We’ve already seen numerous ways in which The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild distinguishes itself from its illustrious predecessors, but one of the more controversial changes for some was how it handled “dungeons”.
Rather than unfolding through a progression of discrete, large, self-contained dungeons that become more challenging as the game progresses, Breath of the Wild instead provides you with 120 shrines to discover and solve, with each taking just a few minutes at most to get through.
It’s a markedly different approach to classic Zelda — but it fits perfectly with the game’s non-linear, exploration-centric structure. Let’s take a closer look.
The shrines are core to the game’s character progression mechanics in that successfully completing them awards you with a Spirit Orb, and you can trade four Spirit Orbs in for either an extra heart container or an increase to your maximum amount of stamina. Both are useful, because at the outset of the game Link has about as much resilience as a wet paper bag and the lung capacity of a chaffinch, but it doesn’t take too long to become fighting fit.
There are three types of shrine. “Trial” shrines are essentially mini-dungeons in which there are one or more self-contained puzzles to solve, plus one or more treasure chests to open. “Test of Strength” shrines simply takes Link to an arena where he must face off against a single, powerful opponent. And “Blessing” shrines are typically either completely hidden or difficult to get to, with their main challenge being simply reaching them rather than accomplishing anything particularly complicated within.
The Trial shrines are probably the most interesting and varied, since there are lots of different types of puzzles to solve.
As we previously discussed, Breath of the Wild doesn’t progress in the same way as older Zelda games in that you don’t gradually unlock your abilities over the game’s duration — you instead acquire most of them within the first hour of gameplay, and then spend the rest of the game making use of them in various creative manners.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Trial shrines, which will have you doing all manner of things: hitting switches with arrows; freezing waterfalls to create platforms or direct the path of rolling objects; using the motion controls of the Switch to roll an object through a “labyrinth”; playing golf with a giant hammer; catapulting yourself across chasms; and all manner of other things besides.
The puzzles are often challenging, but because you know for a fact you’ll always be in a position where you can deal with whatever the game throws at you, you know there’s always a solution within reach. Well, usually, anyway; the one exception to this rule is if you get yourself into a position where you’ve broken all your weapons and/or don’t have any arrows left to fire, because at the very least you usually need something to hit things with. In this situation, you’ll probably need to step back outside and gather yourself a new arsenal before trying again, but at least you can fast travel back to the shrine’s entrance from the overworld at any time.
The best thing about the shrine puzzles is that there’s clearly a specific solution the creators had in mind, but because so many of them have an element of physics or randomisation about them, it often feels like you can get a bit “creative” with how you solve the problems you’re faced with. Much like gameplay out in the overworld, a lot of the fun in the shrines comes from asking yourself “I wonder if I can do this” and then trying things out to see if, indeed, you can do that. The difference is that in the shrines, you’re in a more constrained, tightly designed area, so it’s a little easier to predict the results of any little experiments you have planned.
The Test of Strength shrines, meanwhile, provide a good means of determining Link’s overall power level; although Breath of the Wild feels a lot more “RPG-like” than many previous Zelda games, Link still lacks things like an experience level, and the majority of his strength comes from the equipment he is wearing at any given time, so it can sometimes be tricky to judge whether or not you’re up to a significant challenge such as, say, facing down a fearsome Lynel.
Enter the Test of Strength shrines, then, which are all graded as Minor, Modest or Major in accordance with their difficulty. Beat the Guardian robot inside and you’ll have a good idea of what is safe to fight at your present power level — so long as you didn’t break your weapon in the process, of course.
What’s interesting about these is that, much like the Trial shrines, you’re pretty free to approach the battle as you see fit. While your opponent does have attack patterns that you can learn to recognise and counter, there’s nothing stopping you from challenging yourself to defeat them in unusual ways. Reckon you can take one down using only the Remote Bombs power? Go for it. Pilfered some elemental wands from the local Wizzrobe population? Get zappin’. Found a sword with an interesting name? Hack and slash away and see what — if anything — is special about it.
The other nice thing about the Test of Strength shrines is that, between them, they give you the opportunity to practice against a variety of different weapon types in close combat, and you can subsequently use that knowledge and experience when fighting similarly armed organic enemies in the overworld. One Guardian might have a sword and shield; another might have a spear; another still might wield a claymore. During combat, it’s a good idea to observe and learn the attack patterns that are distinct and unique to each weapon type and figure out the best times (and directions!) to dodge — successfully mastering dodging allows you to pull off the Flurry Rush manoeuvre, in which time slows down and allows you a bunch of “free” attacks on your opponent. This is a really helpful skill to master, regardless of what you’re fighting.
They’re also just fun, particularly in the later stages of the fight when the Guardian starts attacking from range and causing the pillars around the arena to shatter and crumble. These fights are enjoyably self-contained and dramatic — and thankfully they don’t overstay their welcome, either, unless you step into one woefully underprepared… in which case you’ll probably be beaten to a pulp in short order, anyway.
Finally, the Blessing shrines typically go hand-in-hand with the “Shrine Quests” that you uncover as you explore Hyrule. Sometimes these stem from rumours and local folklore; at other times there are little mini-plots to follow through to their conclusion; at others still you’ll have to use your abilities and items in creative ways. A particularly memorable one tasks you with firing an arrow at the sun at a particular time of day; another sees you leaping off a waterfall and plunging a specific trident into the ground before you land; another still is at the centre of a complex, high-walled labyrinth; and some are simply in remote, perilous-to-reach locations.
In these cases, the game has the good sense not to confront you with either a Trial or a Test of Strength after it’s been an ordeal just getting to the damn shrine; instead, inside the shrine you’ll typically find a single treasure chest and the finish point directly ahead of you; you’ve done enough just reaching this out of the way location, so you can enjoy your blessing without any further challenges.
With 120 in total to discover, for many Breath of the Wild players shrine hunting makes up the bulk of the overall game experience. It’s a great incentive to explore, since locating and completing shrines can ultimately translate directly into improving Link’s innate abilities, and in the case of the Trials in particular, the shrines play host to some of the game’s most interesting, unusual challenges.
They’re not the only challenges Link has to face, though… but more on what else our hero has to deal with another day!
More about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
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