Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Combat optional

One of the comments on my previous post on Zelda about combat feeling optional got me thinking. Role-playing games evolved from war games: The full name of TSR, the company that first made Dungeons & Dragons, was "Tactical Studies Rules"; and the game evolved out of a squad-based war game with heroes fighting monsters. Since then combat against monsters has been very much at the heart of role-playing games of all sorts. Frequently you gained experience points, and thus levels, and thus power, by killing monsters. In MMORPGs that even led to players thinking about monsters as being a resource, with other players being a nuisance for "killstealing" or otherwise taking that monster resource away from you.

In Zelda - Breath of the Wild the monster is back where it belongs: In the role of an obstacle. There are no xp to gain, killing monsters doesn't increase your power. Yes, you might earn a nice weapon in a treasure, but you could also break your weapon while killing the monsters and then find a worse replacement in their treasure chest. Monsters drop monster parts, which can be combined with stuff like insects to cook elixirs (which sell for much more than the monster parts). There is even a special trader in the game that allows you to trade monster parts for another currency with which you can buy special items like monster disguises. But in the long run, killing monsters frequently just isn't worth it. When exploring in the mountains and getting attacked by a monster, I'd try to punt it over a ledge and got rid of it, even if that meant I wouldn't loot it.

Combat isn't completely optional however. At the very least you will need to kill 5 different incarnations of Ganon, the big evil guy, before reaching the closing credits. If you want to do all shrines, about 10% of them consist of a combat trial, and some others have lesser guardian monsters mixed with puzzles. You might also want at some point in time farm certain monster parts to upgrade armor with. But what I like is that you can wander the landscape and decide to circumvent a monster camp if you don't feel like attacking it. Because you don't have to fight everything.

But is that like playing chess using only half the board?

I guess avoiding a single monster is like playing chess without one of the pawns but avoiding a camp would be like playing without all the pawns and avoiding an area would be like using only half the board. Yes you are playing but you are missing out, are you not?
Well, in chess there isn't anything else but combat. In Zelda: Breath of the Wild combat is far less than half of the things to do. You're free to do it for fun, but you once you get bored by swinging a sword, you can avoid it.

Note that in Zelda there are lots of monster camps which are set up so you can kill monsters in other ways than by swinging a sword. For example some live in huge skull caves, and through the eyes of the skull you can sometimes shoot an arrow at a lantern, which will then fall on an explosive barrel and give a very satisfying *boom*. Or there are huge boulders somewhere above the camp which you can roll onto them. Usually you can't get every monster in the camp like that, but at least very much weaken it if you aren't that well equipped otherwise.
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