My experience with
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at E3 wasn’t very epic or heroic. Most of my time was spent orienting myself within the game’s environment. I dashed through some trees and climbed a few rocks, scouring for food and killing Moblins here and there. After one of the booth workers introduced me to fast travel, I teleported to a tower and promptly ran off it and died. Twice. All of this while Link only wore a pair of underwear.
But though my
Breath of the Wild story mainly consists of accidental suicides and aimless meandering, it is still my story. Others roasted apples, some climbed mountains, and a lucky few even stumbled upon bosses. No demo was like the other; each player’s adventure was uniquely their own. Everybody had their own story to tell after playing the E3 demo. Strike that. Those fortunate enough to land a spot in the game’s seven-hour line had their own story to tell. The allure of a singular experience is what made The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the breakout title of E3 2016, and it has also reinvigorated my adoration for this fabled franchise.
The sweeping landscapes in the game are certainly a key factor to its ecstatic response. Even though we’ve only seen a fraction of the game in action,
Breath of the Wild has already produced an iconic moment that will stick with franchise fans for years to come: stepping out of the Shrine of Resurrection as the camera pans up to the distant horizon. It’s a distinctly cinematic sequence, complete with the game’s title fading in at the bottom-right corner as if to say “Welcome to Breath of the Wild.” The glimpses of Hyrule Castle and Death Mountain beyond the expanse of plains emphasize the grandeur of the overworld, and the gently stirring music cue adds to the serenity of the view. It’s momentous, a grand introduction to the game and one that many players at E3 swooned over.
And yet, while I cannot deny that I got goosebumps when I first stepped into the world of
Breath of the Wild, it’s far from the highlight of my time with the game. The theatricality of the introduction is stirring, but it is merely a teaser, a promise of the adventure to come. Once the logo fades away and the camera returns to Link, the world is free to explore. Forget branching paths, or even paths in general. You can set off in any direction, even right off the cliff. That’s where the genius of Breath of the Wild truly lies. Though there’s plenty to love about logo fade-ins and camera pans, the game’s personality is rooted in its moment-to-moment gameplay.
Nintendo seems to understand where the title’s true strength lies as well, as the company spent most of its E3 showcasing the variety of experiences available in
Breath of the Wild. Stealth! Shrines! Swashbuckling! But throughout all of the livestreaming, there was nary a peep about the plot. The developer has already announced that players can complete the game without even experiencing the story, a telling sign that it is putting less emphasis behind narrative drive, shifting its focus from the synopsis to the setting.
And, my, what a setting! The fact that Nintendo could woo the crowds by spending the better part of three days talking about a single video game speaks to the insane diversity within
Breath of the Wild. There is an incalculable number of activities in this game, from shield snowboarding to hang gliding, but the gargantuan world is ultimately characterized by the smallest of details, natural mechanics that add to one’s immersion in the moment. Gamnesia editor Alex Plant was attacked as he aimed a bomb arrow, and the explosive blew up and killed him. Shooting fire arrows at fish instantly cooks them. Wild animals flee for their lives when Link even makes a peep. And of course, there’s this…
That right there is a game mechanic that isn’t explicitly taught to the player, discovered naturally through continuous play.
Breath of the Wild is littered with little mind-blowing nuggets like that, sprinkling amusing revelations across the span of a grand epic. Every player at E3 had a story to tell, but within that story was an anecdote about a small discovery or a happy accident. It’s the little things that make Breath of the Wild what it is, and what it is will vary from player to player depending on their experience.
Breath of the Wild encourages experimentation by pouring character into the world and adding tweaks and ticks to its smallest features. That attention to detail enthralled me while playing the game at E3, but it didn’t become apparent to me until I listened to other people tell their own stories. Considering the likely possibility that the game’s entire world will be jam-packed with little details, then this is shaping up to be a Zelda adventure unlike any other. Everybody had their own story to tell at E3, but we only played a twenty-minute demo. Imagine the individual odysseys that a thirty or forty hour plus game can produce. It’s not just Zelda’s legend anymore. It’s all of ours, too.