Breath of the Wild adapted many of the typical Legend of Zelda conventions and, as a result, it has rejuvenated the series. In doing so, the team may well have changed and revolutionized open world gaming, too. In recent interviews with developers from both Assassin’s Creed and Witcher 3, members of each team reflect on the success of Breath of the Wild and praise the game’s unique approach to creating an open world game.
Benjamin Plich, lead designer on Assassin’s Creed: Unity, explained that Breath of the Wild managed something that was “hard to achieve”. Plich felt that games were now changing from “classic open worlds to an open-game model” that evolve around a player’s actions. Plich stated that Breath of the Wild follows the player’s “intrinsic motivations, adaptive challenge curve and economy”. This can be seen in many aspects of Breath of the Wild, but perhaps it is most notable in the creation of the game’s dungeons. They weren’t created to be completed in a specific order and allow the player to engage with the game how they like, without any restrictions or limitations.
“they’ve raised the bar when it comes to world crafting and this sense of total immersion…”
Damien Monnier, senior designer on The Witcher 3, also believes that Breath of the Wild has succeeded in creating a true open world for the player. When he commented on the setting Monnier stated, “You go and explore it because you wonder what’s out there, not because a loot icon tells you to.” The Breath of the Wild team wanted players to explore Hyrule because they were curious about a setting or location, with certain areas being visible from a great distance. This is much more realistic than following icons on a map and is something that the lead Witcher 3 developer really admires.
Monnier continued to explain that he is a Zelda fan and that his expectations for the franchise have increased now because “[Nintendo] raised the bar” for the series. Monnier believes that “you want to explore this land whether or not you are on a quest, or being tasked to collect/gather something.” He even claims that if the game removed all quests and NPCs that he “would still take pleasure in exploring that beautiful world”. The setting for Breath of the Wild creates a real sense of adventure and a “sense of total immersion” which so many open world games struggle to achieve.
One of the main contributing factors to this sense of immersion is the design of the setting. Monnier felt that “smart placement of points of interest in the distance” makes players want to travel further into the world. He explained that this placement of certain areas can make you “feel as if you have traveled further than you actually have” and achieved something when just crossing the map. Monnier links this idea to how the game makes the player feel like they have gone on a “greater journey”, which is an emotion that all open world games should aspire to create.
It’s interesting to read what other developers think of Breath of the Wild. Pilch and Monnier were both full of praise for the game and clearly feel there is a lot to learn from it. Breath of the Wild has set the bar very high for open world games; it gives a natural reason to explore the setting and encourages players to travel across the map. The Zelda series has consistently set the bar in the action and adventure genre. Hopefully this is something that will continue with each new Zelda game.