Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Starve, Link! - Zelda, the Open World Survival RPG

If you had shown me Breath of the Wild 15 years ago, I would have explored in excitement. This game really has many things that I always wanted from a Zelda game, especially after the Nintendo 64 games.

It starts with the massive open world for you to explore. That's how I always wanted Zelda to be. Not some restricted linear experience, where you follow a certain order of dungeons. But some amazing fantasy world with the notion "if you can see it, you can go there". With the freedom to explore as you like and experience our own adventure. With a story that doesn't get told by a sequence of cutscenes, but by exciting discoveries.

I especially like, how Aonuma said that you can go straight to the final boss. It's possible, but just very hard and probably insane. There are multiple ways to get to your goals, some of them are just somewhat easier. But this also enables an interesting level of personal challenge, where Zelda fans can go crazy with speed and minimal runs. You don't need the Hookshot to get across that gap. The Hookshot just makes it easier...

There are many different way to traverse the world and the demo focused on two of them: gliding and shield snow boarding. It's funny, how ten days ago I thought, how it would be awesome to do more with the shield, after Link used it for flame surfing in the Animated Series. Maybe we will also get to propel ourselves from bombs like he did in Episode 10... That would be so crazy and with the physics engine entirely possible. I didn't like the rafting, though. That looked really lame and I hope that the ocean part of the world will have a boat that works more like in The Wind Waker.

Another thing I always wanted in Zelda were more melee weapons and tools aside from sword and hammer. I always wanted an axe in Zelda to chop down tree or a spear for a melee fighting style with larger range. When Gomess dropped his scythe in the Stone Tower Temple I always wanted to pick it up and use it for myself. But the game wouldn't let me...

The Wind Waker partially then allowed you to use enemy weapons and I loved that feature. But sadly you couldn't keep the weapons in your inventory for later fun. In Breath of the Wild, you can. And I hope it doesn't stop with axes and pitchforks. If after all this time I finally get to swing a scythe as Link, I will be happy. And bring the Ball & Chain back, while you're at it, Nintendo. But since you can actually have a living Stalfos arm as a weapon, I'm positive that they went crazy with the possibilities.

The enemies overall seem very well done with lots of interesting interactions. It's on par and probably even better than what we got in The Wind Waker, which had the most interesting enemies so far in the series. And right now we have mostly only seen some Bokoblins, Stal-Bokoblins, Keese and Chuchus... There certainly will be more interesting stuff, like that Talus guy and the Guardians. And everything seems to drop something. Treasures, weapons, loot...

Now, all this weaponry and junk goes into the Adventure Pouch and seems to be disposable, much like the shields in Skyward Sword. Only the glider and probably the Master Sword seem to be fixed items, while the typical upgrades of your abilities are provided by the Sheikah Slate... And I'm very much intrigued by it. Having technology like this in Zelda feels surprisingly good. Since they slowly approached ideas like this in Skyward Sword with Fi, the Gate of Time and the Lanayru Mining Robots, it doesn't feel completely out of place. And the whole Sheikah technology looks really cool.

Overall it seems like Skyward Sword was in many ways a testing ground for this game. A way to try new things out and expand on them, if fans react positively. Technology, the Adventure Pouch, treasures and insects, the Stamina meter. All of this has been introduced in the last big Zelda game.

The Sheikah Slate itself seems like the Ocarina Prime. It's a multi functional item, but instead of just some songs for teleportation and making it rain, this allows for pretty much any virtual ability. Stuff like Bombs or the Magnetic Gloves got integrated into this system, while it also provides new amazing abilities like the Stasis Lock. How cool is that idea?!

Together with the notion that everything is somewhat optional, it reminds me of the skills in Trine, where you can beat the entire game(s) without unlocking any new skills, but they will make things significantly easier. And for every puzzle and every obstacle there are multiple ways to solve and overcome them. In Breath of the World you may just quickly built a bridge with the right abilities or you have to spent cooking some stamina food, so you can climb to your goal...

The whole looting and cooking also reminded me of Don't Starve, which is a very stylish topdown survival game in a randomized open world. But there you also collect tons of junk from the environment, which you can throw into a crock pot to cook something up that ensures your survival. Or chop down trees and built a fire. Of course in Breath of the Wild this all looks more amazing, but I'm sure that there are other games that have done something similar already.

And this is the big but... there doesn't seem to be anything revolutionary here. It introduces many new elements to the Zelda series and combines them with many good ideas from previous Zelda games, but it's all something that you have seen in some other game before.

You have the junk collecting and cooking from Don't Starve, you get the dog from Fallout, the ability sets and physic puzzles from Trine, the Bullet Time from Max Payne, the radio towers from Far Cry, the extreme winter sports of Steep and the test chambers from Portal as mini dungeons.

The latter essentially confirms my worries about repetitive elements inside an open world. This whole technology stuff makes it look interesting, but with the six shrines that they have shown yesterday I already got bored by those Sheikah Monks... And I have to do this over a hundred times?! It all is a little bit too similar and I wonder, how many Bokoblin camps you can raid, before it gets boring. It certainly didn't feel rewarding with the appearing treasure chests that only gave you arrows most of the time. That's really lame and I hope that there will be some valuable collectible items all over the world, much like the Spirit Gems. At least the Sheikah shrines seem to be really worth the trouble with their new Sheikah Slate abilities, though not all of them seem to have one.

But my hopes with this game really were that Nintendo would find a way to revolutionize the open world genre. After all The Legend of Zelda was one of the first true open world games and Ocarina of Time was a true milestone for 3D gaming. Now it seems like they are just trying to catch up with what the rest of the industry has done over the last ten years. The compilation of all of these things will certainly offer an amazing product, but I was hoping for something more.

Luckily, I haven't really played any of the modern open world games yet, besides Don't Starve and Minecraft, which are very different with their randomized worlds. I also bought Far Cry 3 and Skyrim two years ago on Steam, but I didn't play them yet. And it's probably a good thing that Breath of the Wild will be my first game with a similar open world, so this kind of gameplay will feel fresh enough.

But Nintendo only showed us a small portion of them. According to them the Plateau is less than 2% of the entire experience. There will be villages, very different landscapes and more. Everything that you can see on the horizon, you apparently can go to. But I try to keep my expectations at bay, because if the game really had something revolutionary to offer they would have shown it already at E3.

1 comment:

Tobias Biller said...

I'm to be honest very surprised how much they broke with the convention and almost switched the genre with BotW. But you are right, the Open World Sandbox Design doesn't really feel revolutionary. More like a good catch up.
To be honest what make me kinda disappointed, or I don't know, I would rather say it doesn't reacht my hope is that it is that kinda huge Open World Sandbox we saw the past few years. The repetitive Mini Dungeons. And to be honest I gof spoiled, when I saw recently a video about the open world design of the gothic series which I kinda want to see return with it's design aproach.
And I think which would even fit for the Zelda series. Making a not so big world, but which is completely handcrafted and feels more kinda organic the way it's made, is how I would have imagined it. With less Dungeons than the 100 mini ones, but more unique and optional ones like the first Zelda game also had.
Probably even with hidden optional items, which aren't necessery for finishing the story.
I don't know if I would have made a Zelda adventure, I just don't think I would have gone so far.

But this is just my opinion. And I still have to say the more I watch of this game, the more I want to play it. And I'm still excited for.