The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of the highlights, if not one of the best games shown at this year’s E3 press conference. They seem to be doing all the right things and taking the series in the right direction. The art style is simply gorgeous, matching that of gouache painted landscape. The exclusion of a hand holding tutorial and an open world in which I can explore is something I’ve longed for in ages.

There were so many positive additions to the game – forging, cooking, climbing, various weapons and armour, just to name a few. The new gameplay mechanics that saw Link having to consume food to stay alive, whether that be gathered through foraging or hunting. The temperature gauge, that saw him losing hearts if he was stationed in a cold area for too long, meaning Link would have to acquire warmer clothes to stay alive. It was brilliant, finally, Nintendo seemed to be getting everything right.

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A screenshot taken from the 2014 trailer when the game was set for a 2015 launch and was known as The Legend of Zelda Wii U. This is the game that I was looking forward too.

Then the exploration was shown, I managed to watch the whole Nintendo Treehouse event and throughout I couldn’t help but feel that the Map was a little sparse and empty. Now I know that towns and storyline related NPC’s were stripped from the demo due to Nintendo not wanting to show too much at E3. The map was also restricted to just 1% of the final size, in order to not reveal too much.

All that aside, I felt as though the map lacked any real density. They mentioned how Breath of the Wild’s open world is 12 times bigger than that of Twilight Princess, as if bigger is always better? Personally, I’d rather have a map half the size but densely packed full of life, something that thrives and feels lived in, where the deep forests feel overgrown and uncharted and the valleys are bursting with personality.

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Screenshots taken from the 2016 trailer. Set for a 2017 launch. The difference is all most polar oppisite compared to the screenshot above, where as this should be the better version. It’s a dreary set of images when stacked up against that of the 2014 trailer screenshot.

After playing the Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 last year, the bar was set higher than ever for open world games. Traversing through those worlds made me want to explore every nook and cranny and leave no stone unturned. Both worlds were packed full of places to explore. Even walking through a small wood in The Witcher 3 proved to be an exciting experience. The grass was long and overgrown, the trees shadowing over you, danger arose greatly as bears and beasts roamed in the area, you’d feel a real sense of Adventure and exploration from the map design alone. Whereas I just didn’t get that from Breath of the Wild.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn, another open world game set for 2017. This game features a densley packed world that looks deep and condensed, similar to that of the Legend of Zelda screenshot from the 2014 trailer, but a million miles away from the most recent 2016 ones. Not a good sign.

What we’d seen in the first trailer didn’t seem to represent the full game. The trailer seemed to be rich in life and dense in nature where the game demo lacked any real personality as if the game was bare beforehand and a few trees and camps were plonked within it to give an effect of a stocked landscape. Eiji Aonuma recently spoke about the games density.

“We talked a little bit about the idea of density, how dense to make this big world” Aonuma explained. The team realised that filling the vast landscape with things to do and explore would be a lot of work.

As the team experienced moving around on horseback or climbing up to a high place to paraglide down, they realised that their desire to see what’s ahead of the next horizon grew. At the same time, the team realised some moments should be subtle as you explore. “We realised that it’s OK if there’s pocket of emptiness”

– Interview source: IGN.com

I don’t want pockets of emptiness, what good is a huge world if that’s the case? why not a world half the size that isn’t as sparse? The encampments and shrines seem to be quite similar too. I’m aware each shrine will feature different puzzles and treasures but the game seems to resemble Far Cry in a way where you traverse to different outposts in order to overcome them, something that got boring quite quickly. A similar resemblance was shown many times in the demo with Bokoblin camps and each one seemed to be a similar setup. If this is representative of how each camp in the game is going to be, it’ll grow tiresome quite quickly.

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A Bokoblin camp, again the texture and setting of the world fail to resemble that of the 2014 trailer screenshot toward the top of this article.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the Zelda game I’ve always wanted, but in terms of exploration I’m a little worried. I don’t know if it’s the lack of power on the Wii U, the stripped back demo or just bad examples used throughout their official game trailer and demos. I want this game to succeed on all levels but seeing something like the examples above gets me a little worried. This is a detrimental time for Nintendo and all I want to see is them return to form.

I hope I’m proved wrong, I hope this is just due to parts of the game being stripped back for the purpose of the demo. I’m curious to see what awaits over the horizon within the game. I don’t voice these opinions because I want to put Nintendo down or because I’m not fond of the game, I do it because I genuinely care and I want the game to be as best as it possibly can be. If the game is slated for its sparse appearance or lack of density it’ll be a blow, not just to Nintendo, but to myself and those of us that love the series.

It seems that the nature of the games industry is that “bigger is always better”, that the bigger a map can be made the better it will be, as if it’s some kind of achievement, regardless of what lies within it. In general, I’d rather have a map that was half the size and full of personality, rich and alive, as opposed to something huge, barren and boring. Let’s hope as more of the game is unveiled my worries for its lack of density disappear.

