After over three weeks of near-solid gameplay, I consider myself in a position to offer up my thoughts and opinions on whether or not The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is merely a good game, or a true giant of the genre and franchise. As per the title, there will be spoilers for the game, so if you wish to avoid them, forgo reading this post!
As I referenced elsewhere, Nintendo teased Tears of the Kingdom way back in 2019, via means of a brief trailer that suggested a darker theme than Breath of the Wild. As time went by, fans were hungry for news, but Nintendo kept the project under wraps. The covid-19 pandemic delayed the game, and Nintendo themselves delayed it a few times, in order to ensure it was as polished as it could be. As an avid Zelda fan, this was both frustrating and encouraging. Nintendo had knocked it out of the park with Breath of the Wild, and that game had also been delayed, more than once.
Comparisons with Breath of the Wild were inevitable. The scale of the Switch’s launch title was unlike previous Zelda games. It dwarfed its immediate predecessor (Skyward Sword), and took the franchise back to its original open-world roots. Tears of the Kingdom has a big legacy to live up to.
Does the new game match the previous one? That’s an unequivocal yes. Tears of the Kingdom is not flawless (I dare say it’s inherited some of Breath of the Wild’s flaws), but it is certainly setting a new standard for how to build a vibrant, living world. The game map is similar in many ways to Breath of the Wild, but with new nuances and whole new layers. Such is the creativity on display that Hyrule seems both familiar and strange, all at once, which is, when you pause to think about it, remarkable.
The Sky Islands add a new dimension to the game. They offer a staging area from which to quite literally leap to unexplored regions of Hyrule. These islands were teased in the trailers, but Nintendo concealed a major new element of this world. There is lots of depth to Tears of the Kingdom, and I mean that quite literally.
The Depths are crucial to unlocking the story of the game, and they add new, dangerous enemies, alongside corrupted forms of existing foes. The addition of the Depths also ties into a feature of many Zelda games: two worlds. This was probably absent from Breath of the Wild due to the Wii U’s technical limitations, but Nintendo could take the gloves off here. The scale of the Depths is incredible, and in effect, the size of the explorable area has at least doubled. To fully indulge in every mission, every side-quest… Well, let’s just say there’s plenty to occupy gamers!
I mentioned flaws. In the interest of balance, let’s discuss them. There are Temples to replace the Divine Beasts from Breath of the Wild, but these are only marginally bigger than the beasts, and with one exception, the manner of the traps and puzzles within them isn’t spectacular. The shrines vary wildly in terms of challenge and entertainment, with some feeling quite frustrating, and others being beaten extremely easily. That’s not to say that I dislike the shrines, for they break up the map and provide the player with something to do, but I had hoped for proper dungeons to go alongside them.
One thing I will say for the shrines, and by extension the non-linear approach to the game, is that there is no set way to complete them. There is Nintendo’s way, but there are many other ways to reach the goal. From building structures to by-pass an obstacle, to using fruit (yes, fruit) to defeat an enemy, there are many routes to success. Many of these relate to the new abilities afforded by the Purah Pad (which looks suspiciously like a Switch). Ultrahand functions much like the magnesis power from Breath of the Wild, though you can now bind multiple objects together (I built a few bridges this way). Ascension lets you ‘swim’ through a ceiling, to a degree, in a power vaguely reminiscent to Revali’s Gale. Fusion allows you to add something to a weapon to make it stronger, or confer special abilities to it. For example, attach a keese eyeball to an arrow and it will home in on an enemy. Place a topaz gem on a sword and you can zap enemies with electricity.
Reversal is an interesting power. You can select an item (say, a rolling boulder), and send it back along its previous path. This is useful to divert an attack back at an enemy, and also to raise a platform and ride it into the sky. I haven’t found it to be a super useful power, but it’s quite a fascinating one. Nonetheless, sometimes it feels like some of these abilities – like constructing vehicles – aren’t all that handy. I have seen some incredibly imaginative machines built by other players, but I have eschewed that. Perhaps that’s just me.
One other little grumble, which is more story-related. The tie-in to the events of Breath of the Wild is quite weak. The overall story is very strong, but a greater connection to the events of the previous game would have been nice. There are references to the Calamity from Breath of the Wild, but they are fleeting. Also, whilst there are many references to Skyward Sword (chronologically the first game in the timeline), there are new story elements that seem to override it. Then again, the Zelda franchise has never been especially straight-forward where continuity is concerned.
At the time of writing this, I haven’t completed the main quest, but I don’t need to beat it to know my feelings. I am in awe of Tears of the Kingdom. It is beautiful. It is a grand, sweeping, epic adventure. I thought Breath of the Wild was glorious, but there are no superlatives here that are exalting enough. In my heart of hearts, A Link to the Past will probably remain my favourite Zelda game, but Tears of the Kingdom is worthy of a place in the pantheon of all-time classics. 10/10, easily.