“The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” brings something “Zelda” fans have been waiting years for: open-world gameplay. For that reason, the game might be the best thing thing ever to happen to the series.
But it also could be the worst.
“Breath of the Wild” isn’t the first open-world “Zelda” game, as earlier installments offered similar freedom. But in virtually every way, “Breath of the Wild” is the largest “Zelda” game ever made.
With a few exceptions, every “Zelda” game has followed a similar formula: follow a linear path from dungeon to dungeon in a quest to save Hyrule from Ganon. Sure, the series’ key ingredients, such as items, puzzles and characters, always evolve, but the structures of the games usually are the same.
While “Zelda” stories always feel enormous, the games themselves, in terms of technical design, typically aren’t very big. Having such a time-tested framework has enabled Nintendo to tweak “Zelda” in ways that always make the games feel unique.
Until now, technical limitations have prevented Nintendo from making a “Zelda” game similar in scope to “Breath of the Wild,” so deviating from the formula would’ve been both unnecessary and impractical. But now the game is here, and it’s fair to wonder whether “Zelda” is at a point of no return.
Even by “Zelda’s” lofty standards, “Breath of the Wild” is incredible. But the game is a gargantuan departure from previous “Zelda” games that, when compared to “Breath of the Wild,” feel condensed and restrained.
The game’s story, although great, is entirely optional. If you wanted, you could skip nearly every major story-telling moment and head right for bosses. Previous “Zelda” games merged gameplay with storytelling in ways that, while predictable, were always rewarding.
But due to “Breath of the Wild’s” commercial and critical achievements, it’s difficult to imagine Nintendo ever returning to the previous “Zelda” formula, save the occasional spin-off or portable-console entry. Furthermore, it’s hard to fathom the next “Zelda” game presenting Hyrule with more size and freedom than “Breath of the Wild” does.
So what now?
Gamers are going to expect this type of “Zelda” game going forward, and Nintendo likely won’t do anything to turn away new fans it’s worked so hard to get. It feels inevitable the next “Zelda” game will feel more like a sequel and a rehashing of what makes “Breath of the Wild” so enjoyable.
But if that indeed is the case, Nintendo will be stretched to find ways to do what it does best: make “Zelda” feel fresh. Making stories, settings and missions inseparable has allowed each “Zelda” game to feel unique from the one that came before it, despite the repeated formula.
“Breath of the Wild” feels maxed out. Reeling “Zelda” back in feels like trying to bring the universe back to a single, pre big-bang point. That doesn’t mean “Breath of the Wild” — or the universe — isn’t great, it just feels like there’s no where to go from here.
Actually, the cosmos might be the only logical place for Link to save next.
Thumbnail photo via Nintendo