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Questing for More: The Unfulfilled Promise of Exploration in BotW

After climbing the snowy peaks of the Hebra mountains for what seemed like hours, I spotted a faint orange glow through the white haze. Venturing towards it, slashing down skeletal moblins along the way, I prayed it wasn’t another shrine. Imagine my disappointment when the lumpy rune-encrusted shape reared its head over the horizon.


This encompasses my experience in playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game universally revered and loved. I am part of those masses; the game is visually sumptuous, adventurous, and hard to put down. It is the game I have played the most of on my Switch. However, my overall feelings about the game are lacklustre. My experience in the Hebra mountains perhaps best encapsulates my feelings about the game.


Photo by Douglas Tofoli (licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0)


For context, BotW actively encourages exploration. Link, the player-controlled character, can climb pretty much any surface, sprint with gusto and glide from high points, all of which are at the expense of stamina. In traversing the terrain, one must keep an eye on the small green stamina wheel, this anxiety inducing meter reducing as one sprints, climbs, or glides. The consequences of the wheel running out range from a moment of fatigue to falling off a mountain.

So, climbing and exploring the Hebra mountains is no easy feat. They are craggy with no clear way to the top, meaning that stamina must be monitored with scientific accuracy. Aside from the stamina troubles, the Hebra mountains are brutally cold. Without the correct gear, Link can easily freeze to death. In this instance, I did not have the correct gear to conquer the greatest heights of those ragged behemoths meaning I would have to constantly ingest cold reducing potions and food. Juggling these elements all at once makes for a challenge, one that is enjoyable. Climbing from one rockface to another builds anticipation, each step up bringing our blonde hero one step closer to the infinitely distant apex.


Once I reached the tops of the mountains, I looked around, hungry for whatever morsels lay there. One or two orange glows of shrines pierced the snowy veil whilst at the very top of the mountain a small rock lay suspiciously, no doubt with a Korok, the impish wood creatures of Hyrule, hiding underneath.


That was it. Both shrines and koroks are littered throughout the map, the former acting as a diluted substitute for dungeons whilst the latter awards the player a korok seed and little else. After all that toil to reach the peak, the reward was gut-wrenchingly bland. This is my problem with BotW. The rewards for exploring rarely feel worthy of the journey that came before. This is true of quests too. Quest rewards are usually a shrine location or a weapon that can be found in treasure chests around Hyrule.


I admit that exploring isn’t necessarily all about the end reward. I enjoyed climbing the Hebra mountains. However, when one sets out on an epic odyssey up the Hebra mountains or across the Gerudo desert, one expects an explosive end to the journey, not a recycled game functionality.


Photo by brettchalupa (licensed under CC BY 2.0)


The same is true in the main questline of the game. This is split neatly into four sections, each of which takes place in the kingdoms of four of the races in Hyrule. Each of these ends with entering a divine beast, an immense, anthropomorphised, clockwork mech, and fighting the blight which has infected each beast’s inner workings. These blight fights are infamously easy, another example of BotW failing to deliver on ends to the player’s journeys. I won’t mention the final confrontation with Ganon but let’s just say it didn’t change my tune.


I have not played Tears of the Kingdom yet. I might buy it. However, the fact that shrines return, albeit with a different aesthetic, makes me hesitant. I really like BotW. Being able to traverse Hyrule with such ease of movement feels satisfying for any player who has experienced the always disappointing invisible wall. But every legend must have an ending. In this case, Nintendo seems to have been so swept up in the journey that they forgot to consider any sort of ending, making this legend perpetually continue, with no satisfying ending in sight.

 

Edited by Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor


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