird as the visual of a knight on a buck is, it’s a picture worth having.
This is the appeal that Breath of the Wild has for so many people. It’s a straightforward game, in many regards. They end goal is clearly explained, and the smaller steps that players need to take to reach that goal are easy to find as well. But veer off the path, and there are hundreds of little moments like these. From interesting characters, to non-traditional riding animals, there are surprises hidden around every bend on the game’s many trails. There are nearly-countless explorations worth making.
Deer aren’t the only weird animals I’ve ridden, and this part of the map isn’t the only place I’ve experimented. But it’s probably my favorite encapsulation of my experience with this game and the reasons that I love it. In this moment I am Link, master of the deer.