Breath of the Wild is full of emergent gameplay that takes you by surprise. A soon as you boot up the game, Hyrule’s gears are constantly turning and grinding against each other – at times threatening to break – producing a game world like no other. And that’s before you start interacting with it and all hell breaks loose (the good kind of hell at that.)
This dynamic world gave rise to one of my moments in a game this year. It wasn’t anything special in the grand scheme of my larger quest to defeat Ganon. It was a flash of clumsiness. A funny moment. Something I could barely see.
Let me set the scene.
I was exploring the eastern coastline near to Hateno village, following the orange light of a Shrine which I had spotted in the blur of the rain. This Shrine was seated on a cliff jutting out into the ocean. Before this shrine, however, was a giant skull repurposed into a Bokoblin settlement, with a couple of the pig-like beasts on lookout posts. Rather than engage with them, I snuck round the side of the cliff and visited the shrine unnoticed.
I wasn’t so lucky on the way back.
A Bokoblin spotted me, setting off a calamitous chain of events. He blew his horn, I raised my shield in anticipation. The clattering and growling coming from the cave told me I had to be prepared. It was at that moment I heard a large explosion from within the skull and the sound of pained Bokoblins.
I didn’t realise what had happened until I saw them running out of the skull’s mouth with flaming weapons. They had accidently set off an explosive barrel due to their own clumsiness. It was hilarious but simultaneously got me thinking.
I don’t know if anything like that will ever happen again. In a way, I still can’t believe it occurred. It is one of the many off-kilter events which happen in Breath of The Wild thanks to its interactive, tightly woven ruleset. The title of the game couldn’t be truer in the fact that this game really does breathe.
In most sandbox games I play, moments like these are few and far between. The parts which feel organic are impressive but often flicker out, quickly replaced with scripted awkwardness. In Breath of the Wild, moments like these keep coming and coming, rolling off the games tongue like poetry.
There were at least three Bokoblins running to where I was standing on the edge of the cliff. In a moment of pure instinct I made my move. I leapt backwards off the high ledge and glided back towards the rocky face, hanging on to it for dear life. Still charging head on, the Bokoblins slipped, falling to their deaths, weapons still alight.
The creatures of Breath of the Wild are likely programmed to not walk off of edges, but despite this, they still do sometimes. It actually feels like you are fighting angry, reckless monsters – rather than lifeless 3D models. They take their role in the breathing game world just as I do.
They blow themselves up, they blow each other up, all while trying to blow you up. It’s a glorious sight to behold!
Moments before they might have been dancing round the fire, sleeping, or wandering gormlessly around. I almost feel bad killing them.
Never-the-less I cleared out the Bokoblin camp, unlocking the reward chest. A storm had begun to brew overhead so I decided to rest in the giant skull until the next morning. It was at that moment the mechanics decided to say “screw you” to me in the best way possible.
Every week or so, a blood moon rises over Hyrule – respawning all the monsters which you have killed while exploring the world. It’s because of this that when I woke I was surrounded by an entire Bokoblin camp. And it is at that point I legged it, gliding off of the cliff to safety.
The way these mechanics interlock and mesh in seemingly impossible ways is the crux of Breath of the Wild’s success. I tried to recreate some of the events I described. I stood outside the camp to catch the Bokoblin’s attention – of course, they didn’t accidently explode this time.
Maybe if I tried enough they would slip up and do it again. However, I’m more content with the random occurrence to be left in my memory. The lesson Breath of the Wild has taught me, is that games should focus less on the monumental big bangs and more on the little sparks of light.
Because when those sparks of light come together, they make a story. A story unique to you.