/ CR

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25 thoughts on “Bigger isn’t always Better

  1. I feel like Horizon: Zero Dawn’s developers might be trying to capture those random moments of wonder while travelling beautiful landscapes, like The Witcher and Elder Scrolls games, and also probably No Man’s Sky.

    They probably are going for a Shadow of the Colossus aesthetic–of course, I can’t really know what they’re trying to do or thinking. But, those random scenic horseback rides and periodic moments of marveling at distant landscapes are surprisingly even an important element in Dark Souls, so it’s not just a characteristic found in lightly-toned games either.

    BUT, if there aren’t enough crafting, camp settling, scavenging, hunting, surviving, surveying, digging-deeper, etc., etc., aspects of the game, like Minecraft, then the vast emptiness will quickly get boring and tedious.

    If they can do a good job at hiding secret cave complexes and make simple activities, like foraging and scavenging, fun in a Minecraftian kind of way, with the awesome relaxing soundtrack, then Horizon: Zero Dawn could easily become that game everyone keeps going back to again and again. Kind of like what No Man’s Sky is attempting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I 100% agree with your refrence to SOTC and in all honesty it has given me hope to the series. SOTC it’s self is completely empty bar the Colossi and enemies, similar with Minecraft – bar the features of the game itself. Yet both titles still work extremely well in engaging the user. Thanks for you comment!

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  2. I think there’s a belief with many modern game devs/publishers that bigger/more always equals better. UbiSoft seem epitomise this with Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, but also the later Batman and GTA games are guilty of this too. And it’s not just the size of the worlds, it’s the number of weapons, gadgets, etc, e.g. BF4. Quality should always take preference over quantity.

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    1. Too true. I mean when have you ever heard game developers turn round and say; “The game isn’t that big, but we’ve spent so much time on a smaller world in terms of fleshing out to make it truly extraordinary” that’s never the case, although that’s what I’d prefer! The same applies to length, you’ll always here that the game is so many hours long as opposed to being a decent set of hours full of more refined features. Bigger and longer seems to reign as two of the most important features in the industry. The emphasis is rarely ever put on creating a world so alive it makes you forget your playing a video game. In the end these worlds are created to immerse the player not make them bored from witnessing the same regurgitated assets over and over again. Always quality over quantity in my book.

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  3. The problem with getting a look at a snapshot of something, is that it’s okay a snapshot of something. I got the feeling from the trailer that is was only there to show off the concepts. Like they didn’t want to give away too much of the game, but wanted to give just enough to wet the appetite and have us asking, “What else is there”. This is especially important for open world games which rely upon you exploring the world, since there isn’t a forced pace to the game.

    I have always loved the Zelda games and it will be interesting to see how they pull off an open world design. Here’s to hoping that there is a lot more to the game in terms of content density.

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    1. I really hope that there’s more behind the curtain. I’m all for them not showing much off in the trailer and leaving it all to be discovered later on, my fear is they haven’t done that and the 1% they showed is just duplicated throughout that other 99%. Fingers crossed that that’s not the case.

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  4. As someone that is a huge fan of Shadow of the colossus, An open world game that only features, A boy w/ Bow and Sword, A Horse and 16 Colossi scattered across a pretty large map, I really understand how the character and energy of the land can keep you interested even without NPCs on the map. I don’t know how long i spent on that map chasing down lizards and shooting down fruit from trees lol.

    If Nintendo meant for this to be an experience mainly about Link and his connection to the wild, i’m sure they would have much much more in store than what they showed, that would keep you entertained even when you’re alone. I definitely can understand the concern if this is a dramatic difference from past 3D Zelda games.

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  5. I definitely understand your gripe with Breath of the Wild. 3D Zelda games have a history of having empty overworlds, especially OoT and TP. It’s a little more acceptable in BotW because of the focus of exploration. However, I definitely would like to see an increase in enemies in the overworld. Perhaps it will be different outside of the Plateau, like places more similar to the old trailer. We’ll see.

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    1. Perhaps the Plateau was the way it was because it was an opening to the game, like many opening areas, it looked quite tame. Once you get stronger the land ahead of that may begin to become more densely filled with enemies that set a harder challenge, stronger camps a d more chances for exploration. I’m eager to see more of the game, especially what’s outside of the Plateau!

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  6. I like a sparser open world, but I do admit it is a tough act to balance. I liked Skyrim/Morrowind because there wasn’t something everywhere, but I’d always bump into something eventually. I prefer either of those to Dragon Age: Inquisition or The Witcher III, where I felt like I was moving around the map just to check off my list.

    That’s the trick to me, though. If you can make a map that is big, barren, and empty yet still convince the player that its immersive, mysterious, and full of wonder, then you’ve made magic. Bethesda usually does that for me.

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    1. From some of the screen shots that were taken from the 2016 trailer the world looks too sparse. To the point of being borderline empty. Some one made a good point of the more sparse areas of the map being created like that by design to allow for full scale boss battles, which could certainly be a reason for it. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head though. These densely packed worlds always immerse the player through illusion of a world filled with detail. To do the same with a barren, mostly open patch of the map is truly a feat of glory.

