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How Puzzles in Zelda: Breath of the Wild Reward Breaking the System

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild doesn't care if you play by the rules.


Most games have a very specific way that you have to use to solve puzzles or interact with the environment. In fact, we're almost conditioned to look at any problem in a video game in a certain way, to look for the telltale signs that games give when you're supposed to interact with something. I've even found myself in the immersion breaking situation where I just look for whether objects seem static or movable when it comes to solving puzzles in games. However, while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it became apparent that Nintendo crafted a game that has broken the mold when it comes to problem and puzzle solving and interaction with the environment.

Shrine, Shrine, Everywhere a Shrine

The primary locations in Breath of the Wild that you'll interact with puzzle mechanics are the shrines that are scattered about Hyrule. Each shrine features a challenge that you must pass to collect the Spirit Orb, a valuable currency for increasing stamina and health, and unlock the shrine as a fast travel point. Shrine challenges can consist of something as simple as a trial of combat against an enemy, or as complicated as using the gyroscopes of the Nintendo Switch or Wii U to guide a ball through a 3D puzzle. The magic of the shrine puzzles in Breath of the Wild though is that the game doesn't care if you break them.

Ne'ez Yohma shrine, just inside Zora's Domain, is an excellent example of this. You're confronted with a pachinko-like assembly with giant stone balls rolling down it. Your goal in this shrine is to get a glowing red stone ball from its perch in the upper left side of the board down to a hole in the lower right side. This puzzle stumped me, I tried creating blocks of ice to angle the ball towards the goal, I tried bouncing it off the other stone balls by using Stasis to freeze time, but nothing quite worked. Then it occurred to me: Why not just forgo the puzzle altogether?

There is a catwalk that surrounds the puzzle area that Link can walk on to navigate around. I figured that if I could get the ball onto the catwalk, I could just roll it down to the bottom and bypass the puzzle entirely. Was that the solution all along, or did I cheat the system? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes it to where the answer to that question doesn't matter. I didn't have to glitch my way through the puzzle, the openness of the game to let me use its physics system to my desire made it to where bypassing the puzzle was a valid way of solving it.

Nuclear Physics

Other shrine challenges user Breath of the Wild's physics in a different way. Several challenges presented themselves using the gyroscope function of the Wii U or Nintendo Switch. Here you had to navigate a ball through a maze by tilting the controller. After several attempts to make it through the "right way," and having the ball fall off the platform before I could get it to its destination, I thought that maybe I could just bounce it over the small walls of the maze.

This is where Breath of the Wild truly excels as an emergent experience. I was able to bounce the ball right over the maze, without invisible walls or out-of-bounds resets trying to stop me. This interaction with the game world extends to the rest of the game as well. While some titles make features like using the environment against your enemies a forgettable gimmick, Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes this type of combat a viable alternative to using standard weapons. If you so choose, you can make extensive use of fire, logs, boulders, and even lightning strikes to give Link an advantage over his enemies.

This subtle interplay of game systems is so natural that it's possible to miss. You can unfortunately go the entire game with blinders on and not run into some of the cool possibilities that Breath of the World's open physics engine provides. The game is not tutorial heavy, and you might not discover that you can climb on a boat and use Magnesis to propel it forward by pushing on the mast with a metal object. You can also go without toying with the Octorok Balloons which allow you to send many in-game objects floating through the air. Do yourself a favor if you own the game and take the time to experiment and relish the vitality that the robust physics system brings to Hyrule.

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 20, 2017 4:10 PM

    Jason Faulkner posted a new article, How Puzzles in Zelda: Breath of the Wild Reward Breaking the System

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      March 20, 2017 4:32 PM

      I solved the shrine in Zora's Domain the same way. I love the flexibility and creativity the game allows. Not only allows, but encourages.

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      March 20, 2017 5:06 PM

      Interesting way to go about things. I actually set up ice walls along the path to make the ball go where I wanted it to go.

      Then, once I was ready to get it down, used Stasis to knock it off. Once it reached the wall that I needed it to reach, I just built an ice platform underneath it so that it caused it to roll over the wall and right into the goal spot.

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      March 20, 2017 6:11 PM

      I knocked the ball off the ledge and pushed to the end and let it roll into its hole.

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      March 20, 2017 6:18 PM

      Overall I'm quite happy w the puzzles. Some of them are super obscure, I've only decided to look up the answer to one of them after solving almost 60.

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        March 20, 2017 7:46 PM

        There was one involving constellations that had me sitting for an hour trying to figure it out.

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          March 20, 2017 8:26 PM

          yea, that's the only one I looked up.

