The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A game that is mentioned on this website in about 50% of articles and for good reason, I think it is the best game created in the past 10-20 years. You can play the game for half an hour and have a great time – equally, you can play it for hours and stay engrossed. The game gives complete freedom and encourages the player to explore and experience it at their own pace. For example, my first playthrough took me around 20-30 hours to complete, whereas my wife is still going. She doesn’t have too much experience with games, but Breath of the Wild is rewarding her in taking it slow – it’s such a user friendly game.
I could spend hours just gushing about Breath of the Wild, but that isn’t the point of this article. Breath of the Wild’s unique gameplay and style has created a formula which a few games have taken hold of – Genshin Impact and Immortals: Fenyx Rising to name a few. Many games will try and use this formula and some will succeed, but as with anything, others will surely fail. So, that is the question I want to explore in this article: Is the Breath of the Wild formula a proven success?
What is the formula?
Very briefly for those that do not understand what I mean by the phrase, Breath of the Wild formula. The formula is fairly simple and follows some clear directions as can be seen in BotW:
- The game is generally an open-world exploration experience where anything you can see, you are likely able to climb/run/fly to.
- Combat and gameplay allow for creativity on the part of the player, giving us the opportunity to think of our own strategies.
- Free to approach the game at your own pace and in your own direction with goals but no specific route to get there.
- Rewards and secrets spread all over the in-game world to:
- Keep the player exploring.
- Give the player a quick dopamine hit – it’s very clever.
That is what I would consider to be the Breath of the Wild formula in a nutshell. Sure, there are many other things you can add and possibly a number of different iterations of it, but this is what I would see as the core of the formula. With that in mind, let’s now look at a recently released game that has created much stir in the community and becoming a widely popular game that uses this formula.
Released on September 28th 2020, Genshin Impact is a free-to-play ‘Gacha’ style open-world adventure game that bares a shocking resemblance to Breath of the Wild. Gacha, for those who do not know, is reference to the capsule machines in Japan where you need to collect them all – Pokemon would be considered to some a Gacha-game. At it’s core, Genshin Impact received a lot of its identity from Breath of the Wild. From the massive open-world, even down to the climbing, the gameplay is extensively similar. Sure, it can be argued the game has enough of a unique swing on things to be considered a game of it’s own and that is true. The gacha-style interchangeable party system brings what I would consider a different way of spreading abilities out to add it’s own flavour. Very much like Breath of the Wild, Genshin uses elements to effect the environment and enemies, however, it appears to put a lot more emphasis on this than the former ever has. Party members that you collect have different elemental abilities so it is important to consider your party composition to best take advantage of the elements at your disposal.
Genshins’ clear use of cell-shaded anime graphics again harks back to Breath of the Wild, but it isn’t anything that can be trademarked as such. The only thing is here, BotW did it first, but that doesn’t mean no one else can do it. Genshin has clearly made an incredible impact on the west, quickly becoming one of the biggest international releases for China in the games industry. In just the first two weeks, the game made around $100m from in-game transactions etc. This is possibly the downfall of the game in my eyes, there is a clear marketing agenda to give the player a rush of dopamine and entice them into the in-game shop. Yes, you can enjoy the game for free, but expect to regularly come across opportunities to spend your hard-earned pocket money on some new items. This is where the game strays far away from the formula. Breath of the Wild brings you a world where you can fully enjoy with the one-time payment. Yes, you can play through Genshin without paying anything, but that isn’t what the developers had in mind for you when you play it.
Consider this for a second, Fortnite: Battle Royale has always been free, but have you spent money on it, or any other “free-to-play” battle-royale?
Does the formula work?
I think this is sort of a double-ended question because yes, in a sense it can work – look at the hype for Immortals: Fenyx Rising – and no, it can’t always work entirely. Genshin clearly does start, in it’s most basic form, with the formula. However, it evolves and mutates into something that I think can be considered unhealthy in gaming – I have spoke about this next bit before. The monetisation of your enjoyment in video games. The formula is simple, but when companies go out of their way to almost tax you as a gamer, or tempt you by subtly communicating to you that you can enjoy this game more if you spend a little more money, I think the formula is lost on them. I enjoy Breath of the Wild partly because I have a complete experience in my hands, nothing (outside of the season pass) is outside of my reach. Yes, of course I pay $60 for that initially, but you pay for the quality of the experience and there is nothing slightly shady about it. Gaming is a business, but don’t mess with the formula, man.
All in all, the formula is a simple recipe that creates a unique and extensive game with endless opportunities. I would like to think that the formula does work and will work on the upcoming release of Immortals: Fenyx Rising. Ubisoft have previously proven that they can do the open-world aspect right. But it’s whether the can make the game engaging and refreshing, yet peaceful and relaxing to play. The game is clearly adding its own elements and themes because it has to, but if it just ends up as a re-skin of Breath of the Wild, I think so many people will actually be OK with that. If all else fails and this formula isn’t successful, atleast we know for sure it will be successful in the Breath of the Wild sequel.
Genshin Impact is not my idea of a good use of the beloved formula of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It pays homage to the game but I would argue it tarnishes many of the great aspects of it in the focus on monetising the system and style. Yes, it is a free-to-play title and they do need to make money. It is clearly a success in the sales and players, but that doesn’t mean it is a successful every sense of the word.
Many of my gripes with it may also be because of my love for Breath of the Wild, and the thought of how can anyone really match this game? That may be the case, but in my eyes, if you are going to try then you need to be prepared to be scrutinised for your shortcomings.
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