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  7. Great article! As an avid fallout/mass effect/Rockstar fan, I love that this game is so open. I don’t mind having lulls in the action since I feel the need to decompress sometimes and a game like fallout never lets you do that early on since there’s always a scorpion or raider waiting around every bend in the wasteland. That said, I see your point. Hopefully Nintendo will put interesting content like fishing etc. to flesh out the vast world

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    1. But that captures the sense of Adventure, does it not? Not knowing what’s around the corner or what’s coming next? A world so densely packed with not just creatures and monster ma but with detail. Something that distracts you from maybe the main storyline/mission for example. From some of the screenshots the land looks a little flat, lacking texture and low on any assets that can draw me off the beaten path. I hope so too, I’m sure fishing will definitely be in there, especially to capitalise on the cooking aspect.

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  8. I remember T.Princess being a little tiresome, despite loving exploration and transitions to different areas. If the demo has qualities removed, then let’s hope for some improvement.

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  9. Honestly, I’m getting a little weary of all these massive open world games. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of them are fun, but they also extremely time consuming. Sometimes a nice simple game with clearly defined levels can be just as entertaining.

    Awesome post! I hope Nintendo pulls it off. I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Zelda game, but I suppose there is a first time for everything.

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    1. You’re right. It’s like when MGS V, The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 all released in the same year I was totally bewildered as to where to even start. This 100+ hour games just require total dedication and trying to juggle three at once, along with many other things, just results in failure. I still haven’t finished any of them yet. New games end up coming out and you end up moving on. I know Zelda is something I’ll stick with though, as long as it doesn’t get repetitive and tiresome. So do I, mate!

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  10. Insert Katana with 5 swings before it breaks. Via “open world” a concept not new since SNES and before. It’s sad I’m never “impressed” with Zelda games till way after the fact. I.e. Wind waker, and A Link to the Past.

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    1. I know a lot of people hated on Majora’s Mask and Windwaker when they first released, but afterwards they became series favourites. Personally those two are my favourites from the series.

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  11. As much as I’m excited about the apparent lack of handholding in this Zelda, I do agree with your concern:

    “All that aside, I felt as though the map lacked any real density. They mentioned how Breath of the Wild’s open world is 12 times bigger than that of Twilight Princess, as if bigger is always better? Personally, I’d rather have a map half the size but densely packed full of life, something that thrives and feels lived in, where the deep forests feel overgrown and uncharted and the valleys are bursting with personality.”

    Twilight Princess felt empty to me, and if this Zelda is even sparser that does make me wonder. Having just “finished” Fallout 3 – but only ended up seeing about 25% of the entire world – I think the open world thing can get out of control! We’ll just need to wait and see.

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    1. Exactly and I don’t want a bigger TP with just a few updates textures and assets plonked around. I’d rather have a map half the size of what it’s meant to be but full, or the size of what it is now but full. But the latter wouldn’t happen due to the lack of power on the Wii U. It’s unable to match the processing power of the PS4, which allows us to have Fallout 4 and The Witcher.

      Another worrying fact is when they say the NX version will be no different. I’d of at least hope the graphics would be upscaled, better frame rates and a more richly, packed environment due to them having more processing power. It kind of get me worried about the NX’s specs. I hope that they just mean in terms of story and features the game will be no different.

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  12. I, too, worry about the bigger-is-better mentality because it can focus on the wrong things. Frankly, I didn’t care for Ocarina of Time because the open Hyrule Field was endlessly dull and took forever to cross, and that was far smaller than BOTW, I’m sure. I’m sure I’ll still play it, though. My wife is a Zelda sycophant and will make sure I buy the game and whatever new system it comes out on.

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    1. Exactly and I certainly don’t want BotW map to be that dull field but so much bigger. I don’t think it’ll be as bad as that but from some of the screens I’ve seen its not far off. Hopefully the other 99% of the map holds a variety of things to see and do and is rich in environment.

      I don’t just want that 1% repeated another 99 times ha. No doubt I’ll buy the game. From what I’ve seen so far that alone justifies a purchase. This article was wrote to just voice my worries if what might be.

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  13. It’s a tricky line to straddle. If you add too much, the world looks unnecessarily busy (a la Grand Theft Auto); too little and you remember you’re playing a video game.

    From what I saw it didn’t feel completely barren, but given that I don’t play a lot of open world games, perhaps my perception is skewed.

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    1. Could point, Matt. Although personally I didn’t think GTA was unnecessarily busy. To me it felt like a world that was lived in, as if that world was still happening when I wasn’t playing, that it was its own living breathing entity and existed even when the game was off, even though that wasn’t the case. It had tons of personality, each part felt as though there was a story too tell. You’d get a sense of existanance, even without any one around you’d discover evidence of an inhabited world.

      There were some parts that seemed ok, the old trailer showcased this perfectly. Hopefully we see more of that in the final game. As like you say, I don’t want to feel as though I’m playing a video game, I want to get lost in that world.

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