Breath of the Wild

2019, Nov 04    

I only commute once a week, so I played Breath of the Wild almost entirely on the train every Tuesday, for 40 minutes in the morning and evening. It is a staggering game to experience in a handheld machine: a whole world lives inside that tiny cartridge. I am not a huge open world fan, so my opinion might not mean much here, but I’ve never played anything that feels so much like a living, breathing world.

BotW starts with a tutorial, but it really does very little to guide you - instead it locks your play space down so that you might actually manage to complete a few goals before you get truly turned loose. The clues for completing the tutorial are relatively subtle, in my opinion, and I feel like I brute-forced them rather than really understanding the game. To get through the icy cold I just loaded up on food and ran for it, instead of completing a side quest to find some clothes or learning how to cook something to protect me. This was to be a sign of things to come: it took me a really long time to really understand how this game wanted me to do things. Once you complete the tutorial, you get two main quests: defeat Ganon, and defeat 4 divine beasts. Technically, it is possible to go straight for both. I’m not an explorer - I generally just do what I’m told in games - so I went straight for one of the divine beasts and immediately stumbled into a forest full of very tricky monsters. Lacking any better direction, I kept working through and eventually beat what I later learned was the hardest of the 4 bosses. I bashed my head against that wall for hours.

The problem, see, is that I have always disliked side quests. I’ve always found them a waste of my time - silly, poorly written stories that don’t get me anywhere. In BotW, this is not true at all. Everything in this game is a side quest, and to ignore them is to ignore almost everything BotW has to offer. Not realising this, I fought my way through all four divine beasts and stood at the huge castle in the centre of the map with nothing, completely unprepared, because I had not understood the game. BotW is a game about infrastructure: about building up the foundations of the world until you have developed enough to take on the final castle. What’s more, the side quests lead you through the game: they nudge you in the right direction.

I probably should have put Breath of the Wild down after the first 5 hopeless hours, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s not a game for people like me, and it has no interest in helping people like me get through it, but in the end, that might be what makes it great. Any guidance it offered might well have inhibited the freedom that you feel, the wildness of the… Wilds. In Breath of the Wild.