Just from glancing over the demos and established development of The Legend of Zelda Wii U, you gain an immediate appreciation for just how much of an intricate and complex process game design is. There are so many subtle ways in which the crafting of a world shapes the ultimate experience of the player. In this sense, it really seems like the new Legend of Zelda game is a jumping off point for the series.
I almost feel sorry for those who've come to love the linear experiences from Ocarina of Time to Majora's Mask. Going by the words of Eiji Aonuma, it seems that such a vast experience is something Nintendo have always wanted to do. The only reason we haven't seen a Zelda game of this scope before is because of hardware limitations, and the general expectations of players spanning generations. Could The Legend of Zelda Wii U be a three-dimensional recapturing of the original NES games?
The History of the Series
We're all getting excited now for a Zelda game having a sense of unbroken hugeness, but in a way, that was the feeling to be invoked by the original games. Of course, back in the NES era, games couldn't afford to be a fraction as ambitious as they are now, but with the first The Legend of Zelda, there was an effort to convey a continuously huge Hyrule. Granted, the screen was scrolling between areas constantly, but it was that sense of off-screen space that gave a feeling of the undiscovered, and which had to disappear when the series made the transition to 3D.
Strangely enough, as gaming advanced, the Zelda games took a slightly more stripped down approach to the structuring of an in game world. Ocarina of Time split Hyrule into very distinct segments that maintained the idea of an open world, but it was no different to gated levels. Even Windwaker, which nails the feeling of vastness and exploration, has completely self-contained areas that ostensibly exist completely separate from each other. With The Legend of Zelda Wii U, that might all be about to change.
Gating or Leveling?
Despite this new game being touted as as the most open and free Zelda game yet, I doubt we're in for a complete sandbox experience where we are still left to our own devices. Nintendo is still committed to creating structured and intentional experiences. This means that the player will likely be barred form simply traversing everything in the game. It could be done by gating, with certain items or story beats required to be in some areas, or through a sense of leveling, where this link may be too weak to explore certain areas and take on certain foes. Now, I'm not suggesting The Legend of Zelda becomes a grind-fest, but merely that any restriction feels organic and natural.
Borrowing from other games?
The Zelda games did huge things for gaming, influencing many of the sensibilities in level structuring we see today. It only seems right that this new addition borrows a few things from the games it helped forge. When I heard the above-mentioned feature about the mountains, I thought "that's exactly how Skyrim was sold." Perhaps The Legend of Zelda Wii U will be touting the same kind of "do it your own way" feel, which is a sentiment that extends to many other games.
Just as part of the original Legend of Zelda was about being careful, and solving problems tactfully, such an open world update could put the same pressures on players. In a 3D open world setting, this reminds me of games like Bloodborne, where issues sometimes have to be worked around rather than met head on. The idea of missions playing out organically in a broad sense is reminiscent of The Witcher 3. I would even enjoy seeing the game worked so that non-combat runs were available to players. Whether The Legend of Zelda Wii U employs all these modern features, we'll just have to see.
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