'Breath of the Wild' Is Better When You Turn Off Everything Trying to Help You
In a game that avoids holding your hand, it's worth throwing off the only guard rails left.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. If I wasn't wearing headphones in bed while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it wouldn't take long for my wife to start punching my arm, as the game's tool for hinting at the location for new shrines starts going off every few minutes. Though useful, I'm torn on whether I should be taking advantage of its many beeps.
Shrines are important to surviving the surprisingly tough Breath of the Wild possible, as many of them are home to important loot (I recently found a bandana that made it easier to climb!) and upon finishing four of them, you can exchange spirit orbs for health and stamina upgrades. The game has more than 100 of 'em.
And while it's possible to both stumble upon shrines and scout them from lofty locations like mountain tops and towers, some are located in weird spots, or purposely hidden out of view. Given how crucial shrines are (not to mention how fun they are to solve), it's not surprising that Nintendo would give players a way to more easily track them down. But it's an open question on whether this betrays the core ethos of Breath of the Wild, a game about pure exploration.
My favorite moments in Breath of the Wild are when I whip out Link's binoculars, become convinced I've seen something at the top of mountain, and dare myself to find a way to up. Sometimes it works out, often it doesn't, and occasionally I chug way too many elixirs making sure I get to the top just so I can say I hadn't wasted my time. But since Breath of the Wild actively encourages players to poke and prod its world, your time is rarely wasted trying the attempt seemingly impossible, even if the reward is yet another korok seed; the designers at Nintendo didn't drop those tantalizing locations in there for no good reason.
The idea of flipping off the shrine indicator is part of a larger discussion about how to play Breath of the Wild, which got into my head after reading this piece my by former colleague at Kotaku, Kirk Hamilton, in which he argues for players to embrace turning off the mini-map.
Like a lot of well-designed games, Breath of the Wild consistently communicates with the player in more organic, natural ways. If the temperature is cold enough to be an issue, Link will begin shivering. If you're not making much noise, you're not making much noise. The game world itself is easily readable and there's always at least one easily identifiable point of reference on the horizon.
Here's what Breath of the Wild looks like with the full, standard interface:
And here's what happens after tweaking the mini-map (Pro HUD) option:
Which one looks more like Link's ready to go on an adventure?
Granted, Kirk argues this point for a lot of open world games—and I usually ignore him. My time is precious, and I'll take every advantage for maximizing my time. Is there a faster way to get from point A to point B? My man, let me use it.
Usually. But things feel different with Breath of the Wild. When I popped off the shrine indicator because I'd already eyeballed the one it was pointing me towards and wanted the beeping to stop before I reenacted a scene from Scanners, I ended up playing the game for several hours, not realizing it was off until I looked at the map. Though I have it back on, it's giving me pause.
Aside from the chatter of bokoblins guarding a fort or pitter patter of rain streaming down Link's back, Breath of the Wild is unusually quiet. You're to live in the moment, a connection broken by the shrine indicator, whatever usefulness.
More than any Zelda game in decades, Breath of the Wild goes out of its way to avoid holding your hand. Heck, I went hours without understanding how cooking works because there is never a time when Breath of the Wild explicitly sits down and says "Here's how it works." (There is, eventually, a villager who, if you come across them, sorta gives you an idea.) These interface elements and tools are tiny concessions in the other direction—minor, really—but still unnecessary.
(An interesting compromise might be turning on Pro HUD, while keeping the shine sensor on, which lets you hear the beeps, but removes it from the interface.)
In the time I've spent with Breath of the Wild so far, my enjoyment isn't relative to maximizing my time. Finding a cave with a hidden secret, scaling a mountain, discovering a new ingredient, getting to the entrance of a new village—that's meaningful progress. We'll see how I feel when other games start breathing down my neck, but for now, I'm trying to resist my typical impulses, and it feels good.