Early access, early thoughts: Book of Travels

I suddenly started seeing coverage for Book of Travels this past Thursday. That happened to be the day after the game launched for early access, after an apparently delayed development process. I knew none of this context. I hadn’t even heard of Swedish indie developer Might and Delight before this. I just knew, upon seeing screenshots of the game and reading descriptions of its focus, that this seemed very much so a game for people like me. I just started playing yesterday and have fallen thoroughly in love with this charming title.

Might and Delight is marketing Book of Travels as a Tiny Multiplayer Online RPG, or a TMORPG (in contrast to MMORPGs, of course). Individual servers are capped at seven players. While you could easily join some friends in a shared server and chat over Discord, socialization within the game is rather light and whimsical. There is no chat text bar. There is only a selection of simple emotes to communicate basic ideas and emotions, just enough to potentially nudge other players to work together. Groups are organically assembled just by being around others for a little bit, but they’re also easy to leave. Most of your time, you will probably be alone, wandering the idyllic fields and forests of this fantasy world.

There are other big differences. The game’s core priorities and mechanics are quite different from most MMORPGs. The very start feels different, as you pick broad, archetypal Forms rather than specific classes, and you pick a variety of background elements like a basic origin story, a starting “wind” that you were born under that relates to things you are inclined toward rather like a meteorological astrology alternative, and some basic descriptors for your external appearance. A great deal can be augmented with free text fields, empowering organic roleplaying rather than mechanics-focused results. Those free text fields are even used for age and gender. While you can type in a nickname, your first and last name are supposed to be important to your character and determined through in-game dice roles to ensure that everyone has an immersive identity; your starting equipment, just some basic clothing, food, and/or tools, is also rolled. A focus on roleplaying and immersion are therefore baked in from the start. The game should feel different from any other MMORPG, with beautiful storybook imagery presented from a side-view perspective, with obstructing trees or rocks popping into or out of view as you advance toward the foreground or retreat into the background; movement and interaction are both guided by a point-and-click system that feels far more like what I’d expect in a classic/retro adventure game or isometric RPG. Where stats matter most, perhaps, is when completing endeavors, which require the application of a skill at a certain level to do something like completing a mystic ritual at a shrine or fixing a machine. Stats are augmented not just by the player character’s individual ability but also by equipment and the presence of other player characters working in a group to complete an endeavor, so even then there is more than one way to complete these optional events. There are tasks given to you, but there is no automated journal, and there are no quest markers; you need to make your own notes in your own real-world notebook and consult the in-game maps to determine what you’re needing to accomplish and where. Magic is also a little different, with instant-effect magical abilities achieved through the tying of knots imbued with reagents and longer-term status effects achieved through the brewing of special teas.

I understand that roleplaying is always available in any MMORPG. Collecting herbs and fishing are common tasks. But they’re additional features. Roleplaying and immersion are not the focus. I remember the old description of two open-world game types: theme parks versus sandboxes. Theme parks are oriented around keeping the player constantly entertained with structured diversions. Sandboxes don’t have structure, they just provide an open setting for players to interact with and hopefully make their own fun in. Most MMORPGs are theme parks, whereas Book of Travels is decidedly a sandbox with a focus on player-inflected, dynamic storytelling (though there are plenty of interesting characters and events, and there is plenty of interesting lore, within this sandbox).

There is no main quest to set off on. To the extent that there’s a larger narrative, I’ve barely touched on it (if at all) so far in my travels. I follow hints, tips, and rumors disclosed by non-player characters I encounter. I set off for interesting destinations on my map or explore interesting features within the region I find myself in. I have mostly just wandered the roads, and sometimes off-road, interacting with the denizens of the land, discovering new things, running a few errands for people I encounter, and collecting herbs and flowers and other botanical odds and ends. I could tell you that those plant samples are going to be used as reagents for magical knots and teas, but I honestly just like collecting them as I explore. My character’s Form is that of “The Mosswalker,” whose cryptic description states, “Deep cleft bright in small delight.” The associated artwork shows a figure, sunhat tipped low, reclined against a grassy slope, smoking a pipe with a tea set prepared nearby, shoes kicked off and a couple bundles of items dropped to the ground. I’ve used that as inspiration for a languid, easy-going fellow who simply enjoys seeing the world, rather in line with the brief introductory scene describing the character as wandering off from a caravan to explore a given path. I walk almost always, almost everywhere (and the stamina system encourages walking). I spend long stretches of time in the game picking plants or fishing or simply observing. I’ve only played for eight hours so far, but it’s significant that I have not fought man or beast throughout that time and do not even own a weapon. You can certainly play a character in pursuit of danger and adventure, and I might at some point start such a character, but I love that there’s a multiplayer RPG that prioritizes roleplaying, immersion, and adventure over combat and leveling. For that matter, I’m not even impeded in advancement, to the extent that I need/want to advance my characters’ skill repertoire, since you get Knowledge Points (basically experience points) simply by interacting with things and people in the world and learning more.

