Finished playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 🎮.

This game created something of a sensation when it came out 6 years ago. I’d no doubt it was good but I’d understood it to be a time consuming open-world adventure so figured it wouldn’t work well for my typical adult life 20 minute-ish gaming sessions. However it turns out that I did find it extremely worthy of all the game of the year awards it won so I’m very glad I gave it a go. It is in fact really great, and you can definitely play it in shortish bursts if you have to (and have the willpower to turn it off).

A screenshot of the game, courtesy of IGN.

It tells the story of Link, who awakens with no memory of the past but is nonetheless thrust on a mission to save the land of Hyrule from the evil forces of Ganon.

My fear of its open-world nature meaning that typically I’d find myself wandering around lost for ages not knowing what to do was entirely alleviated by the facts that both 1) the game makes it pretty obvious what your potential next steps are, and 2) the world is so delightful, in how it looks and how it works, that for the first time I was very happy to wander around kinda lost, dealing with the strange little side quests that in most games I’d feel compelled to ignore just to get the main mission done.

The so-called physics and chemistry engine is such that there’s a real sense of freedom. You can do almost anything you think you might be able to do within the scope of the game. Metal swords are good for stabbing monsters, sure. But they can also create a spark which, if you do it with some flint near a pile of wood, will start a fire and let you cook some food. The updraft from said heat source lets you float upwards should you have the right equipment. You could also use the fire to light an arrow and fire it to ignite any dry grass around where monsters are having a nap consume them in a fiery death. There’s probably 100 other things you could do like that I never discovered.

Even watching someone else play it for a while gave me a pleasant sense of the kind of feeling one gets when travelling to a new place and exploring in real life. This was most welcome at the time, as it was the heart of the Covid-19 lockdown when actually travelling anywhere wasn’t allowed.

And as you can see from the screenshot, it’s a mostly pretty, nature-based place, which made me wonder if there’s any research out there about using computer games to provide a mild version of the benefits humans tend to get with actual exploration in the natural world. Whilst this might sound a bit implausible, and it certainly won’t provide the substantial benefits of the physical activity that’s typically associated with exploring the outdoors, there are supposedly health benefits that can be realised via some video games. That’s a topic I’d like to explore sometimes.

One tip that I wished I’d have known before playing (for compulsive in-game hoarders such as myself) is that you really don’t need to keep most of the things you find. You don’t need to collect and upgrade everything to win. If you follow the main storyline then the end battle isn’t actually super hard, and I’m really not that good at videogames - I never really mastered the combat in this one.

But by the end I was constantly running out of inventory space. So feel free to sell most of the “consumable” things that you discover, even some of the valuable ore, to make enough money to buy the stuff in the shops that will make life less frustrating, some of which is basically essential. You can almost always find more of whatever consumables you run out of. Of course if you’re a pro trying to collect and upgrade 100% of everything then this may be terrible advice.