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Elden Ring and Zelda: Breath of the Wild — Choosing Your Own Adventure

by Alex Orlando

You wake up in an ancient tomb, with no idea of how much time has passed while you slept. After some quick tutorial advice, your path forward is blocked by a hefty stone door. As you open it, the door slowly rises, almost like a curtain rising on the adventure ahead. A gentle musical cue sets in right when you see it — a vast open world stretching before you, bathed in light and clouds, begging to be explored.

This, of course, is what happens in the opening moments of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But it’s also (roughly) the same sequence of events that kicks off your journey in The Lands Between, where From Software’s Elden Ring takes place.

It’s no secret that Breath of the Wild set a new standard for open-world games almost immediately after its release in 2017. Elden Ring has already seized the crown, becoming a similarly-praised critical juggernaut almost overnight. During the months since its release, there has been no shortage of comparisons between the two franchises. In an interview with Xbox Wire Japan, Elden Ring director Hidetaka Miyazaki said that the game doesn’t take inspiration from any game in particular; he’s personally been influenced by other open worlds, including Breath of the Wild’s.

It makes sense, right? For years, open world games (at least, the big budget ones) have had a particular structure and design philosophy: checkpoints, quest markers, and mini-maps littered with icons. If you’ve played anything from Assassin’s Creed to Spider Man to Ghosts of Tsushima, you know the drill. So when Breath of the Wild threw much of that template in the trash, it felt truly freeing. You don’t have to mindlessly tick through items on a quest log or follow a predetermined course across the map — thanks to its climbing system and sprawling overworld, it feels like you could really go anywhere.

In that sense, Elden Ring is more than a worthy successor. There are no quest markers or mini-maps turning your gameplay into a series of mindless tasks. If you spot a point of interest on the horizon — say, the gothic spires of the magical academy of Raya Lucaria — it's up to you to figure out how to get there (well, for the most part; Elden Ring’s open world is stitched together by meticulously crafted environments that feel more narrow than Breath of the Wild’s). And much like how I felt I could never tame Hyrule’s vast, post apocalyptic wilderness, The Lands Between feels similarly sprawling and mysterious, with secrets tucked inside every cave and catacomb.

But, to me, the similarities between these games are more than a matter of game mechanics or map size. It’s a feeling, a tingle of excitement in your stomach as you set off to explore. More than anything, it’s about capturing the spirit of adventure that made me fall in love with Zelda in the first place.

A Playground of Possibility

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a dragon in Breath of the Wild. The way its spindly body undulated across Eldin Canyon. The serene music. The awe I felt when it wound its way overhead, revealing just how big it was in the process. It was the first time I’d ever encountered something that truly unexpected in a Zelda game.

Similarly, the first time I encountered one of Elden Ring’s walking mausoleums is seared into my brain. For a while, all I heard was the thunderous tolling of a bell in the distance. Next, the ground began to tremble. Then, when I peered over the edge of a cliff, I saw it stomping through the valley, like a giant turtle with stone legs and an entire temple where its shell should be.

In both cases, the spontaneity of these encounters made perhaps the biggest impression—the feeling that I was stumbling upon something out in the world, just waiting to be discovered. These aren’t the only open world games to accomplish this, of course (if you played Read Dead Redemption 2, you might remember the first time you spotted one of the game’s legendary beasts, like a glimmering white bison in the middle of a frozen lake). But the sheer density of these types of set pieces in both Elden Ring and Breath of the Wild prime the player to expect them at any moment. Only ten minutes after I found the walking mausoleum in Elden Ring, I stumbled upon another set piece that took my breath away: an army of undead, slowly shambling across a beach and out to sea.

There are plenty of other 1-1 connections that you can draw between the two games. Breath of the Wild’s shrines function much like the various caves, mines, and catacombs scattered throughout Elden Ring. These mini-dungeons provide a more structured, linear experience to break up your time roaming the open world. There are a variety of recurring “world bosses'' peppered throughout both games, from Hyrule’s centaur-like Lynels to the Tolkein-esque Knights Calvary patrolling The Lands Between. Even simple design flourishes, like the ability to place beacons on the map that appear as glowing pillars of light in the overworld, both empower the player to chart their own path in similar ways.

But all those points of connection still don’t add up to more than that feeling. Much like the time I’ve happily spent in Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule, I’ve put more than 120 hours into Elden Ring. Even after all that time, I still can’t wait to explore what’s over the next horizon.

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