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The Verge: Five years on, Breath of the Wild’s open world is still unmatched



When Breath of the Wild was released five years ago today, its rapturous reception didn’t just happen because of how it represented a long-overdue revamp of the Legend of Zelda series’ stale formula. That certainly helped. But what really made it resonate was its revolutionary approach to open-world game design.

Unlike typical open-world games that overwhelm you with endless quests and icons on the map, Breath of the Wild told you the endpoint right from the start and trusted the player to make their own way there. You get more powerful in Breath of the Wild by exploring the freely traversable world for yourself and mastering its emergent systems. Once you feel ready, you can take on the final boss — or put it off forever because, hey, simply existing in the world is a joy unto itself.

Horizon Forbidden West, Sony’s latest PlayStation-exclusive open-world hit, seems to have taken some inspiration from Breath of the Wild in its slightly freer approach to climbing and, yes, Aloy’s new gliding ability. It doesn’t quite get there, though, with traversal still feeling restricted in comparison and a broader structure that’s still beholden to the neverending barrage of map icons.

Forbidden West is an impressive game, and its world is beautiful, but its design is so constricted that I wonder about the reasons for even setting it in an open world. At no point are you ever unclear about exactly what you need to do to progress the story. Traversing the world isn’t itself particularly rewarding, even though the combat encounters along the way can be exhilarating. Ultimately, the game is a tightly controlled experience that arguably is not improved by being set in a vast environment when compared to something more focused like God of War (2018). You’re mostly experiencing a similar flow of combat and sidequests and story beats, just riding a robot sheep in between them.

It’s early days, but so far, my time with Elden Ring is coming the closest to sparking the feeling of exploration and adventure that Breath of the Wild inspired. FromSoftware’s latest game is deeply oriented around allowing the player to explore and approach tasks their own way, and the environments are so intimately crafted that it seems like something exciting or horrifying could be around every rock or corner. Elden Ring builds on the blueprint of Dark Souls, another exploration-focused game but one set on much smaller stages, and the evolution into open-world design is as natural and successful as anyone could have hoped for.

I am still just a little surprised not to have seen many games take inspiration from the things that actually made Breath of the Wild special. Maybe it was just lightning in a bottle, and its status as a Switch launch title certainly fanned the hype flames, but the radical nature of its design made many other open-world games look antiquated. Nintendo is still aiming to release its still-untitled sequel this year, which will hopefully advance the concept further. In the meantime, though, I’m still going to be hoping for more open-world games that hit the same spot as Breath of the Wild.

More in the article!


Gold Member
chair table GIF by South Park


I liked the game's world, a lot actually, but I would say it was the connected mechanics and general interactivity of the environment and the agency given to players rather than the world itself that made it so compelling.

Calling the world itself unmatched is just asking for a fight, which I guess is the point.


Elden Rings, different Rockstar games. Personally, I've even enjoyed the Assassin's creed series, and that's the series that needs to be credited with the free range climbing exploration.


Yet I got bored after 2 hours and have never gone back.
Same. The game had several issues IMO. Fighting the same enemies over and over and weapon degradation, which meant finding new weapons felt less rewarding since they had very limited use.

Elden Ring on the other hand is fantastic, and probably the best open world I’ve ever seen along with RDR2.
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Strange how reviewers don't point out the numerous flaws that any honest person will admit. This game couldn't be any more overrated.

I don't think it's a matter of reviewers here. I know tons of people who will swear by breath of the wild on the own children. I suspect for a lot of people, BOTW was their first open world game because they play only first-party Nintendo games or something.


Gold Member
"I don’t think that every open-world game needs to be designed like Breath of the Wild, but too often, I play games where the world itself is a drag. "
"I am still just a little surprised not to have seen many games take inspiration from the things that actually made Breath of the Wild special."

Opinions, but personally I'm glad the things the author thinks made BOTW "special" remain unique to BOTW. "Special" to them was a "drag" to me.
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Thought gaf was racist. Now knows better, honorary gaffer 2022
Terrible game that I had zero interest in returning to after it was beaten. People will go on and on about how they can set fire to an entire forest or do all these cool things. . .none of which is needed in the slightest to beat the game. All this "emergent gameplay" that doesn't reward the players time. There's nothing to discover in BOTW that feels meaningful and the repeated enemy designs show just where all the effort went into the game.

. . .and what's with all this "Oh it's such a breath of fresh air in checklist obsessed open worlds." There are for sure checklists in this game (the shrines, those seeds or whatever they were, dumb openworld mini-games, hunting down guardians, etc.) they just aren't (iirc) all doted in your minimap. "The freedom of exploration!"

Give me a break.


Damage Control.

What next? When Project EVE release they gonna make an article about God of War 2016?
5 years on... I'm still wanting back those + 20hrs I poured into it "lollipop_disappointed:

In all seriousness, it was a good game but I think that thing is fucking HYPED like no other game I have ever seen. I fucking bought a Switch and the game based on that hype. Looking back, I still don't know why I did it 🤔 I never played much Zelda games, so yea... IDK wtf i was thinking. Cool if you love it, but the reverence of the "freedom" aspect of the game for me is a bit overblown... like "You can climb anything" "I can light all the grass on fire" to this day ppl are like "why can't I climb everything? Why isn't this a feature in every open-world game" I just don't get why I'd want to climb any and everything, is there something at the top of everything? :messenger_tears_of_joy:
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Gold Member
It beats Elden Rings world with its relaxing nature and charming locales. Elden Ring certainly learned from it, as did Forbidden West.

I highly doubt it, the open-world inspiration behind Elden Ring is obviously Shadow Of The Colossus. Ueda's work inspired Miyazaki to get into game-dev and he's clearly influenced by his work in every aspect; the minimalism, the grandiose architecture, the bleakly beautiful world design...

Dr Bass

BotW is one of the best games I've ever played. Went in knowing absolutely nothing about it and played it for 100 hours and basically had to stop myself. I have theories on why some people don't get into it but not sure it would go over too well, so I will keep them to myself. :messenger_tongue:

Absolutely fantastic stuff.


I agree. I deeply love Elden Ring but it still stands far far behind BotW in terms of player freedom, discovery and sense of wonder.

Mr Hyde

Elden Ring curb stomps Breath of the Wild straight up. And I'm a huge fan of BotW, put in 200 hours plus the dlc expansion.


I maintain that BOTW is the most bizarrely and gruesomely overrated game of all time, don't @ me because I don't care how it changed your life.
I'll die before understanding why people consider BOTW a good game

I bought a Switch, played it for more than 10h, finished 2 Beasts ... And I think its one of the worst open world games that I've ever played.

Some of the gameplay systems/physics are great. Absolutely hate breakable weapons, but the hot/cold stuff, wind, fire, ice is awesome.

The story sucks ass, but what amazes me is that people say that exploration is rewarding / "sense of adventure"

I mean, look, look at this shit

The open world is the core of Breath of the Wild, and it's fun moving around Hyrule.

The moving temples, shrines, soundtrack are unmatched.

All these blue points are shrines. Samey looking, 10 minutes puzzle rooms that reward you with a ball that you can use to upgrade stats.

You know what you gonna get exploring this map: shrines. Or some useless Korok Seeds.

To me its so obvious that Nintendo struggled to make an open world game of that size, and after designing the map, instead of filling it with interesting stuff, they just went "fuck it, shrines". And people ate it all up as "woah, so genius"

Seriously? This is the benchmark? Not The Witcher 3 with amazingly written sidequests? Or Elden Ring with some huge dungeon that you stumbled upon? Or RDR 2 filled with random encounters everywhere?

To me its the most overrated game of all time, no question
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