One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my third review in this series called “50 games”.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a modern game for a current-gen console and probably a game most people have heard about if not tried.

I will not go into traditional review-style comments - suffice to say, you should try it. I think it’s brilliant and I think its appeal is very wide.

It is a massive game though, and I ended up taking a break from it due to playing too much, I think. Now I’m back in Hyrule and I’m having fun again. Note that a sensible person might have just completed the main quest at that point, and left collectables etc for a later date, but I am not a sensible person.

It is the best open world game I have played. Everything is available to you, after you get out of your crib. The game hinted that I should go north-east, so I went south-west, and the game went “oh ok, good luck with that” and I had to play the game very differently due to running in dangerous lands where most monsters could one-shot me.

But the whole point is that I could do this!

Another open aspect is the way you get a bunch of powers that you can use to solve puzzles, but that also enables you to do a lot of cool stuff that perhaps are not immediately obvious. Without spoiling too much: you can grab a flight on a tree trunk launched by magic, you can balloon bombs into enemy camps, and you can trick monsters into fighting each other.

There’s just so much to this game. A cooking minigame. So many weapons. Collectibles that also have a function and are hidden in creative and obvious-but-still-fun ways.

I think the best thing about this game is that I can just sit down and play it, without having a single goal. Perhaps I will explore a bit, do a shrine or three, or perhaps try to find some koroks. Or finish a side quest, or even (gosh) progress the main quest!

Even just running around in the beautiful landscape is fun.

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • Open design rules
  • If you can give players various powers that they can be creative with, that’s a very cool thing
  • Always give the player a choice when possible (even the heart containers you win from bosses are optional - just like in the original Zelda)
  • For completists - ensure there’s a way to catch up without having to restart (there’s a way to buy pictures of enemies already defeated for example)
  • AAA is really cool when you have teams dedicated to making cooking minigames and hundreds of sidequests ranging from assisting old creatures of the land to finding some bugs for a dude who wants to impress his lady!