The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Speedy Opening Inspires Confidence

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's Speedy Opening Inspires Confidence

Finally, a Legend of Zelda that cuts to the chase.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

While E3 2016 certainly offered up some surprises, it's safe to say most of them were spoiled far in advance. And, in the case of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind, "far in advance" amounts to two years.

During Nintendo's E3 2014 Direct, producer Eiji Aonuma laid out the basic concept for this upcoming Zelda: in keeping with the times, Nintendo's beloved fantasy series would now be a much more open-world affair. And while we didn't know any of the specifics two years ago, based on this week's showing, the final form of Breath of the Wild doesn't seem to have deviated an inch from Nintendo's original plan. In what feels like a 180-degree swerve from the path of Skyward Sword, this new Zelda will embrace the "go everywhere, try everything" spirit of the series' 1986 debut. Frankly, it's about time.

Even with this open-world structure, Breath of the Wild could easily fall victim to some of the series' persistent problems. But it only took a few minutes of Nintendo's live demo for me to realize just how much the developer has learned from past mistakes. Breath opens with a female voice beckoning for Link to wake up, and he does exactly that within the confines of a strange temple. Once he picks up some basic equipment on the way to the exit, Link's immediately set free into the huge world to do as he sees fit. If you've played Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, or Skyward Sword in the past, you likely understand what a huge improvement this speedy start is to the Legend of Zelda. In fact, when Nintendo chose to preface their Zelda reveal with a lengthy Pokemon interview, I spotted someone on Twitter jokingly state the company was just trying to match the slow pace of your typical Legend of Zelda opening.

Yes, the typically sleepy first few hours of any new Legend of Zelda have been a point of contention amongst fans for more than a decade now. Some appreciate being gently eased into a new setting, while others would rather get out there and experience what Zelda does best. But it's hard to ignore just how—in most cases—modern game design is now engineered to get us into the experience as soon as possible. Even as long ago as 2011, Skyward Sword's overly long, tutorial-laden introduction felt like kind of a relic; especially since it released so close to Dark Souls, a game very different than Zelda that nonetheless borrowed greatly from the original's spirit of freedom. That's not to say Breath of the Wild is "the Dark Souls of Zelda;" Nintendo is simply recognizing the way people prefer to play games these days. (And, to be honest, the way we've preferred to play games for years.)

Above all, it's great to see Nintendo have some confidence with Zelda. When doing research for our classic gaming podcast, Retronauts, I stumbled upon a fact that struck me as surprising: A significant chunk of Nintendo's audience simply couldn't make the jump to 3D—which developers like Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto lamented greatly. And this problem certainly didn't remain in the '90s; there's a reason Nintendo opted for more New Super Mario games (and the essentially 2D Super Mario 3D World) over building atop the Galaxy series. Until recently, Nintendo assumed that every 3D game could potentially be someone's first, so excessive tutorials were seen as an absolute necessity. Now, their approach with Breath of the Wild seems refreshingly honest: "You've have 30 years to figure out what Zelda is, and if you still don't know, we can't help you."

As always, kids—presumably the group excessive tutorials are directed at—are much smarter than most developers give them credit for. And that's been especially clear over the past five years with the phenomenon known as Minecraft: It's an endless, open-world sandbox full of possibilities, but with very little guidance to speak of. That's not to say Breath of the Wild is aspiring to be anything like Minecraft (it's not), but something seems to have changed within Nintendo regarding the way they view 3D games. And the fact that Nintendo has now come to terms with the savviness of their audience could make Breath of the Wild the best console-specific Zelda in ages.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

Got questions about Link's first adventure for the Nintendo Switch? We have answers. Check out all our guides, tips, and articles about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

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