Sequels face daunting challenges. When its predecessor is excellent, people want the follow-up to be just as good, if not better. That is doubly true for the historic series. For The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, that seemed like an impossible task after the Switch launch title, Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild is widely considered the greatest game in modern history. Even though Elden Ring received similar levels of praise, FromSoftware admitted that Zelda’s last main outing inspired their game. Nintendo had a strong answer to these concerns: improve upon Breath of the Wild as much as possible and make Tears of the Kingdom every bit better than its predecessor.
Hyrule’s Dangers are Now, Not a Century Ago
Tears of the Kingdom picks up a few years after Breath of the Wild. We reunite with Link and Zelda as they’re spelunking under Hyrule Castle. They find and accidentally reawaken Ganondorf, The Demon King’s, mummified corpse.
In the ensuing chaos, Ganondorf ruins Link’s arm and the Master Sword, separates the two spelunkers from each other, sends the castle and chunks of land throughout Hyrule into the sky, and emanates dark matter, called Gloom across the land and underground, called the Depths.
Link awakens high on a floating Sky Island. The ghost of King Rauru, the first King of Hyrule, saved Link’s life by amputating Link’s arm and replacing it with Rauru’s own. After building a new arsenal of skills like Ultrahand, Recall, and Ascend, Link skydives to the ground to stop Ganondorf and find Zelda.
Where Breath of the Wild showed Hyrule after its apocalypse, Tears of the Kingdom shows Hyrule in its new apocalypse. Right after peace seemed to be restored to Hyrule, the land is thrown into much more immediate danger. Link still goes to the same areas, but the land changed, even without the Upheaval. Nintendo is proud of the original’s Hyrule and wants to iterate on it.
Zelda’s New Narrative Extends Breath of the Wild‘s and Its Own Lore
Tears of the Kingdom ties both Breath of the Wild and the Zelda series’ greater lore. On one hand, this game successfully shows how the characters and towns grew between the two games. Simultaneously, we get copious amounts of Ancient Hyrule history relevant to the modern day. Those two narrative elements intertwine throughout the story. To introduce lore is one thing, to make it a core plot element while also tying it to your sequel is another.
Admittedly, the narrative soars highest without sticking together. Since you can go anywhere and do nearly anything when you want, Link can reveal late story elements early on. For example, one of the main story quests trails Zelda’s whereabouts, revealed cutscene by cutscene. However, these cutscenes can be found out of order.
When you find later plot beats before others, you feel like you’re spoiling yourself in a good way. Technically speaking, you can’t spoil the story of the game you’re currently playing, you’re just seeing the story out of order. As a matter of fact, players can, once again, go straight to the final fight after the prologue.
Moreover, doing later plot beats early on still lets you unlock the equipment then and there. That’s great open-world design (more on that next). Players get encouraged to deviate from the expected path in a game that keeps its open-world promise.
Hyrule is Just as Awe-Inspiring to Explore as Before
Hyrule is far bigger than the already massive Breath of the Wild. Not only do we get Sky Islands, we get the Depths. To understand how big the depths are, know that its map layout mirrors Hyrule’s perfectly. Lightblooms sit directly underneath Shrines, bodies of water either appear down below or get swapped with stone walls. The Depths alone double Hyrule’s size.
That expanded scope is insane. Hyrule was already a sweeping area that captured tens to hundreds of hours per player. Now the Depths massively expands on that with hidden treasure, exclusive monsters, quests, and more. The Depths don’t make Tears of the Kingdom better because of its size, The Depths make Tears of the Kingdom better because its size is filled with stuff exclusively found in it.
None of The Depths’ greatness takes away from the Sky Islands, either. These Islands combine Skyward Sword’s open-air feeling with Wind Waker’s majestic sea. Many of them sit in Sky Archipelagos, have Shrines, and crafting piece dispensers (more on that later). Two of the Temples are also on these Sky Islands, one of which masterfully uses the game’s verticality as grounds for its dungeon boss.
Both areas encapsulate how far Nintendo went with expanding upon Breath of the Wild. Not only are all three areas giant, but they each also have notable variety in locales and hostiles. The Sky has mostly Zonai Constructs, the surface retains its original enemies, and the Depths lean on twisted monsters further changed by the Gloom, including Gloom-blighted monsters from the surface. Hyrule has never felt so massive and expansive.
Tears of the Kingdom nails the most important open-world concept: the joy of discovery. Finding something new in an open-world game should make you excited to keep exploring. This can be a piece of equipment, money, or something so memorable it doesn’t need a tangible reward (see the “nude” painting class in Jedi Survivor). These games should also signpost interesting areas to explore; Tears of the Kingdom uses its landmarks and map marking system to make players want to explore. Open-world games strive to make their players explore the world, and Tears of the Kingdom continually provides reason after reason to do so.
Tears of the Kingdom Triumphantly Brings Back Temples
Divine Beasts don’t return, but instead, Temples do. There are four Temples to explore through the main quest, and each solidly stands on its own. Where the Divine Beasts shared aesthetic and core design concepts, each Temple have much more variety. Instead of exploring similar-looking machines, Link now goes to a Pyramid, a Skyship, and more. Further, you don’t fight four variations of the same idea in each Temple; they each have unique end bosses. The only similarity is the objective: undo the five locks and beat the Temple Boss. This variety shows off the diverse creativity Nintendo drove into Tears of the Kingdom.
Open-World Aside, the Verticality is Insane
Gameplay seizes on the new verticality of the game. Link skydives and ascends to travel between the elevations. Some puzzles lean on high rises and fast falls, and as mentioned above, so do the Temples. Lookout Towers especially build off this in a fascinating way. These towers replace the Sheikah Towers which reveal Hyrule’s map. You don’t climb these Towers, these Towers launch you into the air. That said, you need to navigate around some obstacles (puzzles, Bokoblins, etc.) before you can use the Tower.
