Look, you’ve already heard that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a good game. You already know that it’s being praised for taking the typical Zelda formula and spinning it on its head. You’ve listened to hyperbolic tributes to the joys of cooking shit, collecting things and climbing the game’s trees. But, mostly, you’ve heard that everybody loves it.
You don’t need another person telling you they love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (I fucking love it, btw) so I’m going to stick with specifics when discussing the newest addition to the Zelda franchise. Today, I want to talk about something that’s always bugged me about the series. Specifically, I want to talk about side quests and how it took Breath of the Wild to finally make me like them.
Since their first notable appearance in Ocarina, side quests in the Zelda series have always kind of sucked, right? I’m a big Zelda fan, but during my playthroughs I always tended to veer away from the extraneous stuff unless it garnered me the precious extra bottle, arrow or bomb slots that were nearly essential to reach the end of the game. And even then, I did it begrudgingly.
Windwaker’s countless treasure charts, Twilight Princess’s golden bugs or Ocarina’s ridiculously complicated Biggoron sword quest—they’re a master class in Zelda tedium. If we’re talking Ocarina’s Biggoron sword we’re actually talking a great reward—but only at the end of a laundry list of confusing tasks that will make you want to pull your hair out. In Windwaker’s case, you’re plumbing the depths of the sea with your grappling hook haphazardly to, in some cases, only pull up a treasure chest with a purple rupee in it. FIFTY RUPEES?? I could have cut grass for two minutes and done better. Oh man, and if I sail around an area for ten minutes, drudging the bottom of the ocean and pull up a chest with ANOTHER CHART in it!? It makes me flip the fuck out every time.
But there’s a difference in Breath of the Wild. Instead of a mad-rush to the finish, I’m taking my time in post-cataclysm Hyrule and, yes, even seeking out side quests to partake in. Part of this is the nature of the game itself: Hyrule is vast, pretty and filled with interesting things, so if some girl asks me to travel across the map to grab some bugs for her sister’s birthday, I don’t mind—I’m probably headed in that direction anyway.
Part of it was a concerted effort on part of the development team to not waste your time. Even the dungeons, a Zelda mainstay, are quick and to the point. Mini-bosses are gone, there’s no collecting specific treasures to open doorways, you just use what abilities you’ve had the whole game to try and solve the few puzzles that stand between you and the boss. This philosophy is also apparent in the side quests. Whether you’re hunting some meat for a poor sap who’s forced to eat vegetarian or searching for ancient machine parts for Hyrule’s few remaining scientists to examine, the “go fetch, comeback and go again” aspect of it is gone. You’re no longer running around to five different places to get one thing. You seek it, get it and it’s over.
But more than their penchant for exploration and their brevity, what makes Wild’s side quests work so much better than their older counterparts is that the rewards you get from them actually matter. This is the best economy in any Zelda to date. No longer are Hyrule’s fertile grasslands hiding rupees and hearts, those things are much more precious. Especially rupees! You ever cruise through the second half of a Zelda at with your wallet filled to the max for the whole time because clay pots are providing everything you need? Those days are gone (and good riddance). Unlike most Zelda’s, in Wild you’ll have to strategize how to spend your precious rupees. Expensive armor, food crafting materials, arrows (so many arrows); there were many times that I had pick one over the other or, especially in the case of armor, go out and do side quests for that extra scrim.
And I’m glad I’m doing those side quests (and that there are plenty of them) because Breath of the Wild is one of the few games I’ve played that I’m not rushing to finish. Hyrule’s got a lot going on, and I want to see it all.
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