I received my Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Friday and the moment I was done with work, I started playing and have done so every moment I can. I sincerely love the game and if this feeling I have while playing it carries to the end of the game, then we’ll have a new number 1 Legend of Zelda title in my Top 5.
For me, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a joyous experience, and no matter what, not even if I’m constantly dying to that one sneaky enemy that circles around the group and kills me from behind, or I fall off a massive height because a storm came in and made me slip on a giant climb, I’m always smiling.
So, for the next few days, I’d like to share with you some of that joy, without spoiling anything and tell you why it’s so good for me.
When it comes to open world games, sandboxes, survival adventures, I’ve never had the game incentivise my exploration, never pushed me towards finding what lays hidden beyond the next hill, on the other side of the river, under the mountain. Most games give you the choice of doing so, leaving it to you, but their storytelling structure seems at odds with this, putting a break on your adventuring and only slowly opening the map to you, focusing on one region at a time.
That’s not the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This is a game that tells you, “go, explore, find the secrets, you’ll probably need them!” And in doing so it changes the dynamic of playing an open-world game. Everything in Breath of the Wild encourages your exploration. Maybe you’ll find new ingredients for cooking, new materials for crafting, or maybe you’ll just see a brand new and breath-taking vista.
Hyrule is gorgeous and with so many different regions and climates that even if you’re crossing the place for the third time, it’s still a joy to do so. Even more because The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gives you all tools from the start. The moment you can leave the starting area, you don’t need anyone else holding your hand. The world is yours to explore. You can tame horses if you like, or you can just climb to the highest point you find and glide down to wherever you want to go.
It’s all up to you.
One way in which The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild encouraged exploration for me, and made me want to know more about the world and where things may be is with one of its main quests. Without spoiling anything, you must find the locations where some pictures were taken. Now, in most open world games, you’d have map marker telling you where these are, but not in Breath of the Wild. It’s up to you to find these places and retrieve what was left there.
I walked the land, using landmarks in the photos and details on the vegetation to figure out where they were. One of my favourite spots had a small lake with a rock outcropping facing it. In the distance, I saw a part of cliffs facing each other, the local legend being that a mighty creature split a mountain in half, for it was in the creature’s way and it didn’t feel like taking the long way around. That’s where I started. I moved away from the twin peaks but always keeping them right behind me, trying to keep the perspective of the photo.
After an hour of exploring, I finally found the little lake and beyond it an outcropping I just knew would be the place, I could see the perspective aligning in my mind and just ran for it. I was right and found what I had to retrieve from this location and the experience repeated for every single one of these locales and even while hunting for shrines.
Soon after the start of Breath of the Wild you complete your first shrine, which are challenge rooms that grant you Spirit Orbs when completed, which you then use to make Link stronger. But even this early in the game, Nintendo doesn’t take you by the hand and leaves it up to you to find the shrines. You have a tool, one of the central items in the story, called the Sheikah Slate and with it you can place pins on the map when you see something important. But these only point to where the things are, getting there is still your problem!
But even if this is true, between the many fast travel points, Link’s ability to climb even sheer cliff faces and your gliders, there really is nothing stopping you from reaching the ends of the world, which I love. And by the same measure, nothing stops me from skipping the entire game if I so desire and storm the final dungeon. But I’m not doing that because I’m in love with Hyrule and I want to know everything there is to know, I want to find new things, be it animal, vegetable or mineral.
At one point, I decided I would reach a viewpoint in the Eldin province, where Death Mountain is. To reach it, I had to trek across the slopes of this active volcano. I looked at my inventory and had food which would protect me from high temperatures and a frost weapon, which would do the same if I had it equipped—and the same applies for fire weapons in the opposite case, so there’s a survival trick for you—and even so, the temperatures were so high I lost hearts every second.
But I wouldn’t stop because of that, so I wolfed down some food and kept making my way to the waypoint. When I finally reached it, I turned back and saw all of Death Mountain in its full glory. It was quite the sight. I lost almost all my ingredients, since I didn’t cook them and just had to eat them raw to keep my hearts up.
I need to make another trek into the region, but I’m planning it out this time, making sure I have stacking bonuses between my gear and food so I can survive a bit longer in the merciless heat of the volcano, at least until I reach Goron City and perhaps buy something there to fully protect from the blazing climate.
And the same thing that happened on Death Mountain has taken place countless times in frozen peaks, the first of them being close to Kakariko Village. I saw the frozen landscape spreading from where I stood, the crystalline peaks in the distance and my only thought was “let’s do this!” and it was a similar experience, with the bitter cold taking its toll on Link and this is without even considering the onslaught of enemies in the area, particularly the chameleonic Lizalfos waiting for me in ambush.
When I play open world games, I tend to go where the story takes me, because I know that it will open new areas and give me the resources and tools I need to make it further. But the way The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild plays and tells its story, you really feel the desire, the drive to strike out on your own and tour the entire Kingdom, see its ruins, the people still living, those in hiding and others trying to retrace the steps of heroes long past.
I’ve met travellers across the land, some of them of an evil clan called Yiga, but others just innocent people exploring what used to be the Hylian Kingdom. I met a girl retracing Zelda’s steps, travelling where she did, seeing the same sights and perhaps sharing in her experience. Another pair I’ve saved from Bokoblins and Moblins a few times now and despite that they keep pushing on, one of them telling me that next time they wouldn’t need help, that they would overcome the odds on their own.
I met a merchant in desperate need of a horse, a Gerudo soldier disguised as a merchant to draw out bad crowds, a Goron with a big appreciation for all the people he meets, a young man trying to woo an innkeeper and a crazy researcher looking for ancient technology, and I’m sure that if I continue exploring, I’ll meet even more people.
There are stories hidden throughout Hyrule, some emotional and others silly, but they’re there for you to find, you just must take the chance and do so. And this isn’t just for the secondary stories, but also the main one. There are things about the plot that you can only find if you look for them, pieces to the puzzle that you can miss if you rush and don’t take the time to really explore and find them.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild brings out the explorer in me, and I don’t get tired of it. I’ve spent the last few days going through as much as I can of the map, but there are still places hidden from me, caves and woods I’ve yet to explore, stories I’ve yet to find, and more shrines to uncover and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
If you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, how do you like exploring the world?
If you’re on the fence about buying it, I can tell you it’s a wonderful thing, this Hyrule, these lands are fantastic.
Join me tomorrow when I’ll talk to you about another joy in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the joy of battle!