Ask almost anyone that enjoys video games, and they will tell you something about The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The next big game from Nintendo is easily one of the anticipated games this year, let alone in the last five years. How do you follow up and deliver a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Thankfully, the answer is doubling down on what made people love Breath of the Wild and adding some welcome changes.
When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launched, the world quickly warmed up to the grandest adventure Link had embarked on, filled with new and familiar elements that have left millions of fans enthralled and hungry for a follow-up. I don’t need to do much to sell you a new Zelda game because it is one of the biggest franchises. I must discuss all the new additions because they are fantastic and smartly implemented throughout the campaign.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom offers so much to returning players
Since we last saw it, the world of Hyrule has undergone significant changes. One such change is the appearance of Sky Islands in the distance. To reach these islands, one must collect items that fall from the sky, which you’ll need to seek out and record to visit. You’ll soon find yourself far above the one you’ve come to know, and it is here things begin to come at you and where the fate of everyone in Hyrule now rests.
The opening hours are akin to the Great Plateau segment in Breath of the Wild and are a welcome sight for someone who’s been away for a few years like me. I had lost my groove jumping back in and quickly learned the hard way how easily Link will fall if you’re paying attention. The Sky Islands hold endless secrets, and the place you wind up encourages you to head out into the wild again and find Light Orbs. These Light Orbs are essential items that grant additional hearts to Link; he’ll need all the support to stop Ganondorf.
The opening hours familiarize players with the new abilities provided to Link. Fuse, Recall, Ascend, and Ultrahand vastly differ from the Sheikah abilities from Breath of the Wild. Fuse, for example, allows players to fuse an arrow with a monster’s eye to create a homing arrow that tracks moving targets. The game also introduces shields that can be combined with other items, such as mushrooms, to create a smoke screen when an enemy strikes. In Breath of the Wild, players had to search for weapons to find powerful offensive tools. With the addition of Fuse, players can create and engage with enemies in new and exciting ways.
Problem-Solving At Its Finest
The best way to describe Tears of the Kingdom and all its new systems is simple — a tool chest. The Legend of Zelda has always been about finding solutions. Look at any of the previous games’ dungeons and sidequests, and it’s easy to see that those games have led to this game. Look at the new abilities Link has at his disposal, like Fuse. For example, combining a Tree Branch with a rock creates a hammer with enhanced durability, while fusing a pitchfork with a long stick creates a spear for long-range attacks. In the earlier hours, Fuse saved Link’s behind on more than one occasion. Against a group of Bokoblin and their leader, I’m in no shape to fight and in short supply of weapons. With my last spear and sword in my inventory, I could run and regroup or Fuse a rock and a branch to make a hammer. This pairing worked to my advantage because the blunt nature of the weapon meant I could sweep attack and hit the mob instead of damaging enemies individually.
You can experiment by shaking gameplay by adding Fuse to the mix. If, for example, you’re fighting a flying enemy that is usually difficult to land a hit on, you now have a choice to work with. Players can use a monster’s eye to fuse an arrow with the item to overcome this challenge, creating a homing arrow that easily tracks moving targets. Players can also combine arrows with items from their inventory, such as a leaf and an ice elemental, to create a frozen arrow. Players can also fuse shields with other things, such as mushrooms, to create a smoke screen when struck by an enemy.
In addition to the Fuse ability, Link can now use Ultrahand to create a raft by finding logs in the game’s world. By attaching a fan to the boat, players can propel themselves forward. It can also create a car, a plane, and other items, allowing players to unleash their imagination. Out of all the new abilities Link acquires, Ultrahand is finicky. While it works without any lingering issues, rotating it to get the ideal angle can be cumbersome. Many reviews mentioned they had problems with Ultrahand. I often reset an item’s position as the physics can be wonky if not placed correctly. This problem with Ultrahand becomes apparent when placing rockets or fans in the wrong direction and then blowing off course and even to the world below.
Ascend is a specific movement skill that allows you to move through solid objects like rocks and walls. However, it is limited because it only works upwards and requires a ceiling close to your position. This ability is advantageous when exploring a cavern or a lower-level room, enabling you to reach the top of a mountain or tower. Once you’re there, you can use your glider to move to other areas. It’s worth noting that Nintendo has made several alterations to the game’s previous locations while adding new content, including the Sky Islands. I encountered a problem early on when I decided to explore a well with hidden treasures inside. I spent almost five minutes panicking because there was no clear-cut way to get out of the hole in the ground until I remembered that Ascend bypassed a lot of problems by solving such a fundamental issue.
