Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild captures the adventurous spirit about as purely as any video game ever has. Relying less on complex plot arcs, characters, or cinematic cutscenes, its open-world depiction of Hyrule hosts a narrative authored by my own curiosity. Its tale is a tapestry of all the weird and wild shenanigans I’ve gotten into with protagonist Link as we traverse its dense, pastel-tinged world. After years of exploring BotW’s Hyrule, I periodically return to Link’s trek. And I remain ever confident that I will continue finding new things to discover and more absurd and endearing ways to discover them.
Also returning periodically is the discourse surrounding BotW’s controversial weapons durability system. While roaming Hyrule, players will find and wield an assortment of bows, spears, clubs, magic rods, and swords of varying quality. Some of these weapons pack a massive punch and are remarkably handy in a pinch. Sometimes they serve as critical lifelines, helping to turn the tides of battles against the most imposing monsters of Hyrule.
Except when they shatter. And they always shatter. (the Master Sword excepted)
The critiques of BotW’s flimsy weapons have resurfaced yet again following the recent E3 trailers for the upcoming sequel. Even for players who otherwise adore BotW, the fallibility of the weapons they rely on is a common point of frustration with the game. And fair enough. When caught in a scrap with a beastly Lynel who’s bludgeoned Link down to his final heart, and a Royal Spear is the only thing staving off a crushed skull, it’s a tad inconvenient (and understandably frustrating) when your spear shatters to dust right when it’s needed most.
However, at some point, I realized those moments of dread and panic are exactly what Nintendo likely had in mind when designing the game’s fragile weapons the way it did. In effect, the adventure truly begins when BotW asks: “So now what?”
For me, Breath of the Wild is at its best when it pushes me to experiment with new ways to overcome the multitude of challenges it throws my way, be it finding paths for traversal, solving abstract shrine puzzles, culinary experimentation, or combat. These challenges often demand (or at least heavily encourage) creative solutions and Hyrule harbors no obligation to make life easy while I find them — it being the wild, after all. Everything feels earned in a way that even the tiniest victories can be worth celebrating, whether that’s scaling a cliff with a pixel-wide sliver of stamina to spare or cheesing a shrine ball maze by flipping the whole puzzle upside down. BotW may be about freedom but the real fun lies in skirting its constraints.
In BotW’s Hyrule, I am far more of an adventurer than a conqueror. And that’s one of the things I love most about it.
That mentality helps make Breath of the Wild a refreshing departure from typical open world experiences. Those games are often built on the backbone of violence as their primary verb — bolstered by cycles of stat increases, skill trees, and equipment upgrades — which then allow for bigger violence to feed their connect-the-dots power fantasies. Granted, some of my all-time favorite video games fall into that mold (Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Fallout: New Vegas, etc.) so I’m not here to disparage them more than use them as points of contrast. Meanwhile, combat is a much smaller slice of BotW’s gameplay pie. The relative scarcity and fragility of its blades and spears push me to be more judicious with the fights I engage in. More importantly, they encourage me to seek more creative — and intrinsically rewarding — ways to endure the wilds of Hyrule.
Ironically, BotW’s breakable weapons also help tether it to the series’ past. In its own weird way, the weapon durability system helps BotW adapt the broader diversity of mechanics from traditional Zelda games to its open world setting. Ever since A Link to the Past, it’s been clear that Link’s sword and bow were not made to solve every problem. In previous games, meticulously rigid world and dungeon designs reinforced this, requiring players to use a variety of methods to solve puzzles and other challenges to progress. Although divorced from that linearity, BotW’s overly-fragile weapons feel like an extension of the series’ ethos, reminding us that, when it comes to surviving Hyrule, fighting ain’t everything. It never really was.
At this point in my years-old playthrough, scarcity is no longer the obstacle it was back in 2017. Revisiting Breath of the Wild today, the tension of scrambling to scrape together impromptu weapons and other items to sustain my survival in the early game has long passed. However, the sense of adventure endures. I continue to find fun new ways to tread its world and deal with its challenges — not necessarily for survival — but for the hell of it. Well, that, and to fuel my mushroom hoarding habits and preserve all the fancy broadswords I’ve amassed over my first 220+ hours in BotW’s Hyrule.
These days, Link’s satchel doubles as a full pantry of hearty steaks and an armory of the land’s finest, most pristine blades. Hyrule hosts few opponents I have not yet bested. Yet even without the allures of material rewards and conquest, I still love riding around on my unicorn-headed hog while scouring the land’s familiar and unfamiliar nooks. I continue to stumble across uncompleted side quests, stray Korok seeds, and other unexpected oddities but it is the journey itself that keeps me entranced with the Wild.
And if that thrill ever begins to wane…well, bombs are also fun.