There are two really fun social interactions I’ve had in the game so far that I’d like to share, as well. First, I happened across another Traveler who was fishing off a pier near a teahouse. I used emotes to indicate a friendly greeting and a thumbs up, and the other player reciprocated. I joined them at the pier and started fishing too. We stood side by side, simply fishing, for maybe a half an hour. About halfway through, I chose an emote indicating two people and gave a thumbs up, and they emoted a smile in return. When the other player finally went off to pursue some adventure, they waved goodbye, and I did the same with a heart icon, which they reciprocated as well. I’ll never know who that person was, and I very likely will never encounter their character again, but it was a surprisingly peaceful, authentic, and human interaction between two people, two total strangers, just sharing some time together.

The other unique incident was when I was wandering through a familiar orchard at night; I came across a person who needed greater mystical help than I could provide, but there was another Traveler nearby. I initiated the endeavor, and without any further prompting, the other Traveler joined in, and we succeeded. We exchanged thumbs-up and parted ways. Just simple little encounters that still felt really special and powerful in the moment.

There are some bad things. So far, it’s nothing to do with the gameplay or the world as designed. There are just a lot of bugs. I’ve had a lot of issues with using the train or the ferry to travel places; the game has trapped me in areas after disembarking, or it has warped me back and forth between my departure and arrival points. These issues were always fixed by logging out or exiting the game and signing into a server again. I made sure to report the issue, of course, since it’s an early access game and the point is to further develop and improve the game until its full, official release. There has also been a problem where my character simply does not exist on many servers; this has been a widespread enough issue that it seems to have been prioritized, and there was an update on one of the game’s Discord channels today that this should have been resolved through a server reset. There have been a few other, less disruptive issues, as well. Given how much fun I’ve had, they’re all worth putting up with. But you might want to keep that in mind if you’re considering whether to hop into Early Access or wait.

Other than some issues that I am confident will be ironed out in the coming days and weeks, I love virtually everything about this game. We’ll see how long I stay with it, but I could see myself continuing to play for longer than I have any traditional MMORPG. It’s fresh and exciting and original and really feels like I’m discovering a genuine new land with its own distinct cultures, an experience I haven’t felt with a game since perhaps Morrowind. And the developers are promising considerable new content, with many more lands opening up, as the game continues in its Chapter Zero segment of Early Access. I’m excited to see where its roads take me.

A couple trips around San Andreas

I’ve been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto lately. It’s been something of an obsession, playing these games again. I played GTA IV and went through the ending in which Roman, instead of Kate, dies. This was a first for me, and so I started playing The Lost and Damned to continue exploring old content that I hadn’t given a chance before. I finished that story, so I played The Ballad of Gay Tony, which I’d never touched at all before.

On finishing that, I took a short break from the series before launching into GTA V. I did some things differently and encountered some new content I’d missed before (it’s a very big game), but I certainly didn’t touch everything, and there are still some heist options I’ve never selected. Still, I finished the story. I chose Option C again, working to save all the protagonists and taking out all their enemies, because it’s the only option that feels right to me, after hours playing as all three of the protagonists, and leaving the choice to Franklin, who reads as primarily a loyal follower throughout much of the game and who had just overcome a selfish urge to abandon his old friend in an earlier mission. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to betray a friend after that, especially a mentor. And everyone getting something close to a happy ending feels right.

I took another very brief break before returning to the land of San Andreas in the game with the same name, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It’s been quite a while since I’ve interacted with this game, and it holds a special place in my heart. It was certainly my favorite of the original 3D era, and even now in the HD era, it’s probably still my favorite title in the whole franchise (with the caveat that I haven’t played any of the 2D games, any of the side Stories titles, or Grand Theft Auto Online, which has certainly become its own thing instead of a multiplayer component to V).