For those who might not be interested in the building aspects of Link’s newfound powers, the Autobuild ability allows you to streamline the building process. Once you save the designs, you are free to summon the Zonai machines you’ve discovered, but you’ll also need the parts on hand to create them.
The Demon King Returns
Recall is another ability that’s relatively easy to understand. It’s a time-rewinding skill that allows you to return items to their original position. This ability comes in handy when retrieving fallen or misplaced items, and it’s also helpful in undoing any mistakes you might make while experimenting with other skills. With Recall, you can quickly and easily fix any issues, enabling you to stay focused on exploring the game’s world and solving its puzzles. Recall works best when trying to help the Korok who return and hide throughout the landscape of Hyrule. Using your new tools to help them gather, you will often work through solutions that will get them together. For myself, it was often a case of having to Recall a Korok I’d mistakenly launched in the wrong direction of the face of a cliff. Using the Recall ability, the Korok would return to its starting position and thus, allowing you to try again to get the Koroks together.
The new abilities and freedom Tears of the Kingdom offers are nothing short of staggering. You’re given an overwhelming sense of autonomy from the opening moments, energy and understanding that the developers trust the player and give them the tools to succeed and engage in a world affected by Ganondorf’s return. The Upheaval has left a significant mark on the world of Hyrule, giving way to islands in the sky and caves throughout the land. This design is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game because it guides the player but never points you to where to go or what to do.
And while the shrines for most don’t meet their full potential, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom does a much better job of providing the traditional Zelda experience. While Breath of the Wild’s Divine Beasts were fun, they never hit the same highs a proper dungeon offered. It’s hard to replicate the satisfaction of working through a puzzle room, finding a Small Key, and working your way to the Boss Key and encounter. Thankfully, Tears of the Kingdom moves the needle in the right direction.
Zonai-ce to see you again, Link
All I’ve said above and this reasoning is why I don’t see the hyperbole of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as simply being an expansion. There’s so much to do and discover throughout the new world, one that any returning player should see isn’t just more of the world you knew but a world that is mired in some of the devasting events to unfold throughout the expansive established timeline.
Throughout Hyrule and the skies above, the Zonai finally enter the main stage, playing a significant role throughout the story. Spread across the world are Zonai charges and batteries used to power the various Zonai devices like fans, rockets, Flame Emitters, and so on. You’ll also encounter Zonai Constructs and Zonai Soldiers who will engage Link on sight and powered by the Zonai charges. Additionally, you can find the Zonai Device Dispensers that look like a gachapon machine and distribute one-time use tools like fans, pots, balloons, and more.
However, I have gripes with the new map, and it mainly revolves around the new 100+ caves you’ll come across. The caves themselves aren’t inherently deep. While the first dozen or so are welcome, it slowly devolves into entering the same-ish-looking cave over and over, collecting a few items/fighting some enemies, then moving on. Not all caves are particularly challenging, often making things even more muddied. There was a chance to make the caves some of the best content in-game, as caves could have led to special minibosses that Link could have faced for new gear.
While the shrines never meet the highs offered in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the series returns with the Zonai Shrines. The Zonai shrines are a lot of fun, and the freedom to approach them creatively is still there, but even as I made my way through the shrines, mini-puzzles which brilliantly make use of Link’s new powers, I never had the same impression the shrines left in 2017. I’ve also not seen anything that would stand up to Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island or Shrouded Shrine.
There had to be a replacement with the Divine Beasts no more; thus, a cross between the traditional dungeon format and the Divine Beasts appears. Each temple returns with a theme, and they are more significant than the Divine Beasts but smaller than anything you might find in Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword. None of them are as elaborate as the Divine Beasts, and I had much less of a struggle completing the several dungeons you’re required to head to. Like Breath of the Wild, you can handle them in any order and follow the same concept as the Divine Beasts.
To even get to the temple, you’ll embark on a journey of sorts to get there. To even get to the Wind Temple is an exercise in patience and platforming as it begins within one of the villages before you soon find yourself along with a partner climbing ancient ruins way high in the sky. It is also a testament to the sheer size of Tears of the Kingdom, a product that is double the size of Breath of the Wild.
