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I’ve been playing a criminal amount of Skyrim on my Switch lately. I’m absolutely addicted: 290 hours of being addicted, to be exact. By the time I’m through here, I may well have a playtime that rivals my Breath of the Wild experience: 430 hours. Both games are phenomenal, and have earned their places as paragons of the open-world adventure titles. Yet they reach their level of acclaim in different ways: in the areas that Breath of the Wild excels in, Skyrim flounders in, and vice-versa. I figured it would be fun to elaborate on what exactly one game does better than the other. Having already covered what Breath of the Wild does better than Skyrim, I’ll now be addressing the inverse. Keep in mind that I am playing on the Switch version of Skyrim, so I can only speak to the console version.
The article on what Skyrim could learn from Breath of the Wild can be read here.
I can hear it already. Anguished voices bleating out, “ZELDA IS NOT AN RPG!!!!!1!” Perhaps not, but let’s face it: one of the biggest problems with Breath of the Wild, and Zelda in general, is that once you reach a certain point(and if you’re trying to experience the bulk of the game, then that point won’t be very far in) fighting enemies becomes entirely pointless. You don’t need the rupees, or monster parts, or whatever else they might drop. Link has already become an unstoppable force for good and will have no trouble fighting anything from then on out. Enemies are a mere nuisance, better to just ignore them and keep on running ahead. Combat ceases to be a draw for the game, and that’s one less factor keeping you engaged.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Skyrim, for instance, does a fantastic job of encouraging the player to fight every enemy they come across; enemies will scale to the level of the player. Breath of the Wild does this to some extent as well, though it’s much less developed and you’ll still find yourself curb stomping even the silver or gold variants far too soon. In addition to better scaling, Skyrim makes sure that you’ll always have incentive to engage in combat: the skill tree. Performing certain actions will raise your skill level in that area. For instance, casting enough destructive spells will raise your destruction level, which can put you closer to acquiring one of many perks on the destruction skill tree as well as pushing your character towards a level up. And it’s not limited to combat either; there are plenty of skills that can be expanded upon, such as sneaking and speech. Breath of the Wild could have adopted a similar system; give the player incentive to engage every enemy they see, or reward them for making proper use of the sneak mechanic. And it’ll allow the player a more satisfying sense of character progression, as opposed to nabbing some powerful weapon that’ll break, or using the Champion abilities to break the game.
Now, I’m not saying Skyrim doesn’t have a lot of empty space. It’s unrealistic to expect a massive, open-world game like Skyrim or Breath of the Wild to have overworlds that are completely packed with content, padding be damned. That just won’t happen. But Skyrim has a leg up in that there is a LOT more meaningful content to be found when traversing Skyrim than in Breath of the Wild. Caves, towers, huts, and fortresses are just a few of the various kinds of locations you might encounter when wandering the vast landscape, and while these may reuse assets so that they look a bit same-y, there’s still some unique and worthwhile content to be had. One cave, for instance, has you dealing with a crypt full of ghosts that culminates in a boss fight against a spirit named Halldir, who has lured people into the cave in order to suck the life out of them. In another example, a seemingly mundane hut houses a hidden passageway into a bandit’s lair with a secret treasure room. And there are unique weapons and armor to be found in many of these, in addition to a wealth of practical items and gold, so they’re always worth exploring. The overworld is positively LITTERED with these sorts of things, and while there is quite a bit of empty space between them, it’s forgivable thanks to the wealth of content that is present regardless.
Compare that to Breath of the Wild’s largely empty overworld. What does Nintendo offer in comparison to all the mini-adventures Skyrim lets you embark on? A metric fuckton of Bokoblin encampments. Just a few Bokoblins sitting around a campfire with a chest holding some mediocre reward. Sometimes there will be Lizalfos or Moblins. Yeah, that’s some real quality content, there. Then there are the Korok “puzzles”, a series of the same few mundane tasks that you can repeat over and over. Perhaps one would counter by bringing up the Shrines, but these carry their own problems; some of the puzzle-based ones are debatably not even puzzles(Let The Wind Guide You) and they keep rehashing these minor/modest/major tests of strength. There are some more interesting shrines like Eventide Island, but these are few and far between. Next time, instead of giving us “content” in the form of throwing out a few enemies to fight, padded “puzzles”, and stuffing collectibles all over the place, Nintendo could actually provide us with some meaningful content.
Breath of the Wild fails miserably in all three of these departments. I’m sorry, but it’s true. The main plot is shallow and full of wasted potential. The Yiga Clan is a disappointment – you can read all about that here – and the main plot’s structure is as formulaic as it is shallow. And while Zelda is arguably the deepest she’s ever been, the rest of the characters don’t amount to any more than one-dimensional archetypes; how could they, with their five minutes of screentime? And the worldbuilding is shallow too. I’ve heard countless times that “there’s worldbuilding, you just have to look for it”, but honey, I’ve looked all over the game, and there really isn’t much. It’s not like talking to these depth-devoid NPCs is going to help the world feel developed. There are a few hidden journal entries lying about, but that ain’t much. And the lore? We don’t even know where on the timeline this game is supposed to be, and I don’t think Nintendo does either(and they clearly don’t care) so nobody can make the argument that there was effort put into the lore.
Skyrim utterly destroys Breath of the Wild in these criteria. The main plotline about the return of the dragons and the bitter civil war that plagues Skyrim is INFINITELY more engaging than the minimum-effort plot Breath of the Wild put forth. The worldbuilding and lore is cemented as superior simply by the fact that there are HUNDREDS of books scattered throughout the game that can be read to help provide context for the world as it stands. Add to this the fact that there are some NPCs that actually have a bit more to them than being pure tropes.
Perhaps this all seems like Breath of the Wild bashing and/or blowing smoke up Skyrim’s proverbial ass, but I can assure you that is not the case; an article that addresses what Skyrim could learn from Breath of the Wild can be read here.