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Zelda: Breath of the Wild: 4 Years On

Written by Jen

Four years ago we took our first steps out on to the Great Plateau and saw the sprawling world of Hyrule laid out before us. Link sprinting to the edge of the cliff after emerging from the gloom of the shrine of resurrection, Breath Of The Wild's theme playing as the camera pans slowly, the awe, wonder and potential ahead of you, just one of hundreds of memories I wish I could experience for the first time.






Breath Of The Wild is first and foremost a game of exploration and discovery, even now players are finding new things among the interconnected systems of the game. Nintendo have made complexity look effortless, they hand you a small selection of tools and push you out in to a boundless world with as much or as little guidance as you want.




For me, the early days of the game's release posed a dilemma. I would frequently come across something new and exciting in the game, some new event I'd stumbled across when I got distracted on my way to a shrine. I'd want to share it with others, shout about the brilliance I'd found, but at the same time not want to deprive someone of the same joy of discovery. With previous Zelda games you could be reasonably sure what someone else had seen or done based on how many temples they'd done, but Breath Of The Wild just demolished all those barriers.




I have played a lot of open world games, but Breath Of The Wild showed just how constrained they all are. The twin abilities of the paraglider and being able to climb everything revolutionise what you can do in a game, exploration is actively encouraged because the game doesn't punish you for trying something new. If you see something interesting, Link can investigate it. There are no invisible walls directing you down the right path, you don't need to unlock a new ability to get there, once you're off the Great Plateau the world is your oyster (stamina allowing) 



What a world it is. This Hyrule is vast.



There are, of course, preferred routes and guidance but the game is quite relaxed about whether you follow them. There's no Navi telling you that perhaps you might want to chat with Saria, no really you should, why are you fishing, get on with the story, hey! Hello? Listen! 



Breath Of The Wild has quest markers, but they're optional, it has roads, but feel free to climb the cliffs, there are signposts, place names, towers that fill in your map, but the game is indifferent to whether you use these. Instead it tempts you off the beaten track, it distracts you from saving the kingdom, Breath Of The Wild fills your view with dozens of things to do with casual nonchalance, Zelda's waited 100 years to be rescued, she can hang on a little longer while you see what's over the horizon.



The moment to moment joy of discovery drives Breath Of The Wild. Everyone will have their own favourite examples. Perhaps it's a cheeky little Korok puzzle, sneaking around a Bokoblin camp and stealing their weapons before they know you're there, watching travellers run to the stables to escape from the rain, hiding in the shade in the desert to keep cool or a long, sinuous dragon rising through the air in front of you.



Hyrule is a living, breathing place. The wildlife don't care about your fight to rescue Zelda, they're getting on with their lives. So too are the enemies to a large extent. If you get the masks from Kilton you can observe the bokoblins going about their days rather than just waiting around for the hero to turn up and stab them. The land and its residents' indifference to your quest adds to the feeling of scale and believability. They're not actors waiting to play a bit part in your adventure, they have their own existence and Link is merely a temporary blip dashing through it. 



Breath Of The Wild isn't without its issues, horses are largely pointless, the final battle is anticlimactic (although much better with LABO VR) and due to being developed for the Wii U too it suffered technical issues at launch, the frame rate utterly tanked around the Deku Tree before a patch. But it represents an amazing leap forward in game design that I didn't think I'd see after the change from 2D to 3D.



The freedom offered in this game is comparable for me to the first time I saw Super Mario 64 and the opportunities the third dimension offered for Mario's movement. I wish I could erase the last four years of memories of this game, to experience the magic of such a wonderfully realised, living world for the first time again. Take those steps out on to Great Plateau and see Hyrule with innocent eyes, unaware of the brilliance that lies ahead.