Open world games have had a fraught relationship with trying to balance their main narrative with all of the extra content to be found in those worlds since their inception. It’s something I’ve gotten used to, honestly. I don’t play Skyrim to kill the bone dragon or whatever that game’s actual story is about. I play it to mess around in a giant fantasy world where I can have multiple professions and no actual bills. But the tension between narrative and open world adventures stood out to me in a way I couldn’t ignore in Breath of the Wild.
From the moment you wake up, Link just has the freedom to explore. Without memories or responsibilities, the world is his oyster. His kind and curious nature lead him towards helping people and solving problems organically, but that all comes crashing down once the game’s true stakes are revealed.
While Breath of the Wild does go with the fantasy trope of having to save the world from some greater evil that threatens existence itself, unlike the Dragonborn, Link has someone directly waiting on him. In addition to the broader threat Ganon presents, Zelda is literally fighting for her life every moment that Link is running through Hyrule.
With that knowledge, taking the time to tame the perfect horse, or find that next Korok seed just kind of makes me feel guilty rather than enchanted. Training and preparation are one thing when taking on a series of heavy-hitting foes, but indulging in some of the game’s smaller pleasures feels selfish while the princess is still holding out after over a century of fighting.
Which is a bummer, because the world of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule is one that I’d love to just spend long stretches of time in. From fishing, to cooking, to simply discovering what’s just over that next hill, there’s so much simple slice of life goodness to be found while wandering as Link. I want to be able to indulge in that without knowing that my delay is causing someone to suffer for longer than they need to, or that it’s all just leading up to the next big boss fight.
This probably seems counterintuitive to what a Legend of Zelda game is at its core. After all, these games are all about being a small boy who rises to the occasion to save the world over and over again. But Breath of the Wild already played with the LoZ formula in significant ways, removing the iconic temples in favor of shrines, and thrusting Link into the largest map he’s ever been able to explore. Why not take it a step further?
Link has saved the world in grandiose ways so many times, why not let him and Zelda think a bit smaller? There are so many people in this version of Hyrule to meet and help, it would be nice to see the framing of what saving this post-post apocalyptic world looks like shift to a smaller scale.
Instead of taking Ganon down for the umpteenth time, I think I’d have rather seen Link collecting his memories while helping these people build something new from the bones of the past. Rather than continuing this cycle, I’d like to see a future for Link and Zelda where they can find the beauty in what’s left, and help create whatever’s next together. Darkness will always loom over whatever world we inhabit, but it’s just as much the small, community-focused acts as the large, show stopping ones that help keep it at bay.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 is one of many games due for release in 2022. For the entire list, head over to our video game release dates page. We’ve also got a look at BotW precursor, Skyward Sword, which in many ways laid the groundwork for what was to come.
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