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Nintendo’s Zelda BOTW 2 reveal was an utterly genius bait and switch – here's why

E3 2021 BOTW 2
(Image credit: Nintendo)

We finally have a Breath of the Wild 2 release date, but perhaps the most breathtaking part of Nintendo’s E3 2021 presentation was in how deftly the Zelda developer turned fan expectations on their head.

Those of us hankering after a Breath of the Wild sequel have spent the past two years under certain misleading impressions – those set by the teaser shown off at E3 2019.

That 2019 trailer, though, showed off a dark underside to Hyrule, with Link and Zelda combing through massive, gaping caverns – a seeming underground ruin beneath the castle (or even land) of Hyrule. With rumors of the Zelda series taking a darker turn – in a similar fashion to Majora’s Mask only a handful of years after Ocarina of Time released on the N64 – all signs pointed to a Breath of the Wild 2 game that sent you beneath Hyrule to fight a dark, abyssal threat.

Much of the imagery from this teaser was also reminiscent of the Twili, a people of shadows in Twilight Princess, a game where darkness quite literally fell across on the land. Things were getting darker, gloomier, and almost certainly taking place underground – shaking up the above-ground formula of Breath of the Wild, a game in which dungeons had been relegated to small puzzle rooms dotted across Hyrule’s many shrines.

But Nintendo’s E3 presentation this year turned all of that on its head.

Turn that frown upside down

E3 2021 BOTW 2

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The new Breath of the Wild 2 trailer was the opposite of what Nintendo primed fans for back in 2019. It showed the Hyrule we knew from the original BOTW game, from a much higher vantage point – and instead of delving deeper underground, it lifted Link up into the skies.

What looked like in-game footage showed Link paragliding through the clouds, and even teleporting upwards into floating structures – while Hyrule Castle itself floated off of the ground at the trailer’s close. There are several vistas that show a recognizable Hyrule from the first game, but the vantage point is much higher than the Ubisoft-like towers that allow Link to fast-travel in the first BOTW game.

The feel of the game so far appears to be nothing like Majora’s Mask, and much closer to Skyward Sword (a Wii / Wii U from 2011), the earliest canonical entry in the Zelda series and one that takes place at least partially in the floating city of Skyloft.

There were some hints towards this in the 2019 teaser, now that we look back. The flicker of a shadow appeared to show the villain from Skyward Sword, Demise, while the terrifying skeleton’s attire – like that of Link’s in the new trailer – has elements of Grecian design that match the earlier game’s aesthetic.

But the new E3 unveiling is so antithetical to the feel of the initial teaser that it comes as something of a shock. 

Look to the skies

Breath of the Wild 2 running across the fields

(Image credit: Nintendo)

It made a lot of sense for Nintendo to shake up its formula by embracing the dungeons it had largely diminished in the 2016 game – but we can’t deny that it makes even more sense for Nintendo to lean into BOTW’s open-world stylings even further, expanding vertically for a bigger sandbox that incorporates the skies.

We’re yet to see exactly how ground-level Hyrule and its sky-level counterpart will intersect, and it’s the most fascinating part of the E3 trailer so far. In Skyward Sword, they were very much distinct areas, though we are desperately hoping for a fluid transition between them if the Switch (or the power of its rumored Nintendo Switch Pro successor) is able to support it. 

Being able to stand at one end of the map in Breath of the Wild and see the other side was what made the game’s exploration feel so expansive, and we need Nintendo to ensure the same applies when we’re looking down from the clouds. 

Floating gently down from the skies into the arms of a Moblin on a snowy mountain peak, or into the path of the dragon, would be a truly magical experience that further highlights the beautiful vistas of Hyrule, and shows that Nintendo can outdo the incredible, sprawling Zelda game we loved back in 2017.

You can watch the new Breath of the Wild 2 trailer below:

Henry St Leger

Henry is TechRadar's News & Features Editor, covering the stories of the day with verve, moxie, and aplomb. He's spent the past three years reporting on TVs, projectors and smart speakers as well as gaming and VR – including a stint as the website's Home Cinema Editor – and has been interviewed live on both BBC World News and Channel News Asia, discussing the future of transport and 4K resolution televisions respectively. As a graduate of English Literature and persistent theatre enthusiast, he'll usually be found forcing Shakespeare puns into his technology articles, which he thinks is what the Bard would have wanted. Bylines include Edge, T3, and Little White Lies.