Nintendo literally added a new dimension to their modern Zelda formula. This unique gameplay design augments its sense of discovery. Instead of just seeing far-off places to explore from the ground, you can get a birds-eye view to look as well. You get to see the map and play from a fresh new angle, which meshes so well with the game’s creativity.
Tears of the Kingdom Has Unrivaled Creativity
Above all else, Tears of the Kingdom gives players full creativity in their options. The Zonai ruins have numerous Devices that Link can use to build great machines. These machines run on an upgradeable battery. Social media has been overflowing with these builds. Planes, boats, a physics-accurate helicopter, and so much more took over gaming social media this month.
Additionally, Link now has the Fuse ability to merge any loose item onto his weapon or shield. Instead of getting elemental-based weaponry, Link now makes it. If it sits in your materials pouch, then Link can slap it on a stick and call it a weapon (just make sure you drop it and then Fuse if it’s not an arrow).
Finally, for creativity, we have the Zonai Shrines. Zonai Shrines function exactly how Sheikah Shrines did in Breath of the Wild but takes it up a notch. Zonai Shrines have numerous puzzles around Link’s powers and the constructs as well as combat-based challenges. However, these puzzles don’t rely on intended solutions and don’t restrict its combat Shrines to Minor, Modest, and Major difficulty levels.
The latter part is especially smart because those Shrines feel much fresher. Doing the same three combat challenges gets boring after so many, while diversifying those challenges keeps them fresh.
Instead, players can use all their skills and the Shrines’ Devices to come up with their own solutions. Combat Shrines now rely on specific challenges, such as fighting in the dark, using Devices to build a killing machine, etc.
These Shrines best show why this game lets Link get so creative: challenges typically don’t have intended solutions, they have offered solutions. Intended solutions happen when the puzzle is designed to be solved a certain way whereas an offered solution is not the only way. You can use your Faucet Device to clear away the grime, but Splash Fruit can work just as well. Link can build a platform that latches properly from a three-rail track to a two-rail track, or he can use the fans to make a flying device that gets him high enough to glide over to the goal.
Tears of the Kingdom gives you options to complete tasks beyond the surefire way.
Change is Good, Even if Good Things Leave
Some favorite gameplay features from Breath of the Wild do not return here. Link’s major abilities from Breath of the Wild (Remote Bombs, Stasis, Cryonis, etc.) don’t come back. Some Devices and craftable items give similar options, but the feeling is not the same.
Their absence sparked one of the game’s most discussed arguments about if that was good. It was.
First of all, the old skills do not mesh with new features as well as new ones do. Each set of skills was designed with their game in mind, and copying and pasting one set to another doesn’t work. To that point, Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom lean into different solution paradigms regarding intended and offered solutions. Breath of the Wild has intended solutions, but speedrunners notoriously exploited those abilities to get around them. This time, speedrunners are given the tools to blow off the offered solution, if they want.
The Game Runs Well for Six-Year-Old Hardware
Tears of the Kingdom gets the technical parts fine. This game has few bugs, none of which are game-breaking or crashing. The only bugs I’ve heard about are the now patched duplication exploits. That alone help maintain the immersion tremendously.
Draw distances don’t suffer either. Link can consistently make out small, defining details about far-off objects like the long dragons that patrol Hyrule’s skies from the ground. Small islands can still render just enough to be present but not in the full detail something up close needs to be.
On another good point, loading screens only happen when you teleport from one area to another, and I had very few buffering pauses. Diving from a Sky Island to a Chasm to finally land in the Depths is normally seamless barring the rare hiccup when transitioning from Chasm to the Depths.
Unfortunately, this consistency does not extend to framerates. When there are too many particles or people on the screen, the framerate will drop a bit, but not to an unplayable level. You’ll notice the drop easily, but you won’t be forced to stop playing.
There’s no denying the Switch runs on outdated hardware. Further, the technical side is the game’s biggest weak point. Despite that, Tears of the Kingdom still plays very fluidly with minimal glitches, so what is weak in comparison to Ironclad quality is still notably good.
Graphically, Nothing’s Changed Since Breath of the Wild
Oddly enough, Tears of the Kingdom is one of the few direct sequels in the series. As such, it uses the same graphical engine as Breath of the Wild. You don’t get the high quality you do on stronger consoles, but you still get pretty and recognizable views.
That engine works as well now as it did six years ago, so not much change was needed. As a matter of fact, reusing engines eases development because you don’t need to build a new one.
Excellent New Sounds and Music Fill Players’ Ears
Tears of the Kingdom uses a variety of gorgeous and tone-appropriate music throughout the game. Every boss, major location, and even some entrances have their own theme. Enemy and weapon sounds diversify themselves so much that you can tell which is which. Each community and people have their own themes. The list is endless.
Having all of this audio work lifts the game up so much because it solidifies identities. When you eventually reminisce about this game, you’ll remember a lot of things because of their themes. These sounds will stick in your head and help you remember what they were connected to. I’ll probably have the Zonai Shrines’ combat theme pop back and forth from my head for a while.
Conclusion: Tears of the Kingdom is a Masterpiece of a Video Game
Link’s latest adventure hasn’t even been out for a month, yet I’m well over 100 hours in (75 in the first ten days). I kept playing because the game earned and invested in my attention. When I wanted to freely explore Hyrule, I got handsomely rewarded. Shrines and Temples challenged my brain in new and unusual ways. Zonai Devices let me build what I wanted for whatever I needed. Say what you want about the framerate slowdowns, but they are far from ruining the game.
I’ve never wanted to recommend a game as much as Tears of the Kingdom because this has redefined what I previously thought the limits of a video game were.