A few disclaimers before we move forward:
- Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
- These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
This is it. The meat of the game. How juicy.
Shrines are such magical things in this game. They are the trigger for mini-dungeons, to puzzles that will incite excitement, fun, and incredible frustration. They serve as fast travel points and a rush of excitement for the player upon site—and seeing them will be no problem, as they glow with a lovely lava-yellow hue. I adore shrines. Their inclusion in this game as opposed to the traditional large dungeon system of the franchise’s past is one I was quite fond of. I’d be pleased to see them do it more in the future, as these bite-sized challenges of mental and physical skill would be good even without the inclusion of a larger narrative presence. Of course, I’d want that narrative presence, but that’s how confident I am with how beneficial these shrines are.
One can do a number of things in these shrines, with difficulty ranging from absurdly easy to fairly challenging, dependent on player skill level. Some are recycled challenges, such as challenging a specific guardian type that ranges from easy to moderate to hard difficulty. Others don’t even have a challenge, as certain shrines only gift Link items for doing strenuous activity prior to achieving the shrine (more on this later in this post). One can golf, beat down doors, fly through wind currents, take on elemental gauntlets, curse Nintendo for ever entertaining motion controls, and all the more. What one can find in shrines offers a large variety of things to do, which make the game fresh even in the most barren of areas. And what one can receive from shrines also makes the game a lot more fun.
All throughout the land of Hyrule, there are 120 shrines to access (with roughly a third of those being shrines that simply gift items). That’s a whole lot of glowing doors to get distracted by in the quiet world of Hyrule. It’s incredibly easy to be so entranced by the glow of a non-completed shrine in the face of one’s major goal, almost to the point where one completely neglects the main quest until all the shrines in the area have been perused. I know I did. The fun of Breath of the Wild is exploration, trying to find things to unearth and document that which makes archaeologists giddy. Shrines are a great distraction and offer flexibility to the game that keeps it consistently fresh. Does it manage this all throughout the forty-plus hours of gametime? Hard to say individually.
What is likely my favorite part of the game are the so-called “Shrine Quests.” These specific quests act as side quests differentiated by the reward always being a shrine. An alternative difference is that shrine quests are a lot more involved than normal side quests. Whereas side quests will require the player to do a specific simple thing as getting an item or clearing an area of enemies, various shrine quests will require multiple steps to complete. Notable shrine quests include the spooky area secluded by darkness, the island where Link is forced to part with all of his items (except the Sheikah Slate and Paraglider), Kass’s trials, and the traitor in Kakariko Village. These are just four of many more shrine quests that involve a sort of build-up before the shrine will reveal itself, with a number of them requiring certain perimeters in the field of play.
For example, there is one shrine quest (technically part of Kass’s trials) where one has to wait until a Blood Moon occurs (random event that occurs during certain nights that respawns all previously defeated enemies in a specific area), then strip themselves completely of clothing and stand on top of a shrine-triggering circular pedestal. These shrine quests are notably irritating because most of the time one is out and about doing other things only to realize that a Blood Moon is about to occur, so they have to fast travel to the closest documented shrine to the shrine quest and quickly run there before the event gets over with. Shrine quests such as this, for as irritating as they are, still have a nice memorability to them that require players to think on their toes from time to time, experimenting with various map tricks and memorizing the land.
Like with the shrines themselves, the shrine quests can range from stupid easy to absolutely confounding. One shrine quest requires the player to shoot an arrow at a glowing statue. Easy enough. One shrine quest requires the player to talk to a specific character at a specific time and collect information about various denizens of a town to better understand who committed a crime and then follow whoever you feel is the best suspect until a final cutscene is triggered. Okay. Most of them I think are really fun and offer a lot of fun, though some of them are just so complicated that it took me hours to figure out what I was even supposed to do. These stumped moments are the bane of my existence.
Yet the good far outweighs the bad in this case. A lot of shrine quests end up being more interesting and more beneficial to the central theme of exploration than the main quest itself. Characters requiring one to go into deserted areas and document various ancient statues is a nice way to build a world within a world. Visiting three stone mazes that trap Link like a rat triggered all sense of claustrophobia I didn’t know I had. It gives a better picture of Hyrule that many may not be able to fathom if not guided by a specific mission. In one sense, they’re challenges to uncover hidden shrines; the other, they’re a means of expanding the hidden trinkets of Hyrule’s terrain. Finding hidden shrines in giant steel doors buried under tons of snow is a very satisfying feeling.
Practically half of the entire game, shrines and its shrine quest counterparts allow for players to test their gameplay chops in a giant world full of secret compartments of frustration and frenzy. There isn’t much left to say at the very end of the post, so all I’ll comment on is that my favorite shrine quest is the deserted island where Link has all his items taken away. It’s a great way to see if players are good because of their equipment or because they’re actually good, and I adored the test of familiarity so far into the game. Better yet, during my second trip there, it was a thunder storm almost all throughout, so facing a blue Hinox in a storm with limited offensive/defensive capability was a great memory to look back on. Felt way more epic than it had any right to be. Thanks, shrine quests.
(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of BeardBear.)