The new Zelda game is called Breath of the Wild, we found out today, and while it's still jam-packed with Zelda series conventions — you still play as blond boy Link, you're still in Hyrule, you still love hurling ceramic pots around — it also seems to represent quite a break with the prescribed paths of previous Zeldas. Breath of the Wild seems to have taken its cues from huge western RPGs like Skyrim, giving Link free reign to run around its huge map, and allowing players to dictate how they approach puzzles, and giving them the chance to plot their own course through the game.
But that's not the only thing that gives Breath of the Wild an uncanny resemblance to Bethesda's RPG series. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion started its players in a dank dungeon, tasking them with escaping through a sewer system before they busted out of a grate and out into a lush, green world. That memorable moment of transition was replicated in Zelda footage today as a nearly nude Link woke up on a slab — cough cough Planescape: Torment cough cough — and wandered out of his stone chamber to find a vast world stretched before him. The worlds may be different, but the sensation was the same: the ceremonial handing over of the keys to the kingdom, and the freedom to go as far as the horizon stretches.
Link paused time to eat a steak and regain health
And the first thing Link did? The first thing most Elder Scrolls players started doing in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim — he picked a whole load of mushrooms. Like Elder Scrolls games, and unlike previous Zeldas, the world of Breath of the Wild is littered with items for Link to stash in his inventory. Shovels, cookware, food items, swords of varying condition, all can be picked up and used in the same way Skyrim lets you raid its cluttered world for trinkets you'll probably never need. Players famously started Ocarina of Time with a quest to find a shield and a sword, the game only allowing Link to use the prescribed weaponry before he ventured out on his journey. Here, anything pointy will do, Nintendo's stream showing Link making use of an enemy's spear as his primary weapon and a pot lid as a makeshift shield. Weapons degrade with extended use, too, meaning players will have to cycle through an armory to survive in the wilds.
His expanded inventory also gives Link another way to replenish lost health borrowed from the likes of The Elder Scrolls games — shoveling food into his face. Nintendo's stream showed Link taking a pasting in combat and pausing time to gobble a seared steak, a process reminiscent of Skyrim's mythical player character taking time out of an epic fight to chain-eat 20 sweetrolls.
The introduction to the open world plays exactly like it does in 'Oblivion'
The quests seem different, too, with Link able to pick up side missions and set objective markers on his own time, rather than being tugged along by a central story as in previous Zeldas. Such sidequests are a western RPG staple, with the worlds of games like Skyrim, Fallout, and The Witcher 3 padded out with people who want their basements cleared of rats or their magical socks returned. How these quests are obtained is still up in the air, but we also saw a change in how Link speaks to the people that share his world. Link's never been the chatty type — he's one of gaming's most famously silent protagonists — but in the first few minutes of Breath of the Wild footage he was given a dialog option, to choose how to reply to a mysterious bearded dude sat at a campfire. Conversation trees are a staple in western RPGs, but they've rarely been used in previous Zeldas, only giving the player a choice between "Yes I'll save the world now," or "I'll save the world in like 20 minutes I guess."
The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most influential in video game history, contributing design ideas to multiple generations of developers, but as the Japanese games industry shifts toward mobile, Nintendo seems to have looked further afield for its comparisons. It could be that Link has an open world purely because Nintendo now has the technological power to give him one, but there are too many imprints from games like Skyrim even in the company's short E3 demo to suggest Nintendo didn't take a long, hard look at the hyper-successful open-world RPGs from the west and — as hundreds of studios copied from Nintendo — decided to take a few ideas of their own.