Something to Try: Don’t Fast Travel

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s first DLC pack, The Master Trials, has been out for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been thoroughly engrossed in a replay of the game in Master Mode, but this time around I’ve been actively challenging myself to find new ways of approaching the world that I hadn’t before. Breath of the Wild, after all, is praised for its innovation in offering as much freedom to the player and their imagination as possible, and I’ve been doing my best to take this idea and run with it.

The floating platforms and self-healing, super-powered enemies specific to Master Mode made me use my bow and arrow much more than I did before, of course, but I wanted to go beyond just using different weapons, taking different routes, switching the HUD mode to Pro, and avoiding the Divine Beasts. I wanted to try everything, see everything, and to really take the immersion of the game one step further—but how?

The answer hit me after I’d completed my seventh shrine. (For those that don’t know, Breath of the Wild’s 120 shrines are scattered all over the map and do three things: unlock a fast travel point, offer up a puzzle, and then give you an orb that can be traded in groups of four for either additional stamina or additional hearts.) I had just arrived at Kakariko Village, at the time of my epiphany, from the Dueling Peaks Stable on a new horse I’d tamed specifically for the journey. I went to talk to Impa, admired the scenery, finished the shrine at the top of the hill, and then abandoned my horse. I wondered, in that moment, about the purpose of having a horse at all. I barely rode a horse at all during my first playthrough, choosing instead to just climb, hop, and fast travel my way around the entire map. Most of the time, when an NPC yelled at me to come look at their wares as I scurried by, I thought, “nah, I’m broke. I’ll just fast travel back when I have enough rupees.” But this second time around, when I made to start doing the same thing, it dawned on me that this was a simple habit that, when curbed, might just be the thing to help completely change the way I experienced the game.

Fast traveling is a trope we all accept and use in video games, though we understand perfect well but just choose to ignore that real travelers would have to actually stay in the inns, save up their rupees, sell their wares, and travel long distances to visit far-away cities. In a land as devastated and as lush as Hyrule, travelers only come across a town once or twice in the course of a few days or even weeks. And so I reasoned that by using my horse as my only means of travel, I might be able to glimpse what that kind of life might be like.

I remember thinking that the endeavor was going to be easy, something that would afford me more time to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, but it quickly turned into an challenge. If I was in Hateno Village and needed to get back to Kakariko, the road looked much longer and much further than it had in the past; so long, in fact, that I found myself actually planning out the trip, buying this and that or cooking a few meals before I departed.

This new mindfulness became a ritual that carried me through the rest of my journey.

I wasn’t just teleporting around the map at will anymore, I was actually hesitating and being more purposeful about where I was headed and what I needed to survive. I visited each house in each town for the first time since I started to get bored in my first playthrough, and I felt like an actual traveler. I didn’t want to leave any given place because I was afraid of forgetting something, because I knew that I wouldn’t allow myself to turn around and come back for quite some time. I even occasionally paid to stay at the different inns around the map, something I realized I hadn’t actually cared to do in the game the first time.

The experience was so immersive, and so sobering that I’m actually planning on using this approach in my bajillionth journey through Skyrim, when it releases on the Nintendo Switch.

It takes a little getting used to, and won’t be something that everyone likes as much as I do (after all, fast traveling was implemented in these games for a reason), but hey, it’s something to try.

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