Things have been rough lately. I’ve made some personal gains, but it frequently feels like the world is crumbling around us as violence, hatred, and complicit indifference take center stage to the exclusion of mere decency and tolerance. I don’t have a quick answer to those problems, I don’t have the ability to make great change by myself, and I can barely get past my own anger and trauma enough to work on taking what are (in my opinion) the bare minimum steps a decent person can take in response to the world we find ourself in. What I can do, though, is provide a small escape. So today, when I’m tired and sad because of the world we find ourselves in, let’s talk about the power of the horizon in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
One of the very first wide-view, cinematic shots you get in Breath of the Wild is an establishing shot for all of Hyrule. You emerge from years of slumber and recovery into a wide open world, with a view of a volcano spewing fire, a massive castle shrouded in darkness, and a sunrise over the mountains that range south from said volcano. It is a grand, sweeping vista that makes it abundantly clear that the world you’re in is huge and full of places to explore. While the game restricts you to the introductory plateau until you’ve had a chance to learn the ropes, unlock your powers, and learn the general purpose of the game, it never restricts your view of the world around that plateau. In fact, given the rather abrupt end to most of the ground that isn’t protected by a wall and the sheer surface of the cliffs, it almost encourages you to look outward any time you come to an edge of the plateau.
Once you’ve finished the intro and can finally dive into the world that you’ve only been able to look at so far, your first quest target involves weaving a path directly east. Sure, you could go off-road and just walk directly toward your quest marker (and that’s totally a viable way to play the game. It isn’t even difficult if you take the beeline approach), but there is that massive mountain to the east that has been cut right down the middle. It’s so interesting and the sun rises right between the halves of the mountain while you’re walking toward it. How can you not want to explore it? Following that path, it leads you past an easy-to-access collection of shrines and one of the towers you can use to update your map, thereby establishing the sort of general approach you should take to world exploration via roadways.
If you go the other way, though, if you break away from the roads and take the beeline approach, you learn about the other way the game guides you to shrines and places of interest. As you move through the various hills, around a lake, far past the map tower, and up some rolling hills toward the western entrance to Kakariko Village, you start to spot other shrines. The first one you will probably run into is next to a stable, introducing you to the idea that most places where you can find NPCs and quests have shines near them (the road way introduces this idea as well, but two shrines later one). After that, you can see the next shrine right up the river, along with a sunken forest, a mire full of massive bones, and a strange rising road across a bridge past the shrine on the island where the river splits. You stop looking adjacent to your path and look towards the wide horizons this path affords for where you should go next.
One of my favorite parts of this game is that there is almost always something interesting to go check out no matter where your camera is pointed (so long as it isn’t pointed straight down or straight up). As long as you are looking outward, there will be something for you to run towards. Even as you follow a road carved into the winding hills and low mountains that conceal Kakariko Village, there is always something to explore, either along the road or scattered around the tops of the cliffs that border your road. On my first play through, even though I wound up eventually following the road through the mountain cleft (only after climbing the mountains around it, falling off said mountain multiple times, learning a lot about Koroks, discovering the trials of climbing in the rain, and jumping across the cleft so I could get both shrines at the peaks), my favorite detail from the trip to Kakariko village was discovering one of the little pools right before you entered the village had a trickling stream of water you could follow up the cliff to a rock that had a Korok hiding underneath it.
Every time I’ve run off toward something I thought was interesting, I’ve found myself rewarded. Even if there wasn’t a shrine, a wandering NPC, or a Korok, there was a grand vista or interesting topographical feature. One of my favorites is the Ancient Tree Stump near Mount Daphnes (just west of the Hyrule Field map tower). There’s a sunken, ruined village to its northwest, a small lake with no clear source that shows the massive root system of this once mighty tree, and a single massive flaming sword stuck into its stump. There’s a Korok there, sure, but this whole area is just this stump, the weapon, and the Korok. There’s nothing else there for you to find, except a great view of Hyrule castle, the river that passes north of Hyrule castle, and the path up the cliffs to the west (over the river). The main purpose of this location is to show you how many other interesting places you can go. And, you know, to be a really cool scene to explore.
Even on my 4th or 5th playthrough (I think it’s my 4th complete playthrough, 5th overall), I find a great deal of joy in letting the horizon guide me. Instead of focusing on how to get to the places where I remember quest items or powerful weapons can be found, I give my camera a spin and run off towards whatever catches my attention. It is inefficient, slow, and rather unwieldy at the best of times (I keep winding up places that are absolutely lethal to Link because I’ve got so few hearts and I’m playing Master Mode), but this is the most fun I’ve had playing the game since my first time through it. I can’t recommend this style of play enough.