Once not so very long ago, I could afford to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, sinking tens and occasionally hundreds of hours into my favorite video game of the moment.
Now, I’m an adult. With adult responsibilities.
Also, as I get older, I now actually relish getting more than five hours sleep in a night. And so, I get maybe four or five hours of game time a week.
My newfound lifestyle has found itself incompatible with playing most games to completion: The new blockbuster “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” for instance, averages around 30 hours to complete; the stylish role-playing game “Persona 5” looks to take more than twice that long, if it’s anything like its predecessors.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I picked up “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” Nintendo’s newest masterpiece, which takes about 60 hours to complete. I am a 100% ride-or-die “Zelda” fan from small times, but man, I don’t have 60 hours.
With great joy, though, I discovered something that “Breath of the Wild” does, and that more games should emulate.
The game’s world is breathtakingly large and epic in scope, sure. But it’s built in such a way as to totally respect your time. You can make meaningful progress in the game whether you’re playing for 15 minutes or 5 hours.
The Shrine system
Most games take kind of a mission-based approach. Go here, defeat this many zombies or mutants or goblins or whatever, find the doodad you were sent to retrieve, and go back. Even more open-ended games like “Grand Theft Auto” are broken down into these kinds of discrete missions.
“Breath of the Wild” does a very little of that. But for the most part, you’re left to your own devices to traverse the world of Hyrule in the manner you’d like, at the pace you’d like.
A cornerstone of “Breath of the Wild” are the 120 Shrines you find littered throughout the world. These Shrines are totally optional, but each one gives you a crucial Spirit Orb, which helps you get stronger, plus it unlocks the ability to teleport back to that location at any time.
Each Shrine usually contains one big puzzle, or a series of smaller ones, with a few combat-based exceptions. They’re pleasantly varied and require different skills. In my experience, most Shrines can be knocked out in under 10 minutes.
In practice, this gives “Breath of the Wild” the structure of one of those addictive smartphone games: You can open the game for 15 minutes, find and finish a Shrine, and content yourself on both strengthening your character, and opening up the world to you further. Or you can take a 5-hour binge, letting one Shrine after another inevitably lead you to where the game’s main storyline picks back up.
So while I have no doubt that it’ll take me a little while to log the 60 hours I’ll probably need to finish “Breath of the Wild” to my satisfaction, it’s incredibly refreshing to see an epic, top-tier game that’s just as suited for quick play as it is for those late-night marathon sessions. Thank you, Nintendo, for respecting my time.