The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of the highest-rated games of 2017, a decorated winner of numerous Game of the Year Awards, and is already one of the top-selling games in Zelda history. With the Champions' Ballad DLC out in the wild, Nintendo has already moved on from this masterpiece and onto their next, confirming last December that the next Zelda is already in development. If you're Nintendo, how can you possibly go about topping Breath of the Wild? We've got a few ideas in mind.
A More Original Setting and Story
Although not a reboot, Breath of the Wild marked a major shake-up to the Zelda series. Pushing aside the linear, narrative-driven progression of previous entries like Skyward Sword, the first Zelda on Switch gave players a vast, open world to explore and a story that they could uncover at their own pace. In addition to this retooling of the Zelda formula, Breath of the Wild also borrowed elements, such as clothing with defensive stats, from more modern action-RPGs that Nintendo has previously avoided.
Because Nintendo took so many risks with the gameplay, they ended up playing it pretty safe when it came to the game's story and setting. The typical "Ganon's trying to break out of his seal and take over Hyrule again" story is a little played out, but it was probably the right call for Zelda's debut on Switch. Breath of the Wild was likely the first ever Zelda for many players and the first in a long time for Switch owners who are just getting back into Nintendo. But now that you've re-established the franchise for a new generation, it's time to freshen things up!
One option that would allow for direct continuity from Breath of the Wild would be to explore the vast realm of Hyrule presented in Zelda II: Adventure of Link. Based on that game's map, the "Hyrule" of most Zelda games is actually just a small portion of a much vaster world. In this comparison shot you can see how the entire map of the original Zelda game corresponds to just a fraction of the Zelda II map. Breath of the Wild's map roughly corresponds with it as well, with Death Mountain to the north (although Death Mountain itself is just in the northeast corner, a mountain range covers the entire border further north), a sea along the east and south coasts, and more mountains along the west and southwest parts of the map. With Ganon defeated (for now), a new threat could easily call for Link and Zelda to venture north to explore the world beyond for the first time in over thirty years.
We also know that Twilight Princess began development as a sequel to Wind Waker but shifted gears early on. Over a decade later, it wouldn't be a bad idea to revisit this idea. With the improved hardware capabilities of Switch over GameCube, Nintendo could craft much bigger, livelier islands with more content to populate the Great Sea. Imagine an ocean full of islands the size of the Great Plateau, each with its own unique environment, inhabitants, enemies, and quests.
Perhaps an even better option would be to craft a completely original world from scratch. One of the biggest reasons Majora's Mask has such a passionate fanbase is the way the game plucked us out of the familiarity and comfort of Hyrule and immersed us in a strange new land. Despite recycling the graphics engine (and even character models) from Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask felt fresh, foreign, and foreboding.
Bring Back Traditional Dungeons
The lack of traditional temples and dungeons is probably my biggest gripe in Breath of the Wild. Gone are the usual fire temples, water temples, and so on, replaced by the combination of Shrines and Divine Beasts. In the early parts of the game I found seeking out shrines, solving puzzles, and retrieving loot to be rewarding, but eventually I began to crave a more traditional Zelda dungeon experience. Upon arriving at my first Divine Beast, I quickly learned they would not fill that role either.
A good Zelda dungeon should blend exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat together inside an interesting and unique environment. Shrines tended to offer an either/or scenario when it came to puzzles and combats, and Divine Beasts focused almost exclusively on the former. Meanwhile, neither type of "dungeon" in Breath of the Wild offered much in the way of exploration or interesting surroundings. Specific puzzles may stick out to me as particularly clever, but the lack of individuality means there aren't any dungeons that are memorable overall.
Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma has long been enamored with the idea of blurring the lines between overworld and dungeon, and Breath of the Wild missed out on a perfect opportunity to put this into action. Using your Sheikah Slate to ride an elevator down into a Shrine with the same basic design as the last 100 Shrines you visited is about as far away from that idea as possible.
Why not instead flesh out notable locations like the Statue of the Eighth Heroine, the buried Arbiter's Grounds, or the Coliseum Ruins? With a little more effort put into the interior level design, any of these would make a fine dungeon. Because Breath of the Wild gives you freedom to climb all over just about anything, dungeons could be designed with multiple possible entrances, much like the Skull Woods dungeon in A Link to the Past.
Hyrule Castle was a good first step in this direction. You can transition from the overworld to the "dungeon" while barely even noticing, and there are multiple points of entry that don't require any break in the action. Once you're inside, you find you're in a unique environment with its own map, there are rewarding collectibles that will permanently assist you on your quest, and there's a real, named boss (not just a stronger version of an overworld enemy) to battle at the end. I'll take that over a dozen Shrines any day.