There are many reasons that I’ve always favored San Andreas. For one thing, it’s an incredibly expansive game. There are three major cities and quite a lot of countryside in the game. There’s a whole system within the game of slowly conquering territory in Los Santos to expand the Grove Street Families. It was the first game to allow the protagonist to swim, but it added and refined a variety of other features, like flying planes and riding dirt bikes and parachuting and using jet packs. It also gave the player a lot of choice in what to do, with a range of activities scattered about. And while the entire series’ signature is providing a massive, open world to wreak havoc in, San Andreas leaned heavily into roleplaying territory. You could customize your appearance and work to improve stats. There was even a hunger/energy system that required you to eat to stay alive and healthy but that could also result in your protagonist getting fat if you didn’t stay active enough.

Furthermore, I think the game benefited from being focused on a hyper-specific setting, like Vice City. Whereas all GTA games are dark satires with absurdist elements that often disrupt any emotional depth to the stories, Vice City and San Andreas at least feel like they represent something more than violence and anarchy. Vice City is very much so a parody of Miami in the eighties, and the focus on developing the aesthetic and sense of time/place gives the game what feels like a bit more substance. It helps, too, that Vice City leans hard into particular pop culture elements instead of the usual hodgepodge of crime narratives, benefiting from stories and themes drawn from products like Scarface and Miami Vice. Similarly, San Andreas attempts to emulate Los Angeles in the nineties, and it too draws from specific works, notably hood films like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society for its first act.

In addition to all the above, I just really like C.J., the game’s protagonist, and the cast of acquaintances he makes. C.J. is defined by loyalty to his family and friends. He’s a little goofy, has a bad sense of humor, and doesn’t always make smart decisions or think things through. But he is quick to trust those he likes, and his trust is usually rewarded (with two very big exceptions). C.J. wants to better himself, and a lot of the story is about him finding ways to grow beyond the impoverished urban life he came from (it’s a GTA story, so those ways largely involve crime and corruption). And this is the only GTA title I’m aware of to build toward a single, cohesive happy ending. In comparison:

  • In III, silent protagonist Claude is motivated by revenge against a former lover. He makes few friends and seems to have no close relationships. Most of the people around him end up dead–often at Claude’s hand. He betrays and is betrayed repeatedly. And even his triumph at the end feels hollow. The whole game delights in nihilism and dark satire, and that’s reflected in the story. Its misanthropic themes play out to the very end, when it is suggested that he kills a romantic interest he rescues, merely because she annoys him. He is a pure sociopath and develops no true connections with others.
  • In Vice City, Tommy Vercetti is considerably more charming than Claude, but he’s still a thug and a sociopath. He rises to great heights, carving out his own empire in the titular city, but he makes few true friends and mostly succeeds by killing off the competition. In fact, the game culminates in his betrayal by his partner, Lance, who worked in collaboration with his old mob boss. Sure, Tommy ends the game with a small circle of “friends,” most notably the drug-addicted, weaselly mob attorney he connects with at the start of the game, but it’s still a tale that traces its roots to the tragic arc of Scarface, trading out a final death for material triumph.
  • In GTA IV, Niko is repeatedly betrayed throughout. He has at least two friends left at the end of the game–Little Jacob and Brucie. But the game’s endings result in the death of either his cousin, who is also his best friend, or his girlfriend, who is implied to be the love of his life. And Niko never really makes it to the top, no matter how much money he makes. At best, he can scorch enough earth around him to hopefully reach a point where no one is sending hitmen after him anymore. But it is clear that he will remain haunted by his past.
  • In TLAD, Johnny has taken down most of his biker gang. He has only a few close associates left. He’s cut his codependent, drug-addicted girlfriend out of his life. He’s killed some friends and lost some others. And he doesn’t have much going for him. The whole story feels bleak, a narrative of a fall rather than a rise. And given that Johnny and his remaining friends are all killed off by Trevor Phillips early in GTA V, it turns out that there’s no happy ending after the credits after all.
  • In TBOGT, Luis and Tony end up basically where they started. They have the nightclubs and they have each other. But they haven’t really gained anything from their experience.
  • In GTA V, the ending depends on player choice. But only Option C seems like a really happy ending, since a protagonist ends up dead at the hands of Franklin in the other options. I’ll concede that Option C is a happy ending, but it feels more like tying up loose ends in response to plot twists guided by a series of structured heists, the repercussions of Michael’s past actions, and Trevor’s chaotic and unpredictable interventions. Michael and Trevor might be on relatively friendly terms, but there’s still a lot of unresolved hostility between them. And Franklin keeps his mentors and his close friend Lamar, but he still lives alone in a big house. Given that he complains that Michael’s life alone in a big house when his family temporarily leaves him is depressing, it stands to reason that Franklin might be wealthy but still feels as empty as he did at the start of the game.

