Every gamer has something a little different that they look for in a video game. Some look for a platformer that is completely unforgiving and requires absolute perfection from the player. Others look for 200-hour RPGs that tell a rich story with a rich and complex battle system to go with it. Me? I’m no special snowflake: there are plenty of people with the same taste in games as me. In fact, we might be among the majority: open-world junkies. There’s just something about a game giving me a huge option of things to do and explore that scratches that itch I have for what I want in a video game. That’s not to say that open-world games don’t have their problems, though. Many open-world games suffer the fate of being big just because they’re big, and not really offering much except a long walk from point A to point B. Not only that, but open-world games are almost always RPGs. Now, I have no problem with RPGs. In fact, they’re one of my favorite video game genres. But I always wished the open-world approach could be brought to different video game genres as well. What I then absolutely adore about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is that it takes a completely fresh take on the open-world (or, as Nintendo likes to call it, “open-air”) approach by offering stunningly beautiful yet intuitive environments to explore and a Zelda dungeon-lovers fantasy come true, punctuated by a fascinating narrative that is discovered more often than it is directly presented.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild starts with Link awakening from what appears to be a cryostasis chamber. Once you step outside, you will have the opportunity to explore the smallest of the 15 regions in Breath of the Wild: the Great Plateau. It’s a great tutorial section designed to intuitively tell you how to interact with the world without presenting too much text. Each of the four shrines in the Great Plateau gives Link an ancient rune, which is the replacement of traditional Zelda items, save the bow, which can be found from any enemy archer. You will quickly learn that Breath of the Wild, as explained in Jason Schreier’s excellent review, seldom says “no, you can’t do that until you have the item that allows you to,” because you will have all of the items necessary within the first two hours of the game. Instead, progression in the game is made easier by exploring the world through rewarding you with better weapons, clothing, hearts, and stamina, but if you have strong enough of a will, you can accomplish anything, even beat the final boss, from the moment you leave the Great Plateau.
While Breath of the Wild is a radical departure from the series’ traditions, the core experience is still divided into two sections: exploration and dungeons. The key difference, however, is how these sections are divided. In a traditional Zelda game, such as Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, the usual structure is that you spend hours in the overworld until you find a dungeon, which is likely a multi-hour affair, especially if it is found later in the game. And, with a few exceptions, the order is completely linear. You find a new area, find a new dungeon, and that allows you to find the next area and dungeon associated with it, et cetera. Breath of the Wild changes that by instead having the entire world available for you to explore and allowing you to access the 120 shrines scattered across the world any time you please, which can take anywhere from five minutes to half an hour. This dramatically changes the way this game is played in relation to the more recent installments in the franchise, meaning that even if you’re just playing for 15 minutes on the ride to work, you can easily do something substantial in the game’s world, whether that be complete a shrine, do a side-quest, or find some korok seeds.
Exploration in Breath of the Wild consists of a few things. Often, exploration will start just for its own sake, with no real objective, at least in my own playthrough. I see a mountain in the distance that I haven’t been to, and even though I don’t know what’s up there, I begin my ascent in the faith that the game developers will reward my curiosity. This is always true.
What awaits at the top of that mountain can vary, but unless it is a particularly impressive mountain, or you see something else to suggest otherwise, it’s probably a korok seed. While it can certainly and justifiably be disappointing to find this common reward, obtaining it usually requires solving a short and simple yet fun puzzle or activity, ranging from placing a metal block in the right place to getting to a destination before the time limit runs out to picking up a suspiciously placed rock. Not only that, but the korok seeds can be used to expand Link’s inventory so that you can hold more weapons, making the korok seeds a worthwhile reward. Although there are 900 korok seeds in the entire world, finding all of them is really only an objective for the hardcore completionists, as after a certain point you won’t be able to expand your inventory further even though there are more korok seeds to find. In this way, the high quantity of korok seeds doesn’t necessarily incentivize you to find every last one of them. Rather, the high quantity guarantees that you are able to find enough koroks to consistently upgrade your inventory without having to consult a guide, as well as giving every inch of Hyrule purpose.
