Why Is the ‘Breath of the Wild’ Sequel Taking So Long?

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Nintendo formally unveiled the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel during E3 in 2019. That lengthy, ridiculous name is definitively not what Nintendo will call the follow-up to one of the greatest games ever made, but it’s what they’re publicly going with for now. Apparently, the game’s actual title could be a spoiler. 

And, true to form, Nintendo has been extremely tight-lipped. Despite revealing plans for the game almost three years ago, fans still know very little about the upcoming Zelda game aside from its setting and the information gleaned from a handful of short teaser videos. 

Recently, Nintendo announced that it was pushing the game’s release window back from a nebulous “sometime in 2022” release to a narrower, less aspirational “Spring 2023.” Fans on social media have been understanding and measured, for the most part, applauding Nintendo for taking the time to polish the highly-anticipated new game. Some have begun to wonder, though: What could possibly be taking this long? 

Development Process and Game Engine

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword plopped onto the Wii in all its muddy, messy glory in late 2011. Six years later, Nintendo dropped Breath of the Wild on the Wii U and Switch, melting everyone’s brains and redefining what makes an open-world game worth playing. Now, it’s been five years since Breath of the Wild, and we still don’t know its sequel’s name. If Nintendo sticks to its promise of a Spring 2023 release window, it will have taken them another six years to release a follow-up game in the BOTW engine.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider those numbers again. It took Nintendo six years to create Breath of the Wild’s engine from scratch. That’s six years to create the sprawling map of Hyrule, all the various enemy types, a massive cast of NPCs, and over a hundred unique shrine puzzles.

The sequel to Breath of the Wild will presumably reuse many assets from the first title, including its overworld map, enemy types, and NPC animations. Nintendo has shown itself capable of rapidly pumping out sequels when they reuse assets in this manner. In 1998, the company released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Two years later, it released the beloved follow-up, Majora’s Mask. The studio was able to deliver this sequel in record time because it simply reused the assets from Ocarina and offered a new storyline and a handful of dungeons. 

What’s more, it only took the team another three years to create the next mainline entry in the franchise, 2003’s masterpiece, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Once again, the team reused some assets from Ocarina to streamline the development process, though it also introduced a new oceanic setting and a huge collection of new dungeons. 

So, that’s two sequels in less than the time it will have taken Nintendo to release the Breath of the Wild follow-up. This is, of course, assuming the game actually sticks to the Spring 2023 release window that Nintendo has promised this time. What could possibly be taking this long?

When Did Development Start?

Some fans argue that critics are being unfair when they ask what’s taking so long with the new entry. They argue that the studio likely didn’t begin development on the BotW sequel until after all of the DLC for Breath of the Wild made its way into the Nintendo eShop. However, this isn’t true. In the 2018 art book The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Creating a Champion, developers confirmed they began working on a follow-up to Breath of the Wild immediately after shipping the game for Wii U and Switch in March 2017.

Series producer Eiji Aonuma told reporters that the team developed concepts for a sequel to the hit open-world game while working on downloadable content for Breath of the Wild. Aonuma noted that the team had “too many ideas” for DLC, so they spun them off into a full-scale sequel. 

“When we released the DLC for Breath of the Wild, we realized that this is a great way to add more elements to the same world. But when it comes down to technical things, DLC is pretty much data–you’re adding data to a preexisting title,” Aonuma noted. “And so when we wanted to add bigger changes, DLC is not enough, and that’s why we thought maybe a sequel would be a good fit.

“Initially we were thinking of just DLC ideas, but then we had a lot of ideas and we said, ‘This is too many ideas, let’s just make one new game and start from scratch.'”

So, Nintendo’s internal studio has been working on the sequel to Breath of the Wild since 2017. Why has a seemingly straightforward sequel dragged into its sixth year of development?

Grand Ambition

Breath of the Wild is the best-selling Zelda game by a wide margin. It’s one of the most beloved games of all time, and it’s likely partially responsible for the Nintendo Switch’s resounding commercial success. It’s spawned countless imitators and has redefined the open-world genre for good. To say that its sequel is hotly-anticipated would be an understatement. 

Nintendo knows how much is riding on this game being good. Microsoft and Sony are releasing juggernaut first-party titles this year in Starfield and God of War: Ragnarok. From Software just released Elden Ring, a sweeping RPG title that takes direct inspiration from Breath of the Wild and adds a Dark Souls spin to the open-world formula. It’s vital for Nintendo to knock this one out of the park to give the Switch another critical darling so it can keep pace with its notably more-powerful PS5 and Xbox Series X competitors. 

As such, the studio could be taking its time to deliver a sprawling follow-up that adds significantly more content than fans are expecting. Aonuma confirmed that the sequel will take place on land as well as “in the sky,” so it’s possible Nintendo has been busy crafting a sprawling series of sky-high temples and cloud-based villages.

But game developers can make massive RPG titles in under six years, right? Is there more going on behind the scenes than sprawling ambition and sky-high expectations?

Work-From-Home Issues in Japan

There’s no getting around the fact that the past two years have been tough for game developers. Some studios struggled to adapt to working from home, while others found the process slowed their creative output. This issue was worse for some Japanese developers, as the country’s infrastructure made working from home trickier than it would have been in some other regions.

Many Japanese developers didn’t own a home PC in March 2020, and some didn’t have access to high-speed internet to allow them to work on large, complex projects. It’s impossible to overstate how much this hurdle has impacted the video game industry. Many notable games slated for the Holiday 2021 release window slipped back to the first quarter of 2022, like Elden Ring and Horizon: Forbidden West. Even Nintendo’s big 2021 game, Pokemon Legends: Arceus fell through the cracks and landed in January 2022. As such, it’s easy to see how the massive Breath of the Wild sequel could slip back a few months to land in early 2023. 

Stacked Holiday Season in 2022 

Nintendo fans won’t be left in the cold by this delay, though. The 2022 holiday season is already absolutely stacked with games. Nintendo has confirmed that two new mainline Pokemon games, Scarlet and Violet, will hit the console near the end of the year. These games will use a similar 3D exploration model as Arceus, dramatically modernizing the Pokemon formula.

This year will also see a similar massive RPG land on the Switch. Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the sequel of 2017’s excellent Xenoblade Chronicles 2, comes out in September. Notably, the game’s developer, Monolith Soft, helped Nintendo work on both Breath of the Wild and its sequel. The company is renowned for its ability to create stunning open-world environments and eye-catching character designs. 

Platinum Games also claims that Bayonetta 3 will (finally) come out in 2022. Fans first heard about the third entry in the beloved action series back in 2017, but the studio only showed off gameplay during Nintendo’s September Direct in 2021. Fans are eager to get their hands on the new title, which will land at least eight years after the release of Bayonetta 2 in 2014.

If anything, the Breath of the Wild sequel’s delay only gives players more time to enjoy the massive volume of top-notch games coming out for the Switch this year. Some fans are now half-jokingly calling on Nintendo to release Switch versions of the HD remasters of The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, a pair of games the company released for the Wii U in 2013 and 2016, respectively. Switch players have joked that these are two of the only major Wii U games that haven’t yet been released on Switch. Well, these, and Xenoblade Chronicles X. Come on, Nintendo, bring the whole Xenoblade franchise to Switch already!