I'll be totally honest here: I'm not a fan of open-world games, in general. It's not that I don't see the appeal: being able to meander around a sprawling landscape freely doing whatever you feel like is pretty nifty. But these games seem to be so utterly jam-packed with "content" that they can feel overwhelming at points with things to do, people to see, beasties to kill, loot to obtain, and quests to check off a seemingly ever-growing list of yet-incomplete tasks that you don't necessarily have to finish. But really, it's in the game you spent your hard-earned money on, it feels like a waste not to do it, am I right?
By the time I reach a certain point in these games, I'm saddled with so many potential tasks and quests that even the main plot threads have lost their appeal. I just want to ignore everyone's requests to retrieve items or kill a very specific number of bad guys, and instead go out into a big, beautiful fantasy world where I can just stare endlessly into the sprawling wilds.
And from the (admittedly brief) time I spent with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that's exactly the experience it looks like I'll be getting.
There were two sections to the E3 2016 demo I took: a sample of the beginning portion of the game, which has you meeting a mysterious old man, seeing the malevolent force called "Calamity Ganon" that's accumulating around Hyrule Castle in the distance, and raising a massive spire called the Resurrection Tower using a Sheikah Slate bestowed to Link at the game's onset. From this Tower, the vast world sprawls out before you, awash in color and life as far as you can see.
The second demo sequence, which is a bit further into the game, showcased several of the gameplay mechanics. Here I saw many of the new elements the title was introducing: finding raw materials and using them as weapons and health restoration, hunting game animals with my bow and arrows, watching my stamina meter carefully as I scaled cliffs and sprinted through grassy plains, and encountering a Mokoblin enemy encampment I could loot for treasure and food. There didn't seem to be any goal set for me during this portion, and I didn't care—I was having a delightful time trying to hunt boars, take enemies by surprise, and see just how my actions would affect objects (living and non-living) in the environment.
'Breath of the Wild', official game trailer from E3 2016
In stark contrast to other open world games, where every place seems crammed with things and objects are rendered with so much detail that your brain can scarcely process the advanced shaders and high-res textures before moving along, Breath of the Wild's visual style is markedly sparse and open. Objects you encounter stand out through geometry and color rather than detail, and the fields, forests, and other outdoor area that Link traverses are the sort of broad, sprawling landscapes that many of us dreamed of running and rolling around in freely as kids. The world itself is allowed to breathe—pun not intended—and feel gentle, quiet, and inviting, rather than just constantly bombarding us with audio-visual feedback. It's fantastic.
While Nintendo promised that the final product would have the sort of challenging dungeons and boss encounters we've come to know and love from the series, it's clear that they wanted to put the focus this time around on the world itself. Not since the original NES Legend of Zelda has exploration felt so organic and enticing as it does in Breath of the Wild, and I can't wait to see how it eventually melds with the puzzle-solving and heroics we've come to love.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be released for Wii U and NX in 2017. Visit its official website for more information.
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