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Pt. 3—Even Zelda: Breath Of The Wild’s simplest puzzles make you feel smart as hell

Screenshot: Nintendo
Screenshot: Nintendo

Welcome back to our ongoing Game In Progress review of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. In this third installment, Gameological editor Matt Gerardi digs into the game’s puzzles and “dungeons,” including discussion of what the Divine Beasts are and how they’re used. The series will wrap up next week, as Matt finally confronts Ganon and (presumably) cleanses Hyrule of his nasty purple stink.


For the past two entries of this series, we’ve talked a lot about Breath Of The Wild’s vast world and the freedom players have to serendipitously discover its wonders. It’s a rare game that casts its setting as more than an elaborate backdrop for your escapades. There’s an unprecedented physicality to the place itself. Hyrule is tangible, active, and important, moreso than any one thing you do in it. And for its part, BOTW is brilliant at encouraging exploration out in the open air, stoking your curiosity with strange sights and giving you all the tools you need to push toward your goal, regardless of how impossible it might seem.

But as in every Zelda game, you’ll also be spending plenty of time indoors. Rather than the traditional dungeons, those elaborate obstacle courses full of monsters and puzzles that made up the meat of Link’s past adventures, BOTW spreads the majority of its inside time between the 120 ancient underground shrines that dot Hyrule’s landscape. A few house battles with sturdy robotic enemies (these excruciating “tests of strength” are some of the game’s most tedious chores), but most are clever one-off puzzles that force you to experiment with the “rune” abilities Link is gifted back on the Great Plateau. While the shrines and the four Divine Beasts, the closest BOTW comes to traditional Zelda dungeons, are a hard break from all the climbing and gliding of the outside world, they excel because they’re an extension of the same design philosophies that make exploring Hyrule such a pleasure: providing flexibility, freedom, and the encouragement to exercise them.

Screenshot: Nintendo

Not every puzzle you’ll come across is completely open ended, but in most cases, you’re presented with the opportunity to solve them however you can and with whatever you’re carrying. Sure, you can carefully maneuver a hanging lantern so it swings into a trail of dry leaves and burns away the platform holding the key you need to move on, or if you’re holding some fire arrows, you could just launch one up there and forget about the whole thing. You could use your magnet to swing a giant wrecking ball and make a mad dash past it while it’s out of the way, or you could lift it straight into the air and wrap its chain around a support beam, putting it completely out of your way for good. The mutability of these scenarios is so impactful that even the easiest, most direct of puzzles can evoke the feeling that you came upon on some radical answer all your own and the burst of self-satisfaction that goes along with it.

The long-form challenges inside the Divine Beasts showcase an even stronger synergy between BOTW’s indoor and outdoor activities. Because these dungeons take place inside giant machines, rather than a static temple or palace, Link always has some control over the physical space he’s in, like changing the angle of a giant robot elephant’s trunk and the water shooting from it. The puzzles here test your understanding of and willingness to toy with physics and space, letting you reconfigure the environment around you to attempt some crackpot solution. It’s made possible by the same kind of impressive awareness—of Link’s surroundings and his presence within them—that makes wandering Hyrule feel as exciting and meaningful as it does. Just as you’re never simply sprinting from one point to another in search of some doodad that’s tucked into the open-world set dressing, you’re not simply solving puzzles inside an impeccably themed room. The space is part of the puzzle: another obstacle to contend with, another tool to consider, another possibility to exploit.

Screenshot: Nintendo

Given the amount of them spread across Hyrule and all the other creative challenges the developers of this mammoth, complex game had to contend with, it’s impressive that the puzzles are able to feel as at one with Breath Of The Wild’s greater ideology as they do. Just as the liveliness of the world at large makes this Hyrule more worth living in than any that’s come before, the amount of options you have for approaching any given puzzle makes even the easiest among them more gratifying to solve than your average Zelda head scratcher.

With those Divine Beasts out of the way, all that’s left for me is to screw around in Hyrule, clearing out side-quests and buffing Link up before storming the castle. We’ll come to the conclusion of this adventure and review next week, as I suspect we’ll dive into the game’s finale and how it ties into the dozens of hours that preceded it. And since I’m through with the real meat of this thing, it’ll probably be time to finally talk about all the fiddly bits that sit on the game’s periphery—harvesting, crafting, upgrading. You know, the fun stuff.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch, Wii U
Reviewed on: Switch
Price: $60
Rating: E10+


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