What Zelda can learn from Skyrim

Because you can teach an old dog new tricks.

While the original Legend Of Zelda was definitely a pioneer in terms of a game being set in an open world, it's the upcoming Breath of the Wild where the series has truly embraced what the genre is known for today. With a sweeping landscape and the always appealing selling point of 'if you see it, you can travel there', in many ways it's brand new territory for Nintendo. And with that comes a lot of anticipation, excitement and intrigue.

A franchise that's been doing this - and doing it very successfully for years - is, of course, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls. With its established template yet ever evolving nature, the RPG has proven to be a monster hit, the recently remastered Skyrim sitting happily on top of this heap.

It's not too far out of the realms of common sense to say that next year's Zelda has taken a wry peek to see how this empire was built, and that certainly isn't a poor move either. In fact, there's a lot Zelda can actually learn from Skyrim as it takes this most bold of new steps. Following through with these ideas may actually help it no end.

The first of these undoubtedly comes in the form of the environment that you find yourself in. Skyrim does a terrific job in presenting you with a location that feels vibrant, and one that can drastically change depending where on the map you head. From the snow-covered Winterhold to the quaintness of Riverwood, every town or city has a very distinct identity that allows you to suspend your disbelief, a trait that's far too often forgotten about.

Hyrule has always pursued a similar path - anyone who played Ocarina Of Time understands how different Goron City is to Gerudo Valley - but it's been expanded to such a degree in Breath Of The Wild that more needs to be done. This shift has to feel utterly natural as well. You can't just hang a right and then be greeted with the fiery pits of an imposing dungeon. Skyrim seamlessly takes you through these changes, and it's imperative Zelda does, too.

The same can be said for its crafting system. Even having crafting feature in a game starring Link is a novelty - how long have we just been restricted to mixing potions or handed a new piece of equipment that rarely changes? - but the right amount of depth has to be present in order for it to resonate with the player.

Skyrim doesn't hold back in this regard at all, enabling you to produce poisons, armour, weapons. It even grants you the ability to cook. That it does all this without being overly complicated is a feather in Bethesda's cap, and it's certainly an area Zelda could study in its own approach.

We've already been shown that Link can whip himself up a feast in Breath of the Wild, but knowing there's so much more to the notion, and that everything and anything has the potential to be upgraded, cannot be ignored by Nintendo. That would be downright foolish. Which brings us to side quests. Zelda is no stranger to such things, but the major difference between Nintendo's offering and Skyrim is the magnitude of them. Whereas the former has often been accused of over-relying on fetch quests, the whole point of The Elder Scrolls is multiple pathways that all boast equal importance. The main storyline may progress the narrative, but there are literally hundreds of secrets waiting to be discovered should you wander off the beaten path.

If Breath of the Wild even hints at falling into an overly familiar pattern then the world it has built won't work in the way we all hope. It's important to know that random moments of exploration have a unique payoff, and that you're not just going through the motions. This variety can become essential.

As can the unexpected appearance of a dragon, mind. I'd never want to see the winged beast in Zelda, but the way Skyrim implemented these encounters was nothing short of terrific. Aside from adding a real sense of surprise - even when you were just minding your own business - it was just exceptionally cool, and encouraged you to either try and best it, or just run away like a damned coward. Then it was a case of figuring out what on earth you're meant to do in order to defeat one. A dragon that's also a puzzle? Count me in!

It's clear that you'll cross paths with the traditional array of Zelda enemies as you traverse Hyrule, but the threat that something larger could be a matter of minutes away would introduce a wonderful sense of dread. A sudden reminder that this isn't a walk in the park on a warm Sunday evening. Things are at stake. You shouldn't forget that.

Finally, it's only right to turn our attentions to the backstory and lore Skyrim was able to create. Although scouring through countless books or interpreting texts may not be everyone's idea of entertainment, it's an incredible achievement that a vast history like this exists in the first place. Nintendo knows how to tell a good story - even its simpler tales have a compelling twist to them - but ensuring that Zelda is also able to teach players about its world without shoving it down their throats is a skill in itself. Not only does it allow someone to get a greater understanding of the legend, but it's also expected when it comes to the genre. Ignoring it entirely may not be the company's smartest move. Although thankfully it wouldn't be the dumbest. That will die with the Virtual Boy. Trust me: I've got one in the attic.

The stars are certainly aligning to suggest that Breath of the Wild is going to be a highpoint in the Zelda series, but that certainly doesn't mean it can't learn a thing or two - or in this case five - from Skyrim. If it does, there's every chance it could fly higher than ever. And who wouldn't want that?

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Simon Miller

Simon Miller

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