Words by Chris Scullion and Jon Bailes
Back at E3 2019, Nintendo announced that a full sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was in development, with an accompanying trailer clearly designed more to spark questions than tell us anything concrete.
After that, everything went quiet for two whole years, with no further information on what the game would entail, when it would be available, or even what it would be called.
Then, at E3 2021, we finally got something more. A new trailer and a confirmed 2022 release were music to many Nintendo players’ ears, but it was music that was still missing a lot of key notes.
The new project apparently grew from DLC ideas for the first game that took on a life of their own, so while it should expand on what we’ve seen before, the base is likely to be similar.
Naturally, Nintendo is keeping its cards close to its chest. When announcing last year’s Hyrule Warriors spin-off game in September, series producer Eiji Aonuma simply stated that the team was working hard on development for Breath of the Wild 2 and “you’ll have to wait a bit longer before we can provide more updates.”
At the time this suggested that Warriors would serve as a useful stopgap to tide us over until Breath of the Wild was ready, perhaps until later in 2021.
We’ve since received a second stopgap in the shape of Skyward Sword HD, a Switch remaster that was certainly welcome and absolutely held Zelda fans’ attention for a while, but there could be no denying that this was still just an aperitif designed to keep us hungry for the actual feast.
Could it be, however, that Skyward Sword was actually a clever decision to prepare players for a game that certainly appears to feature more sky-based action? The E3 2021 trailer opens with Link falling a great distance from the sky, and also shows a world that appears to be located in the clouds. Hyrule Castle is even pulled into the sky at one point.
The E3 2021 trailer also revealed some actual gameplay footage, something that had been lacking up to that point. Link clearly has some new powers available to him, powers that appear to be described in more detail in patents recently filed by Nintendo, and again some of these are focused on verticality, including the ability to pass upwards through solid objects and to change positions while free-falling.
There still remain a lot of details from that original 2019 trailer that remain unexplained, however. In that trailer, Link and Zelda explore a huge underground cavern that spirals down beneath Hyrule Castle. Mysterious magic energy seeps up from below into an evil-looking mummified corpse. The corpse comes to life and the whole castle starts to shake.
“Could it be that Skyward Sword HD was a clever decision to prepare players for a game that certainly appears to feature more sky-based action?”
The wispy black and purple tentacles that snake through the cave could be related to the Malice that infected the world in Breath of the Wild, so once again there may well be some kind of corruption spreading over the land.
And whose is the evil-looking corpse? With its mane of hair and forehead-mounted medallion, it has some resemblance to Calamity Ganon, the arch-villain of the first game. Might this be some kind of past incarnation?
As for the power bringing him back to life, some have noted that the colours and runic symbols around it call back to the Twili in Twilight Princess. Whether or not that’s the case, we wonder if necromancy and resurrection will be a big theme. Might the underground be a world of the dead? Zombie Ganon, anyone?
Nintendo has suggested that the tone of this game will be a little darker. Both trailers certainly back that up with their eerie backwards music and creepy monsters.
It’s worth recalling that the last direct sequel to a Zelda game (on home consoles at least) was Majora’s Mask, in which Nintendo took the opportunity to experiment with an uncanny vibe. While we don’t expect a departure as great as Majora’s Groundhog Day-style time loop here, we’re hoping for similar levels of weirdness.
How else might the sequel differentiate itself from the first game? Aonuma has mentioned that Red Dead Redemption 2 could be something of an inspiration for the team this time.
We assume this doesn’t mean lengthy campfire ruminations on the decline of the old West. Perhaps it will drive Nintendo to make the world feel more lived-in and populated with incidental detail and events.
One crucial question is whether Nintendo will bring back traditional Zelda dungeons or repeat the fun-sized shrine puzzles from the first game. In a large open world, it probably makes more sense to have a spread of smaller challenges than a handful of concentrated ones, and it would be a shame for Breath of the Wild to shed its unique identity. But a few meatier dungeons wouldn’t go amiss either.
Talking of unique identity, the big controversy in the first game was the introduction of degrading and breakable weapons. Actually, we hope Nintendo stands firm on this one, as it’s a great system that encourages you to use up resources rather than hoard. Maybe it could be tweaked though, or optional for those who really disapprove.
A final big talking point that’s come from the trailer is that of playable characters. Now that Link and Zelda have been shown exploring together, with Zelda dressed for adventuring, it’s sparked calls for the princess to be an active protagonist.
It’s not something that Nintendo has done before and may not have planned here, but with so much demand they may be unwise to try and rebottle the genie. Might we even hope for different play styles? Two-player co-op?
Perhaps that’s a dream too far, but there are so many possibilities. The only thing we can really say is that we want more Breath of the Wild, but also something else, something unexpected. Anything but a delay to 2023.