As we've all come to realize by this point, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a huge game. But as I run across its huge plains and climb its towering mountains, I never feel bored or in a rush to get where I'm going. For days, I wondered what manner of Nintendo magic keeps the game's endless overworld interesting.
I think I found the answer today: Watermelon rinds.
I always thought Zelda's desert-dwelling Gerudo race is cool, and Breath of the Wild does quite a lot to flesh out their matriarchal society – up to and including classes for Gerudo women determined to go outside of the town's walls and find a mate. After listening in on the class and hearing one of the women declare she'd basically kidnap and / or literally twist a man's arm until he agreed to marry her (she got detention), I scrambled to the top of the classroom and discovered a series of aqueducts running across the Gerudo's flat-roofed buildings. I followed them to see what I could see.
After exploring for a couple of minutes, I saw something float slowly towards me in the ankle-deep water. As it got closer, I saw it was a watermelon rind. It drifted by.
Obviously intrigued, I followed the trail of fruit litter to its source: A lone Gerudo accompanied by a veritable pile of watermelons. She was making good time through the stack, and she wasn't happy about my intrusion.
That was it. She didn't give me anything. She didn't say anything insightful. She was just one woman alone with a bunch of watermelons, and she wanted to be left alone. If I were in her situation, I'd probably tell Link to buzz off, too.
Breath of the Wild has a seemingly endless supply of these "just for fun" moments that send you chasing after watermelon rinds, tracking glowing blue rabbits, and even just spying on an enemy camp because you want to see what the goons are up to before you rip apart their lives. Other open world games pat you on the back for going off the beaten path, of course; I have lots of great Skyrim stories. But Nintendo disguises these surprises so expertly that you find yourself looking forward to them even when you're not actively looking for them.
For instance, the other day I was on a trek to a shrine I'd marked on my map. I was high up in the mountains, and I stood on the lip of a cliff to get my bearings. There was a rock on the ground in front of me, right at the edge of the cliff, and while it wasn't suspicious enough for me to say, "I bet there's something special about this rock," it was positioned in a way that made me say to myself, "Imma throw this rock off the cliff for funsies. See how far I can hurl it."
I picked up the rock, and a Korok popped out. He gave me a valuable seed for finding him.
Nintendo doesn't simply want you to save Hyrule, or even just explore it. It wants you to play in it, and that's what makes Breath of the Wild so rich and engaging.
A recent video by YouTuber Jason "VideoGameDunkey" Gastrow is currently being passed around as the quintessential example of what's on tap in this wild open world. Gastrow has been doing his thing for his millions of subscribers across a few years: He's explored enough open worlds to be jaded by endless grasslands and forests. Nevertheless, the enjoyment he gets out of Breath of the Wild is infectious. He does things most of us wouldn't even consider, like attaching Octorok air sacs to see if a raft can float (it can), and locking a metal crate in stasis long enough to goad a Bokoblin into standing in front of it before the stasis breaks and sends the little guy flying.
Gastrow hands seemingly useless weapons to enemies, only to go plunging off a cliff after he's outsmarted ("Why did I give him the leaf? That was my best weapon!"). He throws a boomerang at a Lizalfols, who catches it out of mid-air. He mocks a Moblin whose spear he stole, only to have the beast pick up its Bokoblin underling and hurl it at him.
Near the end of the video Gastrow executes the most devious battle plan a Zelda fan can cook up: He brings a chicken into a Moblin's neighborhood, lets the monster hit the nugget, and watches as an enraged horde of chickens brings the Moblin to its knees.
I've been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for a week, and I haven't scratched the surface. I have one Divine Beast conquered out of four. I still have several areas of the map blacked out. I have memories to recover, whispers about dragons to investigate. This certainly isn't the last I'll write about Breath of the Wild, but I hope these travel journals help convey how special the game is.
If my words don't do the job, well, hang out on social media for a bit. People are still jawing about Link's latest adventure, and I suspect they'll keep on doing so for a long time yet.