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Original Article: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom comes out this Friday, transporting players back to the land of Hyrule, a fully open world that was introduced to us in the game’s predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild.
Breath of The Wild (BoTW) is certainly a game that needs little introduction. It’s considered one of the best games of all time and revolutionary in the open-world genre to the point that games like Elden Ring, Genshin Impact, and Ghost of Tsushima have all credited it as an inspiration.
It certainly did a lot right but for me, the thing I found most enjoyable is how BoTW was able to have such a vast open world while still being incredibly approachable for people who don’t really like open-world games. The game’s use of minimalism and straightforward quest system really helped draw people into the world of Zelda and kept me playing right to the end even as someone who’s never been that into Zelda or open-world games.
For this article let’s take a look at what made BoTW such an approachable open world and how that made it more fun to play overall.
The Problem With Open World Games
To start with, let’s take a look at a common criticism that many players have with many recent open-world titles. The genre sprang up in the 2000s with titles like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed giving players not just levels but a large map to run around and wreak havoc in. This led to some of the most popular franchises in gaming, showing the full potential of the medium to create entire living worlds.
As open-world games became bigger, however, many starting implemented far more extra content, making them feel unnecessarily bloated with side quests and collectibles that don’t add much to the overall experience. Games Like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Horizon Zero Dawn, while still fantastic games, have maps covered with different quest icons thrown at you almost all at once. While this side content may be optional, the high volume of things to do can often feel overwhelming and leaves players fatigued from the sheer scope of things to complete.
This often leads to another issue in that many of these various missions often don’t feel satisfying to complete. Sure you’d get a new weapon or upgrade but having to trek halfway across the world for something that may only give you a minor stat boost may not feel like it was worth the trip.
Of course, there are plenty of open-world games that don’t have this issue, but BoTW’s solution is the one that resonated with me the most.
What Breath of The Wild Gets Right
This brings us back to Zelda: Breath of The Wild and the game that, despite having a number of things to do, makes its open world nice and simple.
After waking up as Link, you are treated to an initial tutorial section (that was honestly kind of a slog) and then, let loose into the world. At this point the game lets you go anywhere. You can even walk directly to the final boss, Calamity Ganon, and beat him right there although it’d be incredibly difficult. The aim of the game is to get strong enough to beat this one enemy and there are many ways to do it. For people not used to open-world design, it could be a lot to take in but the game has no issue simply pointing you in the right direction.
A Simple Push
After the tutorial, the game quickly marks four clear places on the map that it recommends you visit before going off the fight Calamity Ganon: The Four Divine Beasts.
Each involves visiting a new race of people, getting a new addition to the game’s lore, completing a dungeon, and fighting a boss, all while assisting in strengthening Link against Ganon.
The game is flexible and transparent in saying that you don’t have to complete every single thing on offer. It understands that people play games differently and some people may just want to get through the main missions and move on to something else. The game may include thousands of hours of content for completionists but it goes out of its way to cater to a more casual group.
This is important as it adds a great amount of approachability to the game. While the word “linear” is sometimes looked down upon in gaming circles, the truth is some people like a more straightforward approach, especially among more casual audiences that most Nintendo games tend the aim for. BoTW allows this and it makes the game much more digestible. But even then, it quietly encourages you to go further.
Furthering Your Horizons
Each of those four Divine Beasts is placed on one of the four corners of the map. This means that to get to them you still need to make vast travels across Hyrule. You’ll see various terrain shape from forests to large mountains, past camps of strange creatures both hostile and friendly, or even find a majestic steed running through the grasslands that you can’t help but want to go up to and pet (if you can).
Perhaps you may learn a thing or two about what you want out on Link. Maybe you’re sick of his bad stamina or wish he had more hearts to take an extra hit. It’s a good thing then that you keep passing those easy-to-locate shrines with small bite-sized puzzle rooms to get an upgrade without keeping you too long from the bigger adventure.
Just like that, the game triggers the player’s natural sense of curiosity. You see the many enchanting parts of Hyrule and while you may want to give some a pass, others might greatly interest you.
I still remember the first time I found a wild horse to tame or working my way to find the Master Sword. These moments felt extra special because they were things I discovered on my own and chose to do, not just another tick on a giant open-world chore list. Breath of The Wild makes it clear that you really do not have to do everything, but you can do anything, and that makes it far more fun and freeing.
A Truly Open World
I know a lot of people who played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild as their first open-world game or their first Zelda game and ended up falling in love with it. I don’t think that would have happened however if the game wasn’t so conscience of making its open world so clean and simple for new players to understand.
The game doesn’t bombard you with map icons or sidequests but instead gives you four simple task that is more than enough to beat the game with and sends you on your way. It trusts the player to make their own adventure, chase the quests that seem interesting to them, and in turn feel a greater sense of discovery.
Of course, BoTW isn’t the first open-world game to have these elements. Games like Elden Ring and The Witcher 3 have been praised for similar mechanics but for me and many others, Zelda was the game that showed us just how fun and refreshing the open-world genre can still be. Hopefully Tears of The Kingdom will learn from its predecessor and take this design philosophy even further to deliver another stellar title in another beautiful open world.
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