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          March 21, 2017 7:27 AM

          That one I found pretty easily actually. I knew from all th others I'd done so far that the answer had to be in the shrine, and after trying a couple of different things with each line and some math I realized there had to be something else I was missing and that's when I found them.

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          March 21, 2017 7:33 AM

          klev is actually the one who figured that out, while sitting on the couch next to me while I was playing. She saw instantly that there were more than one of some of the constellations which allowed me to figure out the rest pretty easy.

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          March 21, 2017 7:56 AM


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          March 21, 2017 9:29 AM

          I really liked that one. I had to think more about it than most others, and it was satisfying when I came to the conclusion.

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          March 21, 2017 9:42 AM

          It took me about 5 minutes to figure out. There were harder puzzles for me, which is why I find it odd that people got hung up on it. I guess I am better at pattern recognition than I am at mazes? I don't know how else to explain it. I am a software engineer so maybe my brain just works differently.

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      March 20, 2017 7:08 PM

      For the gyro maze: I flipped the maze over. The other size is flat!

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      March 20, 2017 8:31 PM

      I actually used a bomb to blast the metal ball along the wall walkway. It then rested near the hole. I used stasis and hit it with kinetic energy.

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        March 21, 2017 7:27 AM

        ^this is what I did.

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        March 21, 2017 7:34 AM

        I did similar. I just got it to fall, the stasis'd it at the bottom and whopped it once to get it moving in the right direction.

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      March 21, 2017 7:31 AM

      I really enjoy most of the puzzles. They make a dummy like me feel good about beating them without help.

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      March 21, 2017 7:32 AM

      That's cool! I often feel though that the title of the shrine gives too much away. Instead of feeling proud about discovering I needed to do X, Y, or Z, it was obvious from the shrine name.

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        March 21, 2017 7:35 AM

        I agree. Some, like "tempered power" I think are great. Others like "shift and freeze" or whatever, are painfully obvious.

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          March 21, 2017 7:37 AM

          Yeah. "Two Bombs" was one of the worst titles I've encountered so far for this. Would have been so happy to discover that for myself but nope instead it was a cakewalk with that revealed. Maybe they figured it would be too hard for people? =(

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            March 21, 2017 9:47 AM

            I had figured out a while ago that you could have one of each bomb out. So yeah, the name of that one made it stupid ez.

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        March 21, 2017 7:45 AM


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      March 21, 2017 8:03 AM

      Great article, and highlights one of my favorite things about the game so far. I'm constantly solving things in a way that makes me wonder if the designers had planned it that way or did I just cheat somehow. The fact that I've gone online and seen people solve the same puzzle in completely different ways just re-enforces how talented the puzzle designers at Nintendo actually are.

      Bring on Captain Toad 2!

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      March 21, 2017 8:45 AM

      They built an incredible open world sand box that rivals pretty much anything seen before it. I can only imagine how much time spent tweaking their sandbox to basically force designers to think of multiple pathways that they had to allow for the player.

      Then the next biggest achievement would be to prevent project management from stepping all over the process and instead focus on testing the end points rather than every step. This is also seen by how every piece of the world feels like it has a personal touch, they don't often repeat anything, it is highly tuned.

      It took some insanely talented designers to encourage their vision to be open to player interpretation rather than restricting it to the world building process.

      The logic of the puzzles was kept minimal, but they found ways to make it challenging without forcing the player to reach the same conclusion that the designer intended. It is masterful how well they achieved this.

      It shows the real talent that Nintendo has, and why they still get the respect they deserve, even after making so many sequels to the same IP. They manage to reinvent in a way that doesn't ever get old.

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        March 21, 2017 8:48 AM

        I feel like they entire world is built to take you from one puzzle to the next, which is incredibly hard to do.

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      March 21, 2017 9:24 AM

      I did one last night that I think I might have solved in an unorthodox way? Like you say in the article, tough to tell. It involved electricity and I believe it was the one right next to Gerudo. Not positive on that though because I did a few of them last night.

      The puzzle basically involved completing circuits. You are initially provided with a giant metal box and a metal barrel. Using those two you can complete some circuits to unlock some doors which give you a chest and another metal barrel. You then have to complete another circuit on the opposite side of the room to free a second metal box. I was able to complete most of the circuit - but not all - using the pieces they had given me. I wasn't sure how to chain a tiny section together, so I got out one of my metal swords, dropped it, and used magnesis to drag it over and complete the circuit.

      Does anyone remember this one and if so how did you solve it? As I typed this out I realized that most likely the chest was metal and you could use that as well? I love that the game allows this kind of thing, as the article illustrates.

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