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I've spent at least a thousand hours on open world games, from Daggerfall to Far Cry: Primal (underrated!). I appreciate the freeform, often rambling structures these games afford: the freedom to play at my own pace and interact with the world on my own terms, the wandering for the sake of wandering, the emergent storytelling borne of my aimless adventures. Bot W excels at delivering this experience.
It starts with the movement system. Bot W offers a diverse set of ways to traverse its sprawling overworld. Link can sprint, glide, climb, swim, warp, ride, surf, and occasionally rocket his way across the soft pastel landscape of post-apocalyptic Hyrule with hardly a hitch between travel modes. Different terrain affects his speed and style, with mountain snow and desert sand slowing him down but providing ideal turf to shield surf. The freedom of movement is essential in making the experience itself inherently pleasant — traveling is just a fun thing to do. The journey is a reward unto itself, and the destinations are there to accentuate it.
Here enter shrine and beast alike. They are a series of climaxes large and small: the crowns atop the peaks, the secrets of the springs, and the hidden depths within the caves. Each region's shrine has a loose theme to it — the Gerudo deal with electricity, the Goron fire, the Rito wind/flight, and the Zora ice/water. Their beasts are a unification of these themes — the Zora beast features a giant water wheel, the Rito beast must be regularly glid across, the Goron beast is a spicy lizard, and the Gerudo beast has you power a sprawling circuit across its body.
These elements combine to create a world-as-dungeon where each region serves as its own gauntlet of interconnected trials. This is a marked improvement from the typical Zelda formula where overworld and dungeon occupy separate spaces. The Divine Beasts highlight this philosophical shift: they are open air structures that traverse the landscape, menacing the horizon during your approach and offering a fantastic view of it when you board.
The Champions' Ballad further reinforces this, as it requires you undergo region-specific challenges to progress and expects you to find out where these challenges are based only on an overhead picture. You will either master the land itself or
be rewarded for having done so previously. They also extend the difficulty curve by pitting you against a slew of more climactic boss monsters.
And because all of this can be tackled at your own pace, in varying degrees of completion, it is entirely possible to curate a playthrough that suits your exact preferences. Hate the Tabantha Frontier? Don't go there! Hate the Korok? Fuck them and their special sword! Memories? Who needs them?!
It's an open world unafraid to let you explore or ignore it.
Absolutely agreed with this, because it's what I love most about it: freedom of choice.
When Aonuma said you can head straight from the Great Plateau and fight Gannon, I initially thought "No way." ...until I bought the game and actually tried it. I never had so much fun dying over and over again, which made the euphoria of finally pulling it off that much sweeter.
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