Riding the Backlog - Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Part 3)

By Chris Pranger

Session 3: More on the Great Plateau

Welcome again to Riding the Backlog where I play a video game while riding an exercise bike. I’m fresh into Breath of the Wild, pedalling through the largest Hyrule the series has ever seen, and today I’m looking for a way off the Great Plateau. Join me!

Let’s start with a random fact. Do you know the difference between a Hylian and a Hyrulean? This is a tricky point that a lot of Zelda fans get wrong! They sound similar, but they’re very different things. A Hyrulean is a nationality, literally anyone who lives in Hyrule. Meanwhile, a Hylian is a specific race, the Zelda universe equivalent to elves. Hylians descend from the Goddess Hylia and are identified by their pointy ears. Link and Zelda are Hylians, but Ganondorf is not. Hylians are usually Hyruleans, but not all Hyruleans are Hylians. Fun facts!

Before moving on, I have to see what sort of rewards the amiibo will deliver, so it’s time to do some scanning. Sadly, not every day can be a winner, and today’s amiibo haul is pretty dull. Some herbs, some fish, some Bokoblin guts from Ganondorf, and some elemental arrows from the Links, but no new costume pieces. Sad day.

I have two shrines yet to find on the Great Plateau, and rather than checking my map to quickly locate them or see where I haven’t been, I’m opting to just wander in search of my destinations. Along the way I start climbing trees, as you do, and I collected my share of bird eggs from nests up there. Link really is a degenerate, you know? First he’s swiping food and supplies from an old man, now here he is raiding the nests of helpless birds. Can’t take this boy anywhere.

I come upon another Bokoblin camp, this one of the skull cave variety. My strategy here will be to take out the sentry outside with a well-placed arrow, then climb up into the skull’s eye opening and shoot down a lit torch, detonating a bunch of explosive barrels in the cave and essentially clearing it out entirely. The novelty of combat has yet to fully wear off, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Sometimes you just have to take a moment and catch butterflies, you know? I saw one and remembered that butterflies are best caught when crouched, letting you sneak up slowly to nab ‘em. It took me a long time during my first playthrough to realize that was how you caught bugs, because up until that point I just assumed you couldn’t. Catching the butterfly also reminded me that when you pick up a new item, the game plays the “you got a thing” jingle from Skyward Sword. I don’t really like that jingle, especially since you hear it so often both in Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild, but hey, that’s a nit-pick and that’s on me to deal with, not a fault of the game.

Eventually I come upon more ruins, this time in a semi-maze configuration. Defunct Guardians litter the area, though stepping into the middle of the ruins shows me that not all of the Guardians are shut off. One comes to life, swivelling around to look at me with its glowing red eye. Catching its line of sight causes it to target me with a laser before shooting an explosive blast. Being that I’m still just starting out and I only have three hearts, I decide to sneak around the walls and take the back way into the Ja Baij shrine.

The Ja Baij shrine is home to the bomb trial and the remote bomb rune, finally a tool that feels familiar. Breath of the Wild has possibly the best usage of bombs of any Zelda game where you can pull out a glowing blue bomb, chuck it or set it down, then detonate it when you choose. Not only that, you can switch between a round bomb or a square bomb, giving you options for how to tackle obstacles where a bomb would come in handy. Best yet, because the round and square bomb runes are seperate, you can have two bombs active at once, really opening up the possibility of some creative puzzles. The game only uses both maybe twice, but still, the possibility was there!

I like the bomb trial well enough since it lets me huck bombs at cracked walls and then make them explode, which is very satisfying. They nailed the good feel of controlling an explosion. Big tick mark in the Positive column.

There’s a Traveler’s Claymore stowed away in one of the hidden treasure chests in the shrine, giving me my first real heavy weapon that’s meant to be used as a heavy weapon (rather than the axe which is more for chopping down trees). It always feels better to swing the short sword since those have the speed you’d like, but heavy weapons have some heft and dish out some big damage. Both types of weapons feel good in the right circumstances, though neither feels as good as the spear weapons and their poke-poke-poke long-range attack. As Elmer Fudd would say, “I guess that’s just my pwefewence.” We have fun here.

Near the end of the shrine are some stone pistons. One set is juggling a glowing ball between them, showing that these are meant for pushing things through the air with great force. I hop on one to get launched over to another treasure chest, then load a bomb into a third set to have it get shot across the room and land on some breakable blocks previously preventing me from climbing a ladder.

