Eurogamer (Sort Of) Compares Breath of the Wild to Ultima Underworld

Eurogamer has published an article which discusses the immersive sim world design of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the launch title for the new Nintendo Switch console:

…I found that if I pointed my bow up at the skull’s eye socket I could arc a projectile square through the mouth of the cave and into one of the barrels and – nothing.

There was a distant thunk. Startled Bokoblin explored their surroundings. Their sentry looked alarmed.

Nothing exploded.

Unprompted by the game, I considered this new information: impact alone wasn’t enough. I needed to get fire from over here to over there.
I opened my inventory and moved a stack of wood into my hands before placing it in front of my rock. Then I ran back to a Bokoblin camp that I’d cleared earlier and shoved a branch into their campfire. I ran back, set my own pile of logs alight, a drew my bow. Inching closer and closer to the flame, I hoped that Breath of the Wild would respect my logic. It did: the arrow lit up. I aimed at the skull’s eye socket and, like Bron at the Blackwater, let it fly. The explosion shook the cave and as those Bokoblin died I realised: Nintendo has made a ‘and then the grenade rolled down the hill’ game.

You can click on through to the article to read the definition of an and then the grenade rolled down the hill game. To their credit, Eurogamer was able to draw a comparison between the systems present in Breath of the Wild and those in Ultima Underworld:

…PC gaming as a whole found one of its founding texts, in Ultima Underworld. Paul Neurath’s rudimentary first-person dungeon simulator aspired to be a fantasy adventure that was more than icons on a grid. It sought to expand the player’s verb-set beyond ‘fight’ and ‘move’, to incorporate rudimentary physics – even a variety of applications for fire, which links it directly to one of Breath of the Wild’s key themes. To the extent that Breath of the Wild can be considered part of the history of PC game design, then, it is because you can draw a direct line from Ultima Underworld to this.

Although the early Elder Scrolls games are indebted to Ultima Underworld, its influence is much broader than that. As a first person game that was interested in being more than a monster maze, it also provided the bedrock for what would subsequently be thought of as the immersive sim. System Shock and Thief both owe a great deal to Underworld, as does Deus Ex and, latterly, Bioshock and Dishonored. Far Cry 2 belongs in that pantheon, too, and although it is the game that Breath of the Wild most reminds me of it is that attitude again, that enthusiasm for freeform play that binds all of these games together across their disparate genres.

For all that these games have in common with Breath of the Wild, two things stand out as differences. The first is that Breath of the Wild basically works, and has been executed with a degree of polish that reassures you that it isn’t about to implode. That might sound a little glib, but it’s a key point of divergence from Ultima Underworld and its legacy. Many of the most beloved PC games of all time stared up at their gorgeous dreams from the buggy and crash-prone gutter. There’s something romantic about their recurring tragic unfinished-ness, but the romance wears off. Nintendo enters this space as the straight-edge artist that you resent at first but whose stability and consistency is needed. The immersive sim, gaming’s White Album, had been getting by on a string of John Lennons and George Harrisons. It needed a Paul McCartney.

Do read the whole thing; it’s an excellent article, and well worth a few minutes of your time.

(Hat tip: Sergorn Dragon)