More Permanent Items and Weapons
While I don't agree with the critics that feel Breath of the Wild's weapon durability system was overly frustrating, I think there's some truth to the complaints about constant weapon shattering. Unlocking a chest by battling through a horde of enemies, solving a mind-boggling puzzle, or uncovering a well-hidden secret area is a rewarding moment in Zelda games, but it can be a little underwhelming if you know your prize is going to become unusable after a few hits. There's just not as much satisfaction in a earning a temporary item as there is in permanently upgrading your arsenal.
That's not to say that Nintendo needs to flood the next Zelda game with unbreakable swords, bows, and shields. There are plenty of other absent items from Zelda's history that could improve Breath of the Wild's successor. The Hookshot could be used for quicker traversal and for stealing enemy items. Iron Boots could return to open up underwater exploration and to protect Link from strong winds. The Lens of Truth could be used to uncover hidden objects and rooms. The Goron Bracelet or Titan's Mitt could enable Link to lift otherwise unmovable objects. The series could bring back magic, like the Medallions of A Link to the Past or Din's Fire from Ocarina of Time.
Breath of the Wild's Runes were a good push in this direction, but giving them all to the player early on means less opportunities for player growth throughout the lengthy adventure. Whether it's items from past games, an expanded arsenal of Runes, or new collectibles we haven't imagined yet, the next Zelda would do well to keep the player rewarded with a steady stream of permanent upgrades.
Greater Diversity of Enemies
The land of Hyrule in Breath of the Wild is a remarkable feat of game development. It's massive in scale, robust in content, and stunningly beautiful, and you can run, climb, and fly over every inch of it. With such a vast and wondrous Hyrule to explore, it's a shame there's so few unique enemy types to encounter along the way.
When I voyage into a frozen tundra I should be running into far more unique, ice-based enemies and far fewer Ice-Breath Lizalfos, Ice Keese, and Ice Chuchus. Breath of the Wild does an excellent job of creating diverse environments, but not of populating them with diverse enemies. Where are the Dodongos in Death Mountain? Where are the Deku Babas in the forest areas? Where are the Poes, the Dark Nuts, the Redeads, the Like Likes, and the Wallmasters?
You can only fight so many Moblins and Lizalfos before it gets old, no matter how many different colors they come in or how many different kinds of arrows they shoot at you. Having color-coded tiers of enemy difficulties is a good way of conveying enemy strength and player growth, but it's not an excuse to skimp on the overall number of different monsters. Redundant monsters also exacerbate the earlier problem of effectively satisfying the player with treasure chests. When you're killing the same enemy types for the thousandth time in order to get a weapon that will quickly break, it can feel like a bit of a grind at times.
A More Pronounced Soundtrack
I'll be completely honest here. I was originally going to be really petty and go with "Something that lets you climb in the rain" here. I know it's such a minor detail compared to the other changes I've called for, but it's so frustrating that even after beating the game, I'm helpless if I'm caught in the rain on the side of a cliff. I can chop down Lynels and Guardians without breaking a sweat, but rain can still defeat me. I can't count how many times I wished I could play the Song of Storms.
Of course, to do that Link would need some kind of musical instrument, which is something that was notably lacking in Breath of the Wild. Sure, Kass plays his ballads, but it's not the same as Link himself. From the eight instruments on Koholint Island to the titular Ocarina of Time to the Spirit Flute, we've grown accustomed to seeing Link with a magical instrument. There's just something fantastical about shaping the world around you with the power of music, and it's an element that I missed in Link's latest adventure.
In fact, Breath of the Wild was a little light in the music department in general. Large chunks of gameplay have no music at all, and much of the soundtrack is soft piano that all sort of blends together in the background. Towns and other important locations change things up a bit, but there just aren't many songs in Breath of the Wild that have stuck with me like the Gerudo Valley music in Ocarina of Time or the Dragon Roost Island theme from Wind Waker.
The most memorable music in the game for me is theme that plays whenever Link is spotted by a Guardian. It's intense and dramatic, and it instantly gets your heart pumping. The second you hear those first few keys played the tone is set for your terrifying encounter. A good soundtrack puts you in the right mood for whatever environment or situation you're entering, and Breath of the Wild's music was often too subtle to do that as effectively or memorably as previous Zelda games.
Banner image source: De-monVarela