In contrast, C.J. ends his journey considerably wealthier and surrounded by friends and family. He has found not just material success but happiness. While he had to deal with the consequences of some very close betrayals, his loyalty is largely rewarded, and he ends his adventure having broadened his family to include many new and interesting friends.

That all said, every GTA game is a satire. Every game wants to be loud, shocking, and crass. In attempting to push the limits, the games often veer into shock-value territory populated by shows like South Park or Family Guy. There are way too many “jokes” that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. Even in a game modeled after hood films and following a black protagonist, there is no serious effort to deal with systemic or everyday racism, and to the extent that racist systems are acknowledged, they have no real impact on game systems and often are handled via offhanded comments. (In other words, it’s very clear that these games have been creatively shaped by white, cisgendered, heterosexual, middle-class male Gen-Xers.) Every game tells a larger-than-life story full of violence, depravity, and mayhem. Even the most mentally balanced of protagonists can be led through wanton destruction between missions under player control, and every game has big set-piece missions involving the killing of dozens of cops and gangsters. These are not games set in a morally just universe, and they are not games about good and true heroes. But San Andreas came closest to telling a story about a hero trying to do the right thing for people he cared about–and actually succeeding.

Keeping the peace in an open-world game

I’ve been reading about open-world games recently, and it’s got me thinking about the failings of a certain type of open-world game. Too often, it feels like a game becomes open-world because it’s a feature to try to sell people on the title, regardless of whether it actually adds any value to the experience. Just for one example, this appears to be what happened with Mafia III. (“At first, it was envisioned as a straightforward revenge tale, but 2K boss Christoph Hartmann wanted Mafia III to compete with Rockstar . . . . He wanted districts, empire-building, and a massive open world.”)

One game type that seems particularly unsuited for the open-world concept, despite being routinely drafted in this way, is the law-enforcement game.

There are many types of stories that can be told about the police: some can portray peace officers in a positive or heroic way, some can present crooked or abusive or outright corrupt and villainous cops, and many are mixed and complicated. And there have been some pretty good crime drama stories to come to video games. Two prominent examples are L.A. Noire and Sleeping Dogs. But both games suffer from an open world that seems to exist mainly to just give the players the option of doing something else, even if there’s not much to do with the feature.

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L.A. Noire in particular tells a complicated and gritty noir story, with each chapter diced between increasingly gruesome and unexplainable murders. The player’s investigation of crime scenes and attempts to tease out the truth in tense interviews with witnesses and suspects make up the bulk of the main form of gameplay. Over the course of the game, I suspect that just about any player questions whether they’re making the right call–and, without giving up too much for those who haven’t played, the end of the game reveals that the whole truth was more complicated than we could imagine for many of these cases.

But in between these tense and disturbing criminal investigation scenes, and the occasional obligatory shootout mission, we have long stretches of just driving around. There’s not all that much to do, apart from hunting down useless collectibles, seeking out 1940’s Los Angeles landmarks, and participating in a series of twitchy and repetitive street enforcement missions. The little side missions in particular feel like an effort to give a greater range of ways to interact with the game, but they all boil down to distracting radio calls to drive halfway across the city just to participate in the same repetitive mixture of shoot-outs, chases, and twitchy hostage-rescue shots.

The map is big, but there’s very little to organically draw the player in. This is probably at least in part a product of shifting design decisions, but when one is on the straight-and-narrow as an upstanding law enforcement officer, the crazy high jinks that typically make open-world games so entertaining have to be reined in. In place of rampaging through the city, the distractions that are inserted feel very gamey indeed and quickly grow tedious. And the player can even choose to skip from destination to destination, having their partner drive instead. The game very much so feels like a fairly linear, structured game arbitrarily mounted onto an open-world framework.

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Similarly, Sleeping Dogs is a cool story about an undercover cop trying to bust gangs in Hong Kong. Where L.A. Noire obviously draws on the film noir genre, Sleeping Dogs pulls from martial arts films and contemporary cop dramas. While one could commit criminal acts, there was a certain incentive to continue to operate largely within the scope of the law within the overworld map. Even if one were to go on a rampage, it would detract from the story being told.

