The best thing about Breath of the Wild is the fact there is so much to do and the game doesn’t tell you any of it. I’m not the biggest fan of open world games. I like some of them. Assassin’s Creed, for example. One of the biggest problems with them is that they cram so much stuff into the world and then tell you all about it. One only has to look as the maps in some of the more recent Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs or Far Cry games to know what I’m talking about. Those maps are so filled with icons where there is something the developer wants to tell you to do that you can’t even see the actual map you’re wanting to look at. They’re so eager to tell you where every little thing you can do is.
Then, once you’ve gotten that first collectible they say, ‘Great job. Now you’ve got 34 more of those to collect before you’re finished’. Then you hit another icon and it pops up another message saying you’ve collected one of 200 of those. Now go find the rest. They’re everywhere, many times they’re so far out of the way you just don’t want to be bothered.
Zelda, however feels different. Yes, the game is an open world, and yes there are THOUSANDS of things to collect. All of them do something, whether they’re items to be used as armor upgrades, Korok seeds that can be traded to increase your inventory or just food that you can eat. Where Zelda gets it right, at least in my opinion, is in the fact that they don’t tell you where ANY of it is. Not one thing is labeled on a map. There are no icons. There are no flashy points of light. There are no exclamation marks telling you something is hidden there. You have to find it all on your own. The developers know you’re never going to be able to find it all so they put the joy in the discovery rather than collecting everything there is to collect. It’s a completionist’s nightmare, but a game player’s dream.
For example, I recently stumbled upon a giant Korok who likes to play maracas, but they were stolen by a group of bokoblins. You go, get his maracas back and then he tells you he needs Korok seeds. If you trade him Korok seeds he’ll give you upgrades to your inventory slots. Where are the Korok seeds? They’re being guarded by the dozens and dozens of Koroks scattered across Hyrule. Where are they? Everywhere. You’ve probably already walked by a few and didn’t realize it.
The first time I stumbled upon on was on the way back to Kakariko Village. There were some oddly shaped places on the cliff face and a suspicious looking block on the ground below them. Anyone who’s played more than five minutes of a Zelda game knows that’s not done by accident. I figured out how to get to block back up on the cliff face with the other blocks and a Korok popped out. He gave me a seed, which I traded to the larger, maraca playing one (I can’t remember his name) and I got a new weapon slot.
A while later I was exploring the map, trying to climb all the towers to just unlock the different portions of the map so I could see where everything was. I was heading south from the Temple of Time and ran up to the top of a mountain. At the top of that mountain was a platform and it had the picture of a leaf on it, which made a mysterious circle of light appear in the sky. I didn’t know what it was and was on a mission so I left it alone. In hindsight, I should have marked that spot on the map. A few minutes later, still on my journey towards a tower in the distance, I climbed a pillar that I was going to use as a launching pad to fly closer to my destination. At the top of that pillar was another one of the platforms with a leaf on it. I stepped on the platform and another one of those circles of light appeared in the sky. This one was going in the same direction I was so I figured, what the heck. I’ll try this puzzle out. Flew through the circle. BAM!!! Another Korok appeared and I got another seed.
Nothing on the map told me that was there. There was no NPC that said I should head up there and see what’s on top of that pillar. Just pure discovery because I was curious about something. There have been so many of those little moments. Little things that I’ve found because I simply wondered what was in that direction, and because something just looked a little off from what I thought it should have been.
The developers of Breath of the Wild understand their players are intelligent. They don’t need to be told about every single thing there is to do in the game. There is no way you’re ever going to get everything there is to collect in this game. It’s just not possible. The developers understand that. Rather than putting the excitement in collecting everything they’ve put a premium on discovering all the things you can do in the world. What’s at the top of that mountain in the distance? Maybe a great weapon. Maybe a piece of armor. Maybe a Korok seed. Maybe nothing. Who knows. You certainly won’t until you take the time to travel over there and see. Then along the way who knows what else you might discover in the process. You might even have a Lizalfos leap backwards off a bridge to his death, just like I did.