Okay, sure, the full world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not Hyrule. But I mean, really, what else are we going to call it?
However we dub its lands, Zelda is an interesting case study for me personally. As an old timey gamer, I played Zeldas 1, 2, and 3. I was particularly obsessed with A Link to the Past. It was, really, one of the first games I played through from end to end in one setting and, in a lot of ways, it was one of the first “open world” games, as far as that goes. I also played Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64.
Thereafter came a lapse.
It wasn’t just Zelda. Moving on to college and adulthood meant a change in my overall gaming habits. After transitioning almost exclusively to PC gaming, then to MMOs, video gaming took a backseat to the tabletop and my time with Link and Zelda was no more.
So imagine my genuine surprise when, after getting the family a Nintendo Switch this Christmas, it turns out I absolutely love Breath of the Wild. I’m not the biggest fan of open world games and BOTW certainly did not hook me at first. But having now spent many hours roaming its hillsides and byways, I can call myself a fan.
The Zelda franchise is no stranger to inns and taverns. Even the earliest iterations on the Famicom/NES had our hooded protagonist wandering into drinking holes. BOTW has dotted its world with a few settlements and each has a little inn (and in one case, at least, a bonified tavern) to call its own! Some time soon we’ll look at these and see how they hold up as tavern experiences.
For our first venture in these wilds, however, I want to spotlight one such establishment in particular: the stable.
The various stables we come across are all the same: a bivouac- or yurt-like structure mounted (see what I did there?) by a massive horse’s head to be scoped from far across the vast strips of land they survey. Around each inn, whether the chilly flats of Snowfield Stable or the pleasant greenery of Dueling Peaks Stable, is consistently what you’d expect: stocked wood, a few animals, supplies, and shelters for the eponymous horses.
Inside isn’t even a proper inn or tavern. It’s more like a hostel, with a handful of beds fanned out across the circular structure, each with only four posts and a few sheets to offer privacy. And yet the design is pleasing! A few tables, cozy wooden floors and walls, a stump or two outside for sitting is all our cast of characters needs.
This is the larger point: what the stables of BOTW lack in true design or grandeur, they make up for with charm. And isn’t that true of this game as a whole? Rather than a proper bar, exotic drinks, or spacious rooms, these stables give us a rotating cast of characters to interact with. Somehow or another they make it to the next stable just before us. They’ve always got something to say or some request to make; they add life to an already lively landscape.
Beadle, Phanna, Cass, the identical stable masters, and all the rest are more immersion than you might find in dedicated tavern games. They move about of their volition, obeying the time of day and the whims of nature as they come inside to sleep or stay dry. Even games with heftier AI don’t necessarily carry the same charm as our friends in Hyrule.
We players can’t party at the stables. There isn’t much by way of performances. We don’t help around the inn. But knowing that at the end of our dusty road, when we hear that cheerful flute, will be some familiar faces and a cozy, firelit space makes the stables of Breath of the Wild truly special in the world of fantasy inns and taverns.
CLICK HERE to see a quick tour of the stables on YouTube.