Side tangent here. You can climb anything in the overworld, and I really means anything. If it has a surface, Link can climb it. Just Spider-Man his way around, huffing and puffing but eventually reaching the top. This logic breaks down entirely in shrines where nothing can be climbed except for ladders. They never explain why Link can’t climb these walls, though my guess is they’re futuristic walls that are just too slick to grip. Or the devs couldn’t think of a good reason why the game’s mechanics work differently between the overworld and shrines. Oh well!

Getting a third Spirit Orb and seeing Ja Baij the Sheikah monk reminded me of something else I’d noticed during my last playthrough, which is how each of the four monks in the Great Plateau shrines have their hands in a triangle shape, indicating the Triforce. What’s even more clever is that each one is a different placement in the Triforce, with three making up the Triforces of Wisdom, Power, and Courage, and one making up the middle upside-down space. I wonder why Nintendo hasn’t made a Zelda game that explores this upside-down empty space. Actually, I don’t really wonder, as Nintendo clearly has no interest in Zelda games having clever stories. Double oh well!

Back outside, the urge to fight Guardians overtakes me, prompting me to immediately pull out a bomb and huck it at the first one I see. Chuck, roll, detonate...tickmark of damage done. Huh, that seems somewhat anticlimactic. I try throwing another bomb at the Guardian, same nearly nothing effect. I pull out my bow and crouch-walk around the corner, taking aim and pegging it directly in the eye, doing a critical hit and causing it to stutter instead of shooting me. “Ah-ha!” I shout. But the ah-ha was wasted as the total damage done is still insignificant.

I leave this first Guardian and go looking around the ruins for any other possible secrets, finding at least two other Guardians buried up to the neck wanting to roast me. I climb up a ruin wall and take a few shots into one’s eye, then try a leaping arrow shot, which triggers a bullet time effect. Arrow time, perhaps? It’s a nifty little ability that the game hasn’t actually told me about, but it’s also one of the coolest and most effective battle tactics in the game.

As you can see from my image up above, going into arrow time focuses you on your arrow’s point, slowing things in the air to let you shoot like John Wick if he’d just woken up on the Great Plateau. This ability uses stamina for...reasons, so it can’t be abused necessarily. The stamina drainage is a good balancing method that allows arrow time to feel like a solid risk/reward tactic. You can jump at an enemy and shoot a few times, but can you kill them before you land? If you don’t, you’ll have depleted all your stamina, so you can’t run for a few seconds, leaving you open for a counter-attack. That’s good design! Give the devs another point!

It pains me, but the game absolutely does not want me to kill the Guardians yet. It doesn’t matter how precise my aim is or how skillful I am in throwing bombs and hiding, all methods are just too slow to be satisfying. I could potentially destroy a single Guardian by repeatedly hitting it dead-center in the eye, but I’ll end up using all of my arrows, which are in fact a precious resource. It’s cool that I can pick up arrows from the ground when I’ve missed a target, but in this instance, I’m not given the raw ability to inflict enough damage, so I have to leave these buried Guardians and go searching for that last shrine.

Now that I’m heading in a clockwise direction around the Great Plateau, I find a small cottage in the woods, which turns out to be the old man’s house. Inside it are an axe and some supplies, so Link, being a degenerate as we’ve already established, swipes everything not nailed down in this old man’s house, then reads his private diary. Said diary mentions how the old man has been attempting to cook some meal that includes spicy peppers, meat, and one other ingredient, but he just can’t remember what it is. He even says that he’d gladly give someone his warm doublet if they could show him a meal cooked with a spicy pepper, meat, and one other ingredient. This is actually the other method to get the warm doublet before heading into the snowy region, but I’ll let you go search for that one other ingredient for yourself when you play.

Outside the old man’s house, I catch sight of the final shrine up above on a cliff straight ahead, so I take off into the woods to get to it. I run into the old man, fresh from chopping wood or something. I ain’t got time for wood, old man! I’ve got to get to this last shrine to give you four macguffins!

Right before the cliff is a chasm that Link can’t jump. He’s actually sort of a lame duck when it comes to jumping. If he tries jumping from a dead stand-still, he does a dorky little hop that has zero forward momentum. Running and jumping gives him a little distance, but definitely not enough to clear this gap, even if he somehow managed to land on the rocks on the other side and tried climbing.

The solution to this small problem is rather simple and is in theory very exciting. I’m supposed to pull out my axe and chop a tree down, creating a makeshift bridge across. This feels really cool and dynamic until you realize how this is essentially the one and only time you’ll ever need to do this in the game since once you have the paraglider the solution is always “run, jump, and paraglide.”

