Open-world games have been around for what feels like forever now, and the genre comes with its share of upsides and downsides. Many gamers prefer the more linear and structured approach of traditional games, whereas others enjoy the freedom provided by an open-world design. The Legend of Zelda series has dabbled in the open-world formula to varying extents in the past thanks to games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild represented a head-first dive in. It displayed clear influences from other games in the genre, but it also pushed the genre forward with new ideas, such as its “climb anywhere” mentality. Almost five years on, we’re finally starting to see other open-world games take influence from what Breath of the Wild (BOTW) got right.
What inspired Breath of the Wild?
When talking about the innovations that defined Breath of the Wild, we also have to acknowledge what Breath of the Wild took from existing games. True originality is difficult in the games industry, so, understandably, Nintendo drew inspiration from other open-world titles for its first true foray into the genre. The Grand Theft Auto series pioneered essential mechanics like receiving missions from quest givers in specific locations, while more contemporary series like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry have become famous for mechanics like finding towers to unlock sections of the map.
Ideas like these are almost impossible to do without in a modern open-world game, so Breath of the Wild clearly incorporated them. We see this in the numerous NPCs and quest givers that reside in Breath of the Wild’s many towns or stables, while the Sheikah Towers are directly analogous to the towers seen in Ubisoft games. Much like towers in those games, Breath of the Wild’s towers must be ascended to receive the reward of unlocking more of the map and its activities. The climbing in Assassin’s Creed games was a logical precursor to Breath of the Wild’s even more freeform climbing mechanics too. Ultimately, Breath of the Wild took these established ideas and used them as a foundation to innovate and create something that would push the genre forward.
The Breath of the Wild innovations that influenced new games to come
When players inevitably find the edges of explorable space in an open-world game, it breaks the immersion and sensation of freedom. Breath of the Wild meaningfully changed this for the better. The ability to climb any surface was a game-changer for exploration and the design of an open-world map. If everything on a map is completely explorable, the developer can now create more interesting terrain and hide secrets in places that challenge players to go find them. It was such a refreshing experience that Sony’s Horizon Zero Dawn felt more traditional and restrictive by comparison, despite releasing just a few days prior.
Breath of the Wild was also remarkably non-linear in its design. Core abilities were all given to the player from the beginning, and objectives could be tackled in any order, including heading straight for the final boss from the outset. It hearkened back to the wonders of the original Legend of Zelda, while also showing the genre how liberating these games can be. Some years later, we’re finally seeing new open-world games take influence from this.
Immortals Fenyx Rising used Greek mythology to provide context and commentary on your actions while also implementing climbing and gliding mechanics that mirrored Link’s latest abilities. Genshin Impact introduced the world to an anime gacha take on the formula. Its gliding and climbing mechanics were yet another example of Breath of the Wild’s influence, but it also introduced a unique twist by having its collectible gacha characters specialize in different attacks and move sets. Halo Infinite eschewed the linear design the series was known for in favor of an open world where a grappleshot provided limitless exploration, and physics-based combat and intelligent AI led to more creative gameplay akin to that of Breath of the Wild.
What does the future hold for these titles?
It took longer than expected, but aforementioned games like Halo Infinite and Genshin Impact are taking on influences from Breath of the Wild, and for the most part, they are being met with widespread praise and success. In the case of Halo Infinite, gaming media considers it a worthy return to form for the franchise, while Genshin Impact has been a money-making machine since its release. This begs the question of — where can these games go next?
Following in the footsteps of Breath of the Wild for climbing or open-world design is fine, but a new game needs to do more. For example, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has meaningfully adapted the Breath of the Wild formula for Pokémon by doing away with its hand-holding and offering better flexibility in its progression. Immortals Fenyx Rising attempted to place a greater emphasis on story, something that many Breath of the Wild players have complained about
And could the speedy gameplay of Sonic provide another twist in Sonic Frontiers? Its map will need to be designed to accommodate his movement capabilities, so how will Sega create an open world with those blistering speeds in mind? Meanwhile, Horizon Forbidden West has its own paraglider now, but it’s also displaying greater flexibility in scaling surfaces and underwater exploration.
Finally, how will the sequel to Breath of the Wild further expand upon the formula it popularized in the first place? Whether it’s through new game-changing abilities or taking exploration to the skies or underground, there are a lot of question marks about how Nintendo is using the long development time to make the sequel fans have been waiting for.
What do you think about open-world games taking influence from Breath of the Wild?