One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my third review in this series called “50 games”.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a modern game for a current-gen console and probably a game most people have heard about if not tried.
I will not go into traditional review-style comments - suffice to say, you should try it. I think it’s brilliant and I think its appeal is very wide.
It is a massive game though, and I ended up taking a break from it due to playing too much, I think. Now I’m back in Hyrule and I’m having fun again. Note that a sensible person might have just completed the main quest at that point, and left collectables etc for a later date, but I am not a sensible person.
It is the best open world game I have played. Everything is available to you, after you get out of your crib. The game hinted that I should go north-east, so I went south-west, and the game went “oh ok, good luck with that” and I had to play the game very differently due to running in dangerous lands where most monsters could one-shot me.
But the whole point is that I could do this!
Another open aspect is the way you get a bunch of powers that you can use to solve puzzles, but that also enables you to do a lot of cool stuff that perhaps are not immediately obvious. Without spoiling too much: you can grab a flight on a tree trunk launched by magic, you can balloon bombs into enemy camps, and you can trick monsters into fighting each other.
There’s just so much to this game. A cooking minigame. So many weapons. Collectibles that also have a function and are hidden in creative and obvious-but-still-fun ways.
I think the best thing about this game is that I can just sit down and play it, without having a single goal. Perhaps I will explore a bit, do a shrine or three, or perhaps try to find some koroks. Or finish a side quest, or even (gosh) progress the main quest!
Even just running around in the beautiful landscape is fun.
So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?
- Open design rules
- If you can give players various powers that they can be creative with, that’s a very cool thing
- Always give the player a choice when possible (even the heart containers you win from bosses are optional - just like in the original Zelda)
- For completists - ensure there’s a way to catch up without having to restart (there’s a way to buy pictures of enemies already defeated for example)
- AAA is really cool when you have teams dedicated to making cooking minigames and hundreds of sidequests ranging from assisting old creatures of the land to finding some bugs for a dude who wants to impress his lady!
Right, this is unprecedented, but I feel I have to add some notes after adding many more hours to BOTW. Major spoilers ahead.
Examples of why BOTW is so good:
- Each shrine has a side-quest which has a UI indicator on the map for completionists
- The shrines are all very different and offers interesting challenges. Which is impressive given there’s SO MANY OF THEM!
- The game counts every mini-boss you have defeated for an end-game achievement. It also displays a UI indicator when you take on a mini-boss that let’s you know if you’ve already defeated them.
- If you forgot to take a picture of a boss or something, you can buy those pictures in-game.
- 200? hours in I found a new thing (hot springs that heal). This game’s depth is crazy.
- Great balanace of cute things and silly things are serious things - making food for a kid bird so she will go to her rehearsal vs sneaking into an assassin hideout and killing everyone (well maybe that wasn’t necessary…) in the same game
- Lots of different areas with different themes/climate and everything feels natural e.g. there is no “filler”
- Can’t use Champion powers in divine beasts quests and shrines
- Can’t climb in divine beast quests and shrines
- Sometimes the game is waiting for you to see one dialogue before you can progress - necessary evil I’d say but got me stuck for a bit
- NPCs can always get better at recognising who you are and what you’ve done - the game is much better at this than many other games, but there’s still the occasional “Hi I am the hero of time on a mission to save Hyrule - OK whatever can you fetch me 10 flint stones pls”
- The Korok dudes are cool but sometimes I feel I’m playing “find the Koroks” as there are insanely many of them.
- Some of the legendary weapons are just… a bit shit? Feels a bit shame when a club picked up from a monster is better than the legendary sword of the Gerudo Champion…
- Silent Link. Probably for making the player “identify” with him but jeez makes some dialogue really awkward.