Favorite Virtual Worlds: Hyrule in Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
You have those big, open game worlds in games where you would almost want to buy a house and retire early to enjoy all those beautiful environments. In the new section Favorite Virtual Worlds, editor Michel highlights one every month. This time: the Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Note: This article contains spoilers about the Zelda: Breath of the Wild game world.
Until Breath of the Wild, none of Zelda actually had a truly open world, with the exception of The Wind Waker. Most Zelda games leave you free to come and go, but often block most roads until you find the right items. Most Zeldas are also fairly linear affairs. Breath of the Wild, which appeared on Switch and Wii U last year, takes a completely different approach. In fact, there are hardly any other games that are as open as the Hyrule in this game.
And what a great open world it is. After a short introduction of a few hours on an elevated plateau, where you basically learn all the game’s capabilities that you need for the rest of your adventure, you sail off the plateau into the wide world. From that moment on you are really free to come and go wherever you want, to take on challenges in your own order and to visit all areas at your own pace.
The strongest element of this open world is how the different landmarks are designed. Hyrule is gigantic, but you soon discover that very little feels really random. Almost every hill, mountain, rock, tower or forest is placed there for a reason, often to get your attention. You may think that as a free bird you decide where you go, but these landmarks have an irresistible attraction to the player, so that the average adventurer can hardly stay away from them.
A good example of this are the Dueling Peaks, located just east of the center of the map. These two gigantic mountain peaks are separated by a gaping hole with a river and a path in between. The mountain peaks can be seen from a large part of the map, especially when you sail off the starting plateau. It is not for nothing that despite the freedom that players have, internet forums are full of gamers who were the first to walk to these mountains. It is not entirely coincidental that the enemies around this area are still quite easy to defeat and behind the mountains you will also find the village where you are given an important main mission.
An innovative element of Breath of the Wild is that you can climb all the mountains that you see in the game world. As a result, the Dueling Peaks can be explored in their entirety – but not immediately. By playing the game and gaining more stamina through Shrines, you can later return to the Peaks and explore them from head to toe, until they really don’t keep secrets from you anymore. You get to know this world better and better while playing.
Hyrule is full of countless delectable spots like this. The villages radiate cosiness and a feeling of ‘home’, made possible by the beautiful music. Just think of the old-Japanese feel of Kakariko Village or the sunny and dizzying Rito Village. Even better is that many of those beautiful areas are not even important to the main story. For example, in the southwest of the game world you can find a tropical area, including swampy jungle, a hidden temple and a complete beach village in the form of Lurelin Village. Since you never have to come here for the main story, it’s easy to miss the whole area. It feels all the better when you find the village all on your own. You really feel like an explorer while playing.
There are even entire islands in the game that you would never discover if you only focus on the main story and don’t give free rein to the explorer in you. For example, you can find your way to Eventide Island, which lies somewhere in the ocean, where all your belongings are taken away and you have to survive, just like a protagonist from Lost of Castaway. The game is packed with beautiful postcard-perfect areas, from the mysterious, misty forests of Great Hyrule Forest to the almost otherworldly pillars surrounding the Thundra Plateau.
A real world
The icing on the delectable cake called Breath of the Wild is that this Hyrule feels consistent, like a real world that exists somewhere. The many lawns and at first sight empty plains are not boring, but reinforce the realism that you are on the way to certain locations for a long time, beckoning mountains in the distance. In the north of Hyrule you have snow, in the south west a real desert. The game world is not that huge just to extend the playing time, it has a function: Hyrule feels real, the game world breathes.
When, after a long hike, I finally find a village or a stable with guest beds again, it feels like I am taking a break. I throw some food on the fire, talk to other adventurers who are resting there and take a nap. Then I feel recharged for a new day, ready to travel to another unknown location. The Hyrule from Breath of the Wild is alive, and as a player you live in it.
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