Breath Of The Wild And The Burden Of Dreams

In October 2016, world class boulderer Nalle Hukkataival completed the first ascent of a climb he had called the Lappnor project.

The Lappnor project: a climb where every single hold requires movement that literally pushes a human being’s ability to move upwards to its absolute limit. There is no route yet discovered that is as difficult.

It took Nalle Hukkataival over four years to finally complete the climb. He finished it at night, alone, almost by accident. Just another day, another attempt. He gave it the grade V17 – the first and only V17 in the world.

He called the route ‘Burden of Dreams’.

Climbing in Zelda: Breath of the Wild reminds me of the Burden of Dreams.

When I first began playing I was underwhelmed. As someone who loves video games and loves climbing, I’ve spent a lot of time (and words) thinking about the intricacies of climbing in games – how the moves are represented, how the animations reflect good or bad technique. Whether or not the development team has done a good job of representing what it feels like to move on rock.

Based upon those metrics, Zelda: Breath of the Wild falls short. The animations are sub-par, the rock textures barely representative of the movements Link makes whilst climbing. Compared to, say, Uncharted 4 which set a new benchmark in climbing animation and movement, Breath of the Wild is crudely abstract. Link doesn’t really climb in the traditional sense, so much as he just hunkers up the rock. Breath of the Wild is impressionist – it gives us the broad strokes and asks us to fill in the blanks.

No, the important thing about Breath of the Wild is this: it allows you to climb anything you see. Not in the Assassin’s Creed sense — which sets routes for the player on every building — in the actual sense. In Breath of the Wild you can attempt to climb every vertical surface you encounter. In Breath of the Wild you look at the mountain in the distance and you ask, “I wonder if I can climb that?”

Breath of the Wild gives its players the burden of dreams.

Can I climb this wall? Is it even possible?

In Breath of the Wild you can climb anything, but you can also fall.

You don’t fall because you pressed the wrong button. You don’t fall because you misread a texture. You don’t fall because you missed on onscreen prompt. You fall because you run out of stamina. You fall because you aren’t strong enough.

In climbing there’s an allure around the ‘first ascent’, particularly in bouldering, particularly at the higher grades. Because climbers at the highest level aren’t just climbing, they’re pushing the limits of human achievement. When Nalle Hukkataival attempted Burden of Dreams for the first time he couldn’t do a single move, let alone string them together and ‘climb’. For the longest time — for a period of years – he was asking himself an important question.

He was asking, “is this possible?”

Is this humanly possible?

Video games rarely ask you if something is possible. Most video games don’t ask you to do the impossible. They are explicitly designed to be possible. Of course Nathan Drake can climb that wall. That is the wall that will trigger the next cut-scene and the next shoot-out. That is the wall that has literally, from its inception, been created for you to climb. Go climb it. Climb without fear. It is possible. That is a promise. A promise that can’t be broken.

But here is what true exploration, and true climbing, requires – the absolute possibility of failure. The possibility that something is not possible. The possibility that you will fall.

That’s the true burden of dreams.

In Breath of the Wild every ascent is a first ascent. That’s the beauty of it. These climbs have not been designed, they simply exist. No-one has climbed these walls the way I’ve climbed them. No-one has moved on this rock like I have. And they never will

Are there walls and mountains in Breath of the Wild that are impossible to climb? I’m not sure and I doubt I’ll ever know. I only know that this is a video game that allows me to ask the question, “can I climb this?” without immediately (and conclusively) giving me the answer to that question before I even start.


    The Legend of Zelda: Burden of Dreams and of Not Being Able to Cook Porridge

    That's a very interesting perspective on design. And it's very appealing.

    Similar to the U4 example of the guaranteed-to-be-possible designed climb, is the annoyance of the 'should be possible, but the developer put a fucking invisible wall up there, so... computer says no' bullshit.

    The only unclimable walls seem to be sheikah shrine internal and external walls. And the occasional walls that are so covered in doodads and furntiure that you can reach the wall.

      You also can't climb the walls in the Divine Beasts/dungeons

    the climbing mechanic is quite clever, the amount of Stamina used changes depending on temperature and incline. you obviously use much more when its a front incline, and even more so if its cold, alot of the time I have to stop and think to map out the safest route.

      wait, what?! I hadn't noticed this!

        yeah dude, check the incline as its the most noticeable, a 60 degree angle either for or against your favor will change it dramatically. the cold isn't as notable but will definitely chip away at it a little quicker.

    Been trying to explain this to those people who don't Zelda. I'm just going to direct them here and tell them to read this. Brilliant.

    That is so weird that this went up today. Just last night (well, "this morning") I diverted from my path to Zora's Domain, because there was a huge arse mountain with very vertical walls, and Prince Sidon had said "you can't climb the mountains [in this constant rain], they're too slippery". So I spent the better part of an hour or two trying to find any spot on this huge mountain (the one near Zora's Domain with the huge circular lake on top) that I could make it up, with only the meagre resources I had on hand.

    There didn't seem to be anything there, but the sense of achievement (read: defiance) and that photo were enough to continue on with my save rather than revert and get back that elixir I probably wouldn't have ended up using anyway :P

    I was waiting to see if Mark did a story on the climbing and he didn't disappoint, good read!

    Like many others I was awaiting Mark's climbing article since the BOTW previews began.
    After actually playing the game I worried that the end result would essentially be "You can shuffle up anything so it's not climbing... play 'Grow Up' instead." (only play it if you have strong index fingers)
    Glad to be proven wrong; "insert dream reference here."

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