Whether on land, in the sky, or in the depths below, Link’s latest adventure is filled with purposeful adventures. It isn’t an easy task having so much content that is so carefully woven into the main plot but the developers have done just that in an adventure where I’ve cleared the campaign but have a lot of the sidequests left to finish up. Meeting new characters and engaging with returning friends is crucial to getting the most of this experience.
The Sky Islands fall short of expectations at the beginning
The Sky Islands are also an excellent return to a familiar setting, but there’s no direct link or mention of Skyloft or the world from Skyward Sword. While I did enjoy the idea of the Sky Islands, the floating landmasses feel like they missed the mark to harken back to the origins of Hyrule. There are shrines to discover and items you’ll need, but these things are offset by the islands being far too scattered, so exploring them is hard.
I will say that the Sky Islands are filled with puzzles, though, and they are a ton of fun to solve on. I had a specific ‘A-ha!’ moment during a quest where I had to work with Tulin to get to the Wind Temple. Having the patience to figure out the correct path in limited visibility while a blizzard was in full swing made the trek all the more dangerous because if you fell, you’re falling to the surface with no way back to where you were.
Nintendo could return to this iteration of Hyrule and build upon it. While this decision might divide some, it makes sense to return to it after putting effort into building this version of Hyrule. Most companies today create expansive open worlds and then move on to something else. In the case of Tears of the Kingdom, you’re effectively getting a content-rich follow-up that could only succeed with the foundation laid out in Breath of the Wild. In any case, I’ve spent endless hours exploring Hyrule and am at a loss for how much I’ve yet to explore fully. Even with the Upheaval, the remixed world feels familiar but also a bit mysterious once again, which isn’t something I came to expect.
Combat feels as good as it did in Breath of the Wild, with many mechanics returning, including flurry attacks, parries, and dodges. The freedom Link’s new abilities add to the mix, makes the combat more fun. I’ve mentioned how Fuse can take any two items and create a weapon that will work in a pinch. Finding the right combinations for Link can be a huge boon, like Fusing a stone with a sword into a blunt weapon so that it doubles its power against enemies. Many weapons have rusted after Ganondorf’s return, and much of the Hyrulian army is stuck with subpar and brittle weaponry. Thankfully Link’s ability offers the solution to sidestep having to use only rusted equipment by throwing an assortment of objects together.
You’ll also deal with new negative status effects like gloom, which zaps Link’s maximum health and depletes heart containers. The more gloom absorbed, the less your maximum health is. Thankfully, new plants like the Sundelion found across Hyrule can restore your depleted health and be mixed in as part of a recipe.
Furthermore, weapons are now left decayed due to the malice spread by Ganondorf. Without the Fuse ability to extend a weapon’s longevity, you’ll get a handful of hits before the weapon breaks. Some weapons statuses, like the Devastating Effect, may have a specialized attribute that yields powerful attacks when you’re down to your last heart.
Cooking in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom adds a recipe book whereby selecting an item like raw meat, you can assign it to a recipe like Spicy Pepper Steak, which gives you the ingredient list underneath with several status effect indicators. Adding a recipe book leaves a positive impression because you’re donating so much time to powers and abilities Link juggles, automating the cooking process and removing one less hurdle.
The Upheaval creates several new ways to explore and discover what Hyrule now offers and provides to players. The landscape has changed, and while still feeling familiar, the land provides new mysteries and areas you’ll revisit and rediscover. The Upheaval has led to hundreds of caves appearing beneath the ground and in many rocky crevices. Giant geoglyphs appeared worldwide, depicting various people and places that tell us of a time forgotten. You’ll head up in an air balloon to discover what these images look like Dragon Tears and items hidden throughout the land.
You’ll reach the Sky Towers, the successor to the Sheikah Towers found in Breath of the Wild. Sky Towers provide a way into the sky and expand the map. Each tower is managed by Purah and, with her machinations jettisoning Link high into the atmosphere. You can search for more Zonai Shrines, explore more of the Sky Islands, and get to other parts of Hyrule by gliding.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a purposeful follow-up to Breath of the Wild because it builds on the world in several exciting ways. You’re encouraged to engage and tackle quests in a way that fits your playstyle while never feeling overburdened by the systems put in place. It is clear Nintendo has listened to feedback and built the sequel upon those suggestions, making it all the better for it. There’s so much to see and do in Hyrule and the reworked iteration of this iconic world is simply one of the best I’ve ever experience. Without a doubt, Tears of the Kingdom stands among the greats like Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker as being some of the best chapters in one of the most celebrated series.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Switch