The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, More Than More of the Same

How do you follow up a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? It came out day and date with the Nintendo Switch, completely reinvented the series, and may have pushed the medium of video games forward. Do you reinvent everything again, or do you refine what you have into something more polished? It’s been six years since Breath of the Wild, and in that time Nintendo really could have done either.

What they went with was a refinement. Just like Breath of the Wild before it, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a huge, open-world version of the series. There’s a main quest to complete, but there’s also tons of side content to discover, and it’s completely up to you what order you do things in. Included in the side content are shrines, small puzzle rooms that test your abilities and reward you with upgrades to either your health or stamina. And if this isn’t similar enough to Breath of the Wild, they even used the exact same map and a lot of the same character models. This might seem lazy, but you have to consider that if they didn’t need to work on the map or the characters, they were able to spend all six of those years working on systems and content. And it shows.


At the beginning of Breath of the Wild, Link is given all his new abilities that he uses throughout the game. This is true in Tears of the Kingdom as well, but this time the abilities are focused on manipulation of your environment. You have the “Ultrahand”, which lets you pick up objects and connect them to each other. Then there’s “Fuse”, which allows you to combine objects with your weapons, such as sticking a rock you walked past with the stick you were fighting with. There’s “Recall” which sets an object back in time the exact path it went before. And then there’s “Ascend” which allows you to go through basically any ceiling in the game and pop out the other side.

Of these new abilities, Ultrahand is definitely the standout. Early on, you’ll use it to make very simple things, like a bridge to get across a gap by combining a few pieces of wood. But eventually, you’ll be making much more complex things, like actual vehicles that you can drive around. If you take a quick glance at Twitter or Reddit, you’ll see that for some people, playing around with these tools results in some absolutely bonkers inventions. I’ve seen someone make a tank. I’ve seen someone make a fully functioning attack drone. Now, myself, the best I’ve made is a pretty janky raft that just barely got me to my destination. But that’s the thing, you don’t need to be a mechanic to get through this. But also, it’s amazing that the game gives players the options to do that.


The other abilities are much more one note. Fuse is a lot of fun, and is almost always worth using, but there isn’t that much you can do with it creatively. You’re only able to combine one item to a weapon, so there’s no crazy contraptions here. That being said, there are a lot of items to choose from, and the items can create some pretty cool effects. You can add a fire fruit to an arrow, making it a fire arrow. Or you could attach a monster’s eye that you collected, turning that arrow into one that homes in on enemies. If you’re having trouble getting through an armored enemy with your spear, attach a boulder to it and smash the armor off. Recall can lead to some interesting situations, like sending projectiles right back to an enemy, but I’ve mostly used it for puzzle solving. And then Ascend is the one that I always forget that I have and is often a puzzle solution.

One of the things that Breath of the Wild was really lacking was traditional Zelda dungeons. In the older games, you would go through complex, puzzle filled levels that would usually introduce a new weapon. Instead of those, you had the four Divine Beasts, which were large mechanical animals that you had to puzzle your way through. They were unfortunately pretty short, didn’t introduce new abilities or weapons, and were just pretty forgettable. Shortly before the release of Tear of the Kingdom, Nintendo tweeted out that dungeons were back. This was really exciting, but I’m sad to report that I think they’re the weakest part of the game. Unfortunately, they aren’t the giant sprawling centerpieces of past games. They’re small areas, with one core puzzle each, and they don’t introduce new items or abilities. Basically, they’re just the Divine Beasts again, except without the cool mechanical animal theme. That’s not to say that they’re bad, just not what I wanted to see back.


Another of Breath of the Wild’s shortcomings was it’s story. While it wasn’t bad, it was almost all told in flashback scenes. The story happened before the game. Thankfully, this is an area that Tear of the Kingdom greatly improves on. Not only do you see how Hyrule has changed in the time since the previous game, but there’s a lot happening in the world right now, which keeps things interesting. While most of the story beats aren’t anything you’ve never seen before, there’s some genuinely great moments, especially with Zelda herself. I actually haven’t finished the story yet, although I’m right at the end and over fifty-five hours into the game, so I don’t know how the ending is. But unless they really flub it, I think this is a pretty special Zelda story.

One of the main things the story deals with is the appearance of islands in the sky which involve an ancient civilization. At the same time, Ganondorf’s influence has corrupted the underground, making it a scary place to traverse. This means that although the map of the surface is exactly the same layout as the previous game, there’s also two entirely new maps, one above and one below the old one. On top of that, so much has changed in the lives of the people of Hyrule and the towns they live in that you’re still in for a lot of surprises on just the surface itself.


Gameplay in the sky is pretty similar to what you’ve always done on the surface, but in much smaller spaces. There’s a ton of those small islands, and lots of things to discover on them, including more shrines. The depths is pretty different though. It’s very dark, forcing you to use special items to even see where you’re going. There’s also a substance called “gloom” that will not only hurt you, it’ll make it so that the hearts you lost can’t be recovered by normal means. Thankfully, there are spots that you can interact with that not only heal those gloom infected hearts, but will also light up part of the surrounding area. The depths are the part of the game that I’ve spent the least amount of time with, I found it to be often pretty stressful, but as I get stronger, I’m starting to do more exploring down there. It’s a very cool addition to the formula.

I don’t normally write full reviews of games that I haven’t beaten, but at over fifty-five hours in, I feel pretty comfortable sharing my feelings on it. This post is longer than most of the other ones on this site, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what makes this game so special. There’s so many cool side quests, main quests, and just crazy stuff that can happen to you out in the world. It’s only May, but I have a hard time believing that I’ll feel this strongly about any other game coming out this year. It’s a very special game, and one that is an absolute must play.


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