A much more interesting discovery, however, is that of a shrine. While I will discuss shrine quests later in this review, and the contents of the shrines themselves in a future part of this review, the simple act of discovering a shrine can be a fun challenge in and of itself. While some prefer to turn the shrine locater that beeps when you’re near one, I found it a valuable asset that helped alert me when a shrine was nearby without giving away its exact location. Many of these shrines are either well-hidden or require you to solve a puzzle to access them, such as rolling a snowball down a hill so that it gains volume and momentum enough to destroy the stone wall hiding it. The shrines, while they should be worth doing just because of how amazing they are, also offer rewards to further incentivize going to them. Most of them are found within the shrine itself, and thus I will save discussing them for another day, but one that can be obtained by not even going inside is activating it as a warp point for fast-travel. Many of these shrines are placed within strategic locations near Great Fairies, towns, or other points of interest, so even if you’re not strong enough to complete a shrine at the moment, you should always at least activate it just so that you can fast-travel there.
The final object of exploration is obvious from the second you activate the first one in the Great Plateau: towers. There are 15 of them in the world, one for each region, and they should be your first objective whenever entering a new region. This is because each one of them will fill out your map for that specific region, which will be instrumental in helping you explore the world, as well as serving as a fast-travel point high up in the air from which you can descend to many otherwise hard-to-reach places. Climbing to the top of the tower to activate it can be as simple as scaling it from platform to platform or involve many deaths, depending on which tower it is. Some of the more difficult ones will involve guardians shooting lasers at you, be surrounded by an unswimmable swamp, or be in the vicinity of a horde of enemies ready to shoot you down.
There are three types of quests in Breath of the Wild: main quests, side quests, and shrine quests. Main quests are scarce and are mainly the overarching objectives spanning the duration of the entire game. Immediately after completing the shorter main quest on the Great Plateau, you will be given two more main quests. One is to go to the next objective to, in turn, receive more main quests detailing where to find the story locations in the game, while the other is to straight-up defeat Ganon. With a few exceptions, these quests can easily take tens of hours to complete, but unlike many other open-world games, the story is seldom a “do a side quest or do a main quest” scenario. Instead, the main quests are a loose guideline of ultimate objectives that almost always get distracted by the plethora of digressions offered by Hyrule.
Side quests are perhaps the greatest variable in terms of quality in Breath of the Wild. While sometimes you might find a gem of a side quest that requires you to think creatively about a solution or that has a good narrative surrounding it, more often than not the side quest will simply ask you to collect a certain amount of materials or take a picture of something. And the reward for side quests is almost always consistently disappointing, usually only being rupees. While rupees are a precious commodity as you can no longer find them from cutting grass or killing most enemies, it still isn’t a very interesting award. Nevertheless, there are some stellar side quests that have interesting objectives and characters that help flesh out the world of Hyrule. At the very least, most of these side quests encourage you to explore different parts of the world, leading to more discoveries along the way.
Much more consistently excellent are the shrine quests, which are in theory the same as side quests with a shrine as the reward, but are for some reason a lot more interesting to me than most of the side quests. Perhaps this is because the shrine quests ask you to usually solve some sort of environmental puzzle using the mechanics you have learned throughout the game in a usually fascinating way that always results in that familiar Zelda-puzzle glee you feel once you’ve figured it out. Not only that, but for whatever reason, there are some shrine quests that involve characters that are so hilarious or heartbreaking that they make so many of the characters from the basic side quests seem bland by comparison. You are usually given riddles from either stone plaques or characters, usually Kass, the rito minstrel, to hint at what you’re supposed to do. While usually the riddles strike a good balance at being enough to lead you in the right direction while not being overly obvious, there are some that either lean on the side of too obvious or too obscure. Nevertheless, shrine quests are one of my favorite things to do in the overworld of Hyrule.
What did you think of this review? Leave a comment below letting me know what you liked and didn’t, and definitely let me know about any typos or any grammatical errors I made so I can fix that. Be sure to stay tuned for part two of this massive review for this massive game!