Like many Zelda fans eagerly waiting for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to drop, I recently booted up my old save of Breath of the Wild and found myself at the base of the Great Deku Tree. Even if this location is infamous for cratering Nintendo Switch frame rates due to all the detail on screen, the amazing design of the hidden Korok community along with the journey to get there keeps the sense of wonder and mystery more than intact for me. While deciding if I should try collecting more Korok seeds or start a random quest, I suddenly felt an urge to toss Link’s climbing set on and just start clambering up this wise, ancient forest guardian.
It’s totally fine that most other open-world games don’t let you scurry over every single sheer mountainside you come across, but dammit if Breath of the Wild doesn’t make it feel so good to ignore the path and go straight up a cliff. Link can climb up almost any surface as long as he has stamina, he isn’t going upside down, and a rainstorm hasn’t rolled in to ruin my fun. This climbing system activates impulses from my days as a Skyrim goblin, when I would carve idiotic routes up and down mountains that probably wasted more time of my journey by tumbling back down or just getting glitched into the rocks. Even though there were key areas that you couldn’t climb as freely, the much smaller guardrails around traversal in the overworld of BotW was a huge part of why this game sunk its claws into me for so long.
Climbing starts out harder in Breath of the Wild when you have just one stamina wheel, no food, and no other buffs to speak of, but had all I could possibly need and some casts of the incredible Revali’s Gale ability to boot. I was able to make it up the sheer sections of trunk and had gotten Link bulky enough to make it to the Deku Tree’s huge limbs for occasional breathers. When I realized I was getting to the top, I decided to do one Revali’s Gale jump for style, and I was even more delighted by what I saw up there than I even expected to be.
There weren’t any shiny new armor sets, or secret shrines, or the Master Sword 2.0 — just a clearing brimming with plants and one Korok hanging out up here who tells you some riddles for a minor sidequest. I dutifully went and gathered his five requests, starting with an Apple and tripping me up a little bit on the fourth request for a Voltfin Trout. Every time I returned, I happily climbed up the Great Deku Tree again and again and never got tired of it. I didn’t even care about the diamond he gave me at the end; Link was absolutely drowning in rupees at this point, and he was much, much richer for the wholesome childhood experience of climbing a tree.
This little area is one of many countless spots that exemplify the love and care that went into this world. Just seeing the area was reward enough. If there were a blank clearing up there with a chest that had a mechanically better item, I probably wouldn’t have felt as satisfied because of how much less personal and handcrafted it would have felt. Okay, I might have been excited if there was a Master Greatsword in a blank area, but that’s literally the only way.
Climbing in video games is such an important element but can be approached in totally different ways. The free-running and climbing system in the Assassin’s Creed games is a far cry from the Spider-Man game series. Breath of the Wild strikes a fine balance between being shockingly permissive with where you can go and also giving you firm walls in the form of limited stamina you can slowly raise, as well as locations like Shrines and the Divine Beasts where climbing is much less emphasized. Even though Link doesn’t have the infinite mobility of a web-slinger, his items and powers are perfectly suited for the vistas and landscapes of Hyrule, and you learn more about how your Sheikah abilities and other powers can be used for movement as you go.
As much as I love just ascending whatever I laid my eyes on just to see if my stamina could manage it, I also enjoyed how I was able to put my own spin on combat not just by mastering dodge and parry timing, but using the environment and movement to my advantage. Not only is there an obvious advantage in the high ground, especially when you haven’t been spotted, but there are plenty of other great touches like the slow-motion mode you can go into after jumping that lets you bury a hail of arrows in a super unlucky Moblin’s face on the way down. I even discovered more movement mechanics through combat, like the first time I saw a fire arrow land in the grass and cause a swell of wind that I could then ride up with the paraglider.
There are so many more advanced movement options left to try to master. I could train myself to nail the timing of the mind-boggling bomb jumps that speedrunners sometimes use, or try to figure out more of the deep options around launching objects out of the Stasis ability. But even with these complicated techniques, I got the most enjoyment in managing my stamina, wondering if I had enough to make a leap to the next section of flat ground. I became a Rushroom fiend, cooking tons of hasty meals and chuckling at Link’s sped up animations when he’s hauling ass up any peak, no belay in sight. I know there are a million and one awesome features in Tears of the Kingdom to look forward to, but the climbing goblin in me is just so ready to scramble up some new and beautiful structures.