I've never finished a Zelda game. Even my favourite Zeldas (Zeldae? Is Zelda already the plural? Is a single instance of Zelda a Zeldum?) fell by the wayside eventually (Link to the Past, Wind Waker, Majora's Mask, mainly). At some point I just taper off - I'm never invested enough to see it through. I rarely feel like I've missed out by not finishing, and there's no animosity there, just a sense of 'I'm done-ness.'
Right now I don't know whether Breath of the Wild will be the same way or not.
I'm a bit worried I'm going to succumb to long game burn-out. I've just done Yakuza 0, next month is Persona 5 and it's non-stop. Please help. If I limited this year just to games set in Tokyo, I'd still feel like there is a lot. I'd like it if Zelda doesn't get swallowed up in that, because no force on Earth can keep me from Persona 5.
*cue alien invasion*
Anyway, where was I? Zelda. I think what might keep me going with this Zelda where the others didn't is that somehow by becoming much more huge it has also become much less daunting. I've been trying to figure out why that is, and I think the answer is in how the exploration works.
Unlike previous games it doesn't take the approach that everything is gated, and that even walking through the gates you're going to see all these side-gates to the left and right out of the corner of your eye. "I'll return to that whenever I have whatever the thing is I need, if I remember to, and if I ever find the thing I need." In those games I would end up just drowning in stuff I'd like to do but just can't yet. I think that's part of what burns me out.
I hate to resort to improv cliches, but damn it all, we're doing this. If exploration in past Zeldas was a lot of 'no' and 'but...' then Breath of the Wild is very 'Yes, and-y'.
"I wanna go up that hill."
"Yes, and there's a cool sword in a rock up there."
"Yes, and I'm gonna take it."
"Yes, and surprise monster attack!"
"Yes, and I'm gonna hang-glide outta here"
"Yes, and here's a hidden cave for your trouble."
It doesn't overtly funnel you down a particular route, but it still manages to bounce you from one cool moment to the next in a way that feels effortless but hides what must have been a tremendous amount of work across all the disciplines.
That goes for the combat too. In perhaps my second fight of the game I crept up and shot an arrow, and missed by a hair. But this startled the monster so much it ended up toppling over into its own fire. A series like Elder Scrolls has moments similar to this and they feel like the engine being weird and quirky. That can be great; those games have given me lots of stories. But here the animations are so lively that they feel magical right in the moment, not just in hindsight when my memory has conveniently edited out how broken it looked when it happened.
It all simply... flows. Setbacks exist, but are usually very temporary, or encourage further improvisation: You can't climb that wall easily because it's raining. Your best weapon broke so you need to fight with a pitchfork until you get hold of something better. Even areas with enemies that I might be too daunted to handle can often be tackled by doing something cunning, or failing that just finding a path around since almost everything can be clumb. Climbed.
A huge part of that is that almost none of this cool shit is presented as checklists of stuff to do. It makes the Ubisoft open world design philosophy feel like a corporate training day.
"Whoo, we're gonna have fun! Now everyone get into teams and I'm gonna pass around the sheets explaining the seven different ways we've arranged for you to have fun. Don't forget to check them off!"
Instead of the game setting the agenda, so far it's much more like a conversation between the game and the player. A conversation where the goal is to make cool shit happen, and the game is totally receptive to your ideas for that.
So. More of this?