When the trailer for the new Legend of Zelda game appeared, most people got pretty hyped pretty quickly. Not only was the game visually stunning, with some fantastic action and environment design, it also promised to be bigger, more open world, in this case. For people who were fans of the vast exploration qualities of open world games such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dark Souls, and others, this was news that made that hype a thousand times better.
However, it does beg the question: is The Legend of Zelda ready to become an open world experience? Open world games have become more frequent in mainstream gaming with titles such as the ones listed before, and other titles like Bloodborne and Dragon’s Dogma aiming to provide a massive, dangerous world to explore. These games all have a lot of detail and care dedicated to them, but they also have been subject to some noticeable faults.
When we think back to games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, many complaints surrounded the somewhat lack of compelling story and guilds. In a fantasy game, story can be a make-or-break factor, though that is not always the case. The Legend of Zelda series of games have always presented strong characters, an encompassing story and a world that we’ve all fallen in love with at one point or another. That begs the question: will maximizing the world hurt The Legend of Zelda more than it helps?
Some might argue that it is not so much about the story as it is the journey / quest which, honestly, is a fair point. The problem is that with games like Dragon’s Dogma, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Skyrim or Fallout, I don’t think of the story. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment beating the big bad at the end of the main story, or leading guilds. It didn’t feel challenging to attempt any of the puzzles, mysteries or lore left behind. Sure, some areas were interesting. There are little touches here and there that add a whole new depth to Skyrim, as well as the other games listed. These games all have pretty expansive worlds, and their own unique lore. If you asked me to tell you the story or lore of Dragon’s Dogma, the answer would be, “Um, a big dragon rips out your heart and you have to go get it back.” If you asked me about Fallout, Dark Souls or Bloodborne, the answer would simply be, “Survive, if possible.” That’s not to say that they don’t have stories, but each game that aims for a grand, open world seems to allow certain story elements to fall flat, possibly so that the developers can dedicate their time elsewhere.
These games also tend to fall flat in other, non-story related areas. For Dragon’s Dogma, Skyrim, Dark Souls and Bloodbourne, it seems to largely be in the NPCs. For those who haven’t played Skyrim, the game presents a limited amount of voice actors stretched out over hundreds of different NPCS, most of them gruff, thankless and bland. It’s almost comical in that sense, but it just doesn’t feel like something that would work in a Zelda game. The NPCs and other characters have almost always been interesting in one way or another, and memorable. They added a flavor to the land of Hyrule that helped make the games that much more enjoyable. With a bigger world, will that space be hypothetically filled with cardboard cut-outs in the new Zelda game? It is hard to say at this stage, but it is a potential pitfall.
Another element that tends to suffer in fantasy epics and open-worlds is the quality of puzzles, areas that can be explored and the integration of mysteries. Bringing up Skyrim again, it had a repetitive formula: enter dungeon, fight enemies through to the end, profit. Say there is a mystery surrounding a family that got murdered in their own home. You will find notes that give you a quest location, and then set off into the deep. What do you do to solve this atrocity? Fight enemies, see some corpses, make it to the end of the dungeon, profit. To get through to the next area of Dark Souls, you collect things and fight horrible monsters, and repeat until you die or they die.
So, what if the puzzles and the formula for quests suffer in the new Legend of Zelda? Zelda adheres to a formula, certainly. However, the puzzles and mysteries are part of that formula, and an important one at that. For a fantasy epic, no one expects to go into a temple, fight some jerks in your way and then walk out. Temples, ruins and dungeons are notorious for their traps, puzzles and nefarious mystery. Take away the unique aspect of each of these, and you end up with area after area that are all essentially the same, even if it has a different skin.
In many ways, exploring Hyrule and all that it has to offer could be one of the best steps the series has ever taken. The concerns remain that it will suffer from the same pitfalls as the other games mentioned, and that those pitfalls may remove those key ingredients that make The Legend of Zelda as fantastic as it is, and has always been.
It is honestly hard to say if the new Zelda will suffer the same fate as games like Skyrim or Fallout. The Legend of Zelda is an entirely different beast than the other games listed, and Nintendo certainly has proven that it knows how to blend a simple concept or story into a glorious quest to set things right for all its heroes and icons. An open world would be a new experience for Nintendo, and for Zelda fans, for certain. We can only hope that The Legend of Zelda will make the transition gracefully, and without losing everything that made players love it in the first place.