BOTW’s Great Plateau is the Gold Standard of Zelda Tutorials
Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an ambitious reimagining of the franchise while still retaining many core gameplay elements from previous Zelda titles. Instead of incrementally gathering items throughout the game to complete dungeons and solve specific puzzles, the player is given all of the tools in the game relatively early. Instead of players being guided through a long-winded, narrative-focused prologue like in previous Zelda games, Breath of the Wild almost immediately puts players into a microcosm of the entire game.
Breath of the Wild‘s Great Plateau is the best beginning region in the entire Legend of Zelda series simply because it allows the player to play the game. Link awakens from his hundred-year slumber, there are a few minutes of exposition, and the player is already in control with a clear objective: follow the Sheikah Slate. Pretty soon, the Great Plateau Tower is raised, the map has been filled in, and the Ancient Shrines nearby are ready to be entered with the promise that what will be found inside can be traded for the Old Man’s paraglider. Without even realizing it, players have already begun the core gameplay loop of Breath of the Wild.
Although the essence of Breath of the Wild relies on the free agency of the player, there is still a structure to the game. Most people playing for the first time (not those returning for strange Zelda challenge runs) will follow the example set by the Great Plateau when exploring other the other regions of Hyrule: locate the tower, get the region’s map, then find and complete Shrines on the way to a larger goal.
BOTW’s Tutorial is Most Effective at Getting to Actual Gameplay
Those who have played Breath of the Wild but not Skyward Sword might end up frustrated when it releases on the Switch. The introductory portion of Skyward Sword takes hours, and even after it’s done the game constantly holds the player’s hand. It is the antithesis of everything that makes Breath of the Wild‘s tutorial great. This problem is not exclusive to Skyward Sword though; a lot of the 3D Zelda titles seem to have this issue. Twilight Princess also notoriously takes forever until players even enter the first dungeon, which is unfortunate because it contains some of the best Zelda dungeons of all time. Instead of adventuring through Hyrule relatively early, players are forced to wrangle goats into a barn.
Even video game icon and Zelda poster child Ocarina of Time can be fairly criticized for its intro. Without any foreknowledge of what it takes to get to the Deku Tree, new players have to aimlessly wander around Kokiri Forest until they figure out that a sword is stashed in the maze and enough Rupees have to be collected to buy a shield from the shop. Although there is plenty of side character interaction throughout Ocarina of Time’s story, talking to villagers isn’t exactly the exciting gameplay it’s known for.
Breath of the Wild‘s emphasis on supplying players with limited but dynamic abilities early on ensures that the introduction to the game world and actually playing this Legend of Zelda game are one and the same. Instead of being dragged around for the first handful of hours, Breath of the Wild fairly quickly gets players to a vantage point, shows them where the Ancient Shrines are, and all but says “figure it out from here.” It is an absolutely liberating way for the game to go about a tutorial. Right from the jump Breath of the Wild puts the emphasis on exploration, and highlights the sense of discovery that carries the player all the way through the game.