Posted on November 20 2017 by Andy Spiteri
Back almost a year ago in one of my debut editorial here at Zelda Informer, I penned a piece outlining the five things that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild could learn from Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls V was, and in many ways still is, considered the benchmark open world game. Every new open world game will inevitably draw a comparison to Skyrim at some point. Take a second to read that article to get an idea of what I wanted Zelda to learn from Skyrim and come back after so we can see how Link’s latest adventure did.
There seemed to be a special connection between Breath of the Wild and Skyrim, from the similar styles of gameplay, to the concurrent debuts in the Switch’s announcement trailer, to the DLC detailing Link’s Champions Tunic in the Switch port of Skyrim. It seemed especially fitting then to closely compare the two, and it seems even more fitting now.
Five things I said Breath of the Wild could learn. Now, almost one year later, with Skyrim making it’s long awaited Switch debut this week and Breath of the Wild’s Champions’ Ballad DLC set to be released imminently, let’s take a look back and see exactly what lessons Breath of the Wild successfully implemented from Skyrim.
1) When It Comes To Side Quests, Less Is More
Lesson Learned? Kind of.
Breath of the Wild succeeds or fails in this category depending on what your definition of a side quest is. My main gripe playing Skyrim, and almost every open world game for that matter, is that side quests often boiled down to either “kill this” or “collect that”. Unfortunately, Breath of the Wild is no different, as side quests that you get upon interacting with characters largely fall into these same two categories.
That’s not to say that these types of side quests are always terrible – they’re not. But when compared to some of the greatest side quests of all time, they can feel a little uninspired. Breath of the Wild does offer some neat quests that go beyond the realm of kill/collect, but by and large, I wouldn’t rate them as anything spectacular.
On the flip side of that, if one considers finding all 120 shrines, completing their puzzles, and grabbing the orbs a side quest… mission accomplished. Thinking of ways to enter these shrines, exploring the land to find them, completing the shrine quests, that was the most challenging yet rewarding part of Breath of the Wild. If we define that as a side quest, the latest Zelda knocks it out of the park with a fresh formula that favors interaction with the land versus running errands for people to offer rewards. So this gets a kinda-sorta grade from me since the eyes of the beholder determine what should and shouldn’t be deemed a side quest.
2) Auto-Saving Is The Devil
Lesson Learned? Well, they didn’t have that Nintendo seal of quality for no reason.
Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been worried about this. After all, you can say whatever you want about Nintendo and some of their outdated practices, but dammit if they don’t ship a technically sound game every time they publish something. Breath of the Wild never froze, never crashed, rarely lagged, and generally functioned perfectly, keeping me immersed in that world. Playing Shadows of Mordor or Skyrim, I can remember feeling uninspired to finish them at times since my game would freeze over and over.
Perhaps it was silly to worry about this, but hey. Nintendo’s first giant first-party open world game had me a little nervous going in. While not a game without flaws, Breath of the Wild on a technical scale is a wonder that functions perfectly docked, perfectly handheld, and keeps you immersed in its amazing overworld. What more could you ask?
3) Voice Acting Helps, But Not When Everyone Sounds the Same
Lesson Learned? Definitely!
Voice acting was probably one of the most controversial parts of Breath of the Wild. Putting aside the whole ‘no Japanese voice acting’ thing (which frankly, wouldn’t have made a difference to me), it was a tough pill for some to swallow for such an iconic character like Princess Zelda to now suddenly have a voice that wasn’t like the one players had imagined in their heads the last 30 years.
Some will disagree, but I think Breath of the Wild handled voice acting well. Only the important characters were voiced, with everyone else receiving text dialogue. I know it’s 2017 and some gamers think we should move beyond that, but I don’t have a problem with it for the fact that it adds gravitas to the characters with voices and allows Nintendo to go the quality-over-quantity route.
By this point, you’ve probably made up your mind about Patricia Sommerset’s performance as Zelda and if it’s to your liking or not, but I thought the main cast all came off well. Using Breath of the Wild as a template for voice acting in future Nintendo games is something I think would be a good idea, as it was a solid start, albeit with some improvements that could be made. As a choice between styles though, I’ll take the careful selection of Breath of the Wild’s voice actors over the constant nattering in Skyrim any day.
4) Strike That Fine Line Between Awesome Music and Tranquil Ambience.
Lesson Learned? Tough, but I gotta say no.
I’ll get a lot of shit for this, but I have to say it anyways: the music in Breath of the Wild is incredibly underwhelming. The most memorable theme in the whole game wasn’t even used in the game -it was only used in the trailer. I understand that Nintendo was going for ambience instead of a traditional score, but when your series has such a pedigree for great music that there’s literally a symphony that travels around the world playing your music, Breath of the Wild’s score seems fairly… quaint (to put it politely).
I don’t dislike the music of Breath of the Wild, and I liked the ambience for what it was, but yikes. I’ve said it before – I’ve been to the Zelda Symphony three times now (with a fourth coming in December); I cant imagine what they would fill a 20 minute Breath of the Wild set with. There are some great tunes, to be sure – the said trailer music, the dragon theme, Rito Village – but compared to the music the Zelda series has given us in previous games… I can’t help but feel a little letdown.
5) You’ve Got A Giant Open World? Great, Fill It With Bosses!
Lesson Learned? Ehhh…
This is another that falls on the sorta-kinda scale. Fighting Hinnox’s and Guardians’ was exciting, but it wasn’t fighting a dragon exciting. There was something special about seeing a dragon swoop down in Skyrim – you knew you were in for it and the reward for beating one was awesome. It felt like a heavyweight battle. Conversely, the fights with the Guardians feel a opening night scrap on the undercard – exciting to be sure, but missing the same weight that Skyrims dragon fights had.
I would actually say the closest comparable feeling to Skyrims dragon showdowns is hunting down Breath of the Wild’s own dragons and farming parts off of them. While not a fight, you still get that rush from being so close to something that majestic. Now, imagine if you could battle them. That would be something.
In the end…
The two games are both open world masterpieces that will draw inevitable comparisons to each other and be used as measuring sticks for other open world games to follow them. So while Breath of the Wild took some of the best parts of Skyrim and made them it’s own, it also didn’t exactly take every lesson Bethesda’s RPG taught us to heart. At the end of the day, it didn’t have to. Breath of the Wild took some of that inspiration and carved out its own trail, in the end becoming a modern day classic.
Now we go full circle back to the beginning, as I will once again be playing Skyrim, but this time with an eye as to what the next Elder Scrolls game can learn from Breath of the Wild.
Andy Spiteri is a Managing Editor at Zelda Informer. If you hate his thoughts on Zelda, Skyrim, and life in general, make sure to follow him on Twitter!
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