Made it almost a month since the last installment in this series. Took a raft of nights with terrible sleep on top of the continued erosion of the rights of people I care about and a whole bunch of work stress, which just goes to show the number 1 factor in making me feel helplessly miserable is sleeping like shit. Which is a bit of a facetious joke, since I’m sure that just sleeping poorly wouldn’t make me feel miserable in the way I do today. Still, it’s not difficult to notice the pattern when you’re looking for it, which brings me to my today’s topic: dungeon puzzles in Breath of the Wild! Because I wasn’t kidding anytime I’ve suggested I could write a book about this video game. And once I’ve mined this game for useful topics, I can always turn to Majora’s Mask for another book’s worth of posts.
In Breath of the Wild, there are 141 dungeons in the game. 120 shrines and four divine beasts in the base game and then 16 more shrines and one final divine beast-like dungeon. One of the most important aspects of every single one of these dungeons is that everything you need to solve them is either the runes you got at the beginning of the game (in the first four shrines) or is contained within the dungeon itself. There is no extra experience required, no particular item (that isn’t provided), no skill needed, nothing but what you’ve had from the start of the game or what you are given while in the shrine itself. Other than that, the design of the dungeons tends to vary pretty widely, though there are many common elements to each the dungeons. After all, if you have bombs, the ability to lift and move metal objects, the ability to store energy in an object in order to release it all at once in order to launch said object or halt movement of most in-motion parts of these dungeons, and the ability to create pillars of ice in any water you can fit one of these pillars into, a lot of the required parts for those abilities to be useful are going to be used repeatedly.
Some dungeons are just battles against a particular type of enemy to test your strength, so not every single dungeon involves a puzzle. Those that do, though, all have the same goal or set of goals: arrive to a designated point and interact with something. Most of the puzzles involve figuring out how to get to the designated point in the shrine and picking up whatever treasure you can along the way. The ones that differ tend to require solving a puzzle or following clues to even get to the shrine and then you just have to walk up some stairs to get your prizes. The neat thing about keeping the goals of the puzzle simple is that it allows for a wide-variety of approaches to solving the puzzle.
Now, there’s usually a way the dungeon was designed to be solved. Using a combination of good video game design tactics, the dungeon leads you through the intended course of activities or challenges from start to finish. None of them feel particularly hard, taken alone, unless you as a player struggle with a particular aspect of the game (like I did with figuring out direction and force mechanics for the “stasis” rune that allows you to halt motion or put kinetic energy into objects by hitting them so they blast off once the stasis effect ends). Some can require a decent investment of time, some can require a few tries, and some are just monsters that have you wondering if maybe the person planning that shrine was just having a bad day when they built this one out. Still, so long as you spend time playing with the rules governing the game and keep your mind focused on the sole goal of arriving at the end of the shrine or dungeon, you can circumvent quite a few shrines.
The easiest one, that came naturally to me, is a shrine that forces you to hold on to a floating cube that travels through a maze of tunnels with fire jets that will damage you and knock you off the cube. The idea is to climb around the cube to avoid the fire jets, but if you upgrade some of your gear enough and get immunity to fire, you can just ride the cube to the end and not have to worry about the fire jets. You just pass harmless through them. There are a few other puzzles that get easier to do with certain elemental immunities you can gain through armor, though none are as entirely bypassed as this one. Then there’s bomb-assisted shield-jumping, which can get you higher and further than any standard jump at the cost of some hit points and bypass the actually challenging parts of several shrines.
Then there’s just the puzzles that, with a bit of lateral thinking, you can use the different runes in ways that aren’t what the puzzle clearly intends but that are still entirely valid. Typically, these are magnet (magnesis) or kinetic energy (stasis) puzzles, but you can also use ice pillars to climb waterfalls and get around entire sections of puzzles by simply flying over things. Honestly, there are so many possible solutions that there are entire YouTube compilations of non-standard puzzle solutions in Shrines. Not all of them are faster than the intended route, but they’re all pretty interesting to watch. I’ve learned so much about the game by watching the things other people have discovered, which usually sends me back to the game again. Either to try it out myself or because it’s just so cool to have a game with such a robust physics engine.
I don’t think any of the dungeons will ever be as memorable as some of the larger dungeons from previous games, and the general criticism of Breath of the Wild makes it clear that some people prefered the older, big dungeon format to this one, but I love how open the world has been and how it has encouraged lateral thinking rather than hunting down the right number of “Small Keys” so you can unlock the doors in the only possible order and slowly grind your way towards the boss because there’s really only one route through each dungeon. I much prefer the version of the game that encourages creative thinking.