And that story is pretty well-told! But it’s a story that relies heavily on cinematic scenes and fast-paced martial arts action sequences. By adding another fairly restrained open world, with fairly limited interactivity (another round of landmarks and collectibles), the world feels less organic and more a maze of lengthy car rides between missions.

Open-world games excel when story is more in the background. The focus should be on exploring the world, and it should be packed with fun things to do. The ability to cause chaos and see how effects radiate out from that chaos is often a big source of fun. Unpredictable playing experiences in true sandbox games allow for dynamic, organic stories that can do away with scripted storytelling altogether. The highlights of an Elder Scrolls game or a Grand Theft Auto game very rarely have to deal with the main plot, after all (or at least have more to do with cleverly designed missions in that main plot that take advantage of the open-world systems in the game).

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Either the open world is bland and gets in the way of the main story, or the main story feels like a railroaded obligation amid all the other fun to be had. I think that the Grand Theft Auto series demonstrates this rather well. Grand Theft Auto IV might have had the most original story in the franchise and seemed to have a lot to say in its dark and decaying world where the American dream is an illusion always just out of reach. But that story was somewhat defeated by the wanton chaos players could get up to between missions and by the easy ability to earn more and more money, and so much of that story was wasted on driving from point to point on the map. Other games have felt a lot more derivative, but they’ve focused more on the open world and benefited from it (especially Vice City with its introduction of investment properties, San Andreas with its huge world packed full of things to discover and weird people and beautiful environments and an exponential multiplication of activities and jobs, or Grand Theft Auto V with its three characters to rotate through to keep the fun going and a bank-heist-centered plot that focused on channeling the chaotic entertainment of the main game rather than burning out in an over-long drag).

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Being able to truly do anything, story (and morals) be damned, seems key to a really fun open-world game that will keep pulling the player back. While Red Dead Redemption has a story that is arguably about law enforcement (since you’re playing an against-his-will bounty hunter), the protagonist’s antagonism toward the federal government and the setting in the Wild West allow for a lot of less-than-virtuous gunplay and no-good deeds that don’t feel too far out of character or inappropriate. Plus, there are a lot of random encounters and side jobs and weird things to get up to while moseying across the plans or into towns. And despite the above, I think that the game suffers by having an overly long and dreary linear story, much like Grand Theft Auto IV.

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As a final example, the original Crackdown, despite ostensibly being about a law enforcement super-agent meant to take down out-of-control gangs, is really about causing as much devastation as possible across the map. The absurd power fantasy is front and center, and while your interactivity with the world is mainly limited to fighting bad guys and scaling the environment for collectibles, the game succeeds (to the extent that it does) by keeping the focus on chaos and player experience rather than a soggy story. (Not a law enforcement-focused game, but Mercenaries had a pretty similar model.)

In summary, games about law enforcement typically have dramatic stories that they want to tell. To the extent that an open world is involved, it often gets in the way of that story, either by being thematically dissonant or by simply disrupting the story with a lot of padding. And even where the open world might otherwise work, the hindrance of presenting an open world that requires a more constrained hand by the player (or more invisible walls on conduct) defeats the purpose of having that open world in the first place.

Zelda: A Breath of Fresh Air

I haven’t had a lot of free time since the start of the new year, but I have been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in some of that free time. I started the game last year after I wound down on Super Mario Odyssey. I have put a lot of hours into it, though I only played a couple hours between the end of Christmas week and this week. Yesterday, I played a lot again. I’d been stuck on one of the Divine Beasts, and the break let me rethink the layout of the dungeon, and suddenly it seemed really easy, and I got the boss fight down pretty quick, and then it was back to wandering and exploring the world, and I felt the urge to complete my map, and to unlock a particular item, and the hours piled up pretty quickly.

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This game is so much fun for me. But I’ve never really liked Zelda games that much? I have started very many Zelda games–the original, and Zelda II, and A Link to the Past, and Twilight Princess, and Wind Waker…I keep trying because my wife’s a Zelda fan, and so we’ve accumulated the games, and since they’re around I’ll attempt them, but they never really capture me. The games often start off with an exciting promise of adventure, but they quickly feel repetitious and incredibly gamey: go to dungeon, solve puzzle, earn item to defeat boss, return to overworld to go to next dungeon, and repeat. The quirky characters, mythic archetypes, and exotic environments aren’t enough to compensate for too-transparent mechanics. I recognize that this is a minority opinion among gamers. I have been assured that I missed out on the Great Zelda Games by not playing Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask along with my age cohort, and maybe so. But I can’t approach those games with nostalgia now, roughly two decades later, and I have to imagine that if the formula felt stale with later games, I’m not going to fall in love with more of the same plus outdated graphics. (Counterpoint: the Zelda game I’d previously played the most of was Wind Waker, which had loads of personality, and its cartoony graphics were of benefit to the game.)