On the other side of my fallen tree bridge is a little pathway that leads to a few Bokoblins and a dead end made of crumbly rocks, perfect for bombing. It feels really good to get to blow these rocks right the heck up as soon as I see them, though my reward is still pretty minor. I’ll be honest, Breath of the Wild it just littered with treasure with something new to find almost every step of the way, but none of it ever feels worth my time. I miss Heart Pieces.

Since this is a dead end, the only other way to go is straight up, so I make a bid at climbing. The cliff is taller than I expected, so climbing it feels like a no-go, at least in this spot. The trick to climbing is finding a path up the side of the wall that includes spots where you can rest to replenish stamina. Sometimes the game makes these ledges very clear as they look like platforms jutting out from the rocks, but other times you have to use your best judgment and determine what jagged part of the terrain will work with the game’s physics just enough to allow Link to stand on it without instantly sliding off and plummeting to his death.

Back at the start of the path, right in front of my tree bridge, I look up and see that there are mushrooms growing out of the cliff, pointing me toward some of those obvious resting points that I just mentioned. This is very clearly where the game wants me to climb, and while some would dig in their heels and scream, “No!” to a game that touts itself as super open to player creativity, I have no such pride when it comes to solving a problem. Why make things more complicated for myself when the solution is right there? It’s the same reason I find it impossible not to cheese Ganondorf in Twilight Princess with the fishing rod or instantly win the fight against Exor in Super Mario RPG with a Geno Whirl. Why try to reinvent the equation 2+2=4?

I actually really like this climb. It’s simple enough, which makes sense considering it’s where the game wanted me to learn how to climb, but there is a real sense of satisfaction when you properly gauge the correct path upward and where to find your footing. Climbing can be very enjoyable in spots of BotW. It can also go eat a butt, but we’re not fed up with it yet, so just let this be a happy, zen-like moment.

Sure enough, the Owa Daim shrine waits for me at the end of this climb, giving me the stasis rune and a trial to learn how it works. What it does is allow me to stop an object in time for a brief moment, shown first on a gear turning a platform. Performing stasis on the gear stops the platform, letting me cross a gap and continue on.

Next I have to run up a slight incline as a big stone ball rolls down at me. Performing stasis on the stone ball freezes it in place, letting me run past before it bowls me over. For an extra bonus, running all the way to the top of this little incline gives me a treasure chest with a reward that I don’t even remember what it was because it didn’t interest me. Probably some amber, which seems like a dull gift and isn’t something I have any context for, so I therefore also have no use of yet.

The last test involves me walking down a narrow pathway and encountering another stone ball, this time just sitting in my way. Right before this the shrine gifts me an iron hammer, a heavy weapon used primarily with stasis for tasks such as this where the rune feels super cool. Hitting the stone ball with the hammer doesn’t really do anything, but using stasis on it and then slamming away starts to build up kinetic energy, showing me with an arrow how much energy has built up and at what angle it will be released so that once the stasis timer concludes the object is sent flying. Doing this never gets old, even if it does use up a weapon’s durability to do so.

With the stasis trial complete, Link walks up to the last Sheikah monk and receives a fourth and final Spirit Orb, meaning I have everything necessary to give to the old man and trade for the paraglider. My ticket off this plateau!

Exiting the shrine has Link greeted by the old man, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Also not a surprise, he isn’t ready to give me the paraglider just yet but wants me to meet him at a specific location, offering a slight riddle where he wants me to look at my map, connect the four shrines in a way that makes an X on the map, and use that as a guide. What is a bit of a surprise is when the old man suddenly fades away into a glowing mist. Hmm, perhaps the old man is a bit older than I thought. I don’t feel as bad about swiping his stuff now.

I already know where he wants me to go having been there once before, which is cheating, sure, but I solved this riddle legitimately the first time I played, so I still get full credit here. He wants me to meet at that temple I saw when I first left the rejuvenation cave, the one I was certain was the Temple of Time. Scooting carefully down the cliff to the temple confirms to me that, yes, it is the Temple of Time, so noted with the game naming the area the Temple of Time when I got close enough.

That’s where I leave off today. Feels only right, you know? With the four Great Plateau shrines complete, there’s nothing left but to get the paraglider and sail off into a larger world full of further danger and bigger adventure. And maybe some real open worldness! Come back in the next session where I learn just how unforgiving Hyrule can be!
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