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I doubt that I will ever play a Zelda game to one hundred percent completion. But I actually feel pretty confident that I will at least finish the main quest of Breath of the Wild. This is largely due to the fact that the game provides a wonderful feedback loop that rewards my doing just about anything, and that “anything” often intersects with the main story without a sense of repetitious obligation. So much of the fun of the game has been exploring the sprawling open world, and exploring actually contributes to the larger game. I find towers, which unlock sections of the map. I find shrines, which reward spirit orbs so that I can upgrade stamina and health. I find cool gear scattered about. I wander into side quests and even main quests.

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In fact, I sort of stumbled into the main quest. As soon as you leave the opening plateau of the game, where Link has been resurrected after a colossal defeat a hundred years prior, you are encouraged to go to Kakariko village and ultimately to seek out Impa, Zelda’s old aide. When you first reach Impa, she tells you that you should not agree to help until you are sure that you are willing to risk your life. I decided that no, I was not willing to commit to that yet, so I used the time to wander the world. My wandering led me to the Zora domain, where the over-eager Prince Sidon strong-armed me into assisting him in clearing the danger to his realm. By the end of that quest, Link was stronger and more experienced and had recovered memories of Princess Mipha, his Zora childhood friend who had loved him dearly. My random wandering had skipped ahead a bit in the main quest, but it felt perfectly natural, like it should have been experienced in that order (my only regret is that now the particular incarnation of Ganon fought there will never be captured in my monster appendix, since I hadn’t unlocked the in-game camera yet). Link returned to Impa with new resolve, willing to fight to honor the memory and spirit of Mipha. Learning more about Zelda and the other Champions has provided more motivation.

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The ability to stumble into story is powerful. It’s an interesting type of emergent or dynamic storytelling: the core segments of the main narrative are still scripted and linear, but they can be remixed and recombined based on how the player interacts with them. And that’s on top of the player-driven storytelling that spins out of simply exploring the environment, coming across monster camps or helping people in distress or climbing a tall cliff or hunting for dinner or playing with the mixture of elements to see what happens when you apply blade to tree or fire to grass and snow. Those player-driven story elements in such a big world with so much to do (and so many ways to do it) let me simply wander off to something else if I’m bored or frustrated with the main quest line. Even fast travel is beautifully implemented as part of the game’s narrative, and fast traveling feels like a continuation rather than a disruption from immersion.

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The game also does a great job of presenting a set of tools very early on and letting players use them how they see fit. Fire burns wood and grass and melts ice; water extinguishes fire; magnetic powers can pull on most metals; freezing powers can make columns out of most water; electricity is conducted by metals, whether an obvious metal box or the sword in your inventory. Being able to rely on the game systems consistently allows for a lot of experimentation and sometimes unexpected outcomes. It’s fun and rewarding.

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Obviously, a lot of what I like about this Zelda game is reflected in the other open-world playground games I’ve loved, particularly games like The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto and Fable. The malleability of the environment here is a huge plus. But I also like the main story enough to stay engaged. It’s very anime: certain archetypes (or stereotypes) are present, and there’s plenty of melodrama, and the dialogue is often cornball. But it does an excellent job of characterizing Link’s companions and giving you a reason to care, even while Link remains the (mostly) blank-slate silent protagonist. Truthfully, I don’t believe that I have ever shipped so many relationships in a video game before, let alone a Zelda game. But already I’m pretty strongly Link/Mipha and Urbosa/Zelda (I’m only through two Divine Beasts, so I don’t know the other Champions well enough yet). I wouldn’t have guessed that going in. But of course, there are plenty of quirky, weird, and moronic characters providing a lot of background flavor and humor behind all the big melodrama…

 

Anyway, the game came out almost a year ago, and I’m only (maybe) halfway through, so this isn’t really a review (certainly not a timely one), and it’s not a complete reflection on my experiences. But I just get really excited about this game, and I felt the need to share some of that excitement here.