It’s been a long while since a game has made me feel the way The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has. We live in an age where games are more often very good, with fewer big budget titles failing to impress, but when was the last time you truly felt you played something magical? Tears of the Kingdom enraptured me for every second I played it, and I even repeatedly got up early to just squeeze in a few precious extra hours with it. Not only is this different to Breath of the Wild, it’s somehow, remarkably so, better than it.
Tears of the Kingdom treats the player with intelligence. As a sequel to Breath of the Wild, things are the same, but also very different. The sky islands above that have appeared just as Hyrule Castle has ascended are brand new, but the ground at your feet feels original again. Areas have changed, and crucially, people know who you are.
Take the Gerudo Desert area, South West of the map. Remember in Breath of the Wild how you had to dress up so you wouldn’t be seen as a Voe (Man) to be allowed in. Remember also how you helped the people of Gerudo, and were given access to the area? Initially you might be tricked into thinking this was to be repeated, until you finagle your way into the inner sanctum using one of the many new tricks Link has (Ascend, in this case), and then they realise who you are, and allow you entry. Hyrule has been existing while you were away, and it feels all the better for it.
In fact, the tools you are given in Tears of the Kingdom may be some of the most unique and clever in a game I’ve ever seen. You will find puzzle after puzzle, but all are solvable. It’s a case of remembering what you have access to. Why can’t you get up higher? Why? Oh, wait, you can, you just ascend through the ceiling, or build a hot air balloon, or makeshift plane out of wood and fans that are lying around. Or maybe you build a bridge, or climbing frame, or rocket powered hoverboard, or… it just never ends, constantly surprising you, while you also surprise yourself with your own ingenuity.
What’s so clever about Tears of the Kingdom is that the toolset gives you multiple ways to solve puzzles, dungeons, and shrines, without ever feeling like it’s banging you over the head with a solution. Sure, some Shrines feel a bit like tutorials for how to build things, but there were countless times I solved a puzzle and felt like it definitely wasn’t the “right way”, but it worked nonetheless.
This is an experience that truly feels like an adventure, and a unique one for you. You can explore whatever you want, whenever you want. There are seemingly endless possibilities and routes to travel, but often you will find yourself preparing, and not just like in Breath of the Wild, where you’d need the right gear or potion to get somewhere hot or cold. No, you’ll have to prepare for an expedition somewhere, and the prep is part of the fun. There’s just more to Hyrule this time around, in large part thanks to geography (which we’ll come to), but also massively thanks to the new Zonai tech that makes up a large part of the game.
The Zonai were the ancient civilisation that lived in the sky, and they mined rocks to find special rocks that can be turned into useful technology. This tech can actually be pocketed, and is made up of so many different things. Fans, flame emitters, mirrors, steering wheels, bombs, jump pads: the list just goes on, and on, and they are all usable with the new Ultrahand ability, meaning you can stick them to each other, and everything else, to make your own Banjo & Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts or Mad Max style vehicles. These things run on batteries (another new mechanics, and another thing like Stamina and Health that you can upgrade), and I found myself creating boats or planes to traverse vast distances, whether in Hyrule or the skies above, and because you can even take disposable batteries with you, since they are also Zonai tech, you just feel as free as a bird.
It’s worth noting that Tears of the Kingdom is vast. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game on this scale, yet nothing feels pointless. Thanks to the already large Hyrule map, and the added sky islands above, there are so many mysteries to uncover, it’s almost ridiculous. But that actually isn’t all of it. There are also “The Depths” to discover, which are a gloom-coated region under Hyrule that has even more secrets, items, and surprises to discover. Entire quest lines, optional (but important) powers, and an entire mechanic you could otherwise miss are hidden in The Depths. It’s… remarkable how much there is to take in here.
If you are damaged in the depths, you temporarily lose hearts, and have to replenish them by going to the light above, or finding a plant that expands the map and replenishes your gloom-damage. There are boss-battles everywhere, and I was over 35 hours into the game before I discovered a, frankly, game-changing section in The Depths. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but there are even chests hidden underground that have items that, I think, have implications for the wider Zelda lore.
What of the complaints aimed at Breath of the Wild, though? Weapon degradation returns, but the new Fuse ability means you are picking up everything, and turning it into something stronger. Korok seeds are everywhere again, and you’ll soon have more inventory space than you know what to do with. Combat feels largely the same as before, and the new powers are intuitively controlled, and you can even use motion if you prefer. The frame rate could be better, but I find it hard to complain about this in an adventure as grand and rich as Tears of the Kingdom.
I think there’s a slight nod been made to those who missed the traditional style of dungeons, too, and while they are expanded versions of the Breath of the Wild style, they are lengthy, ability based sections that culminate in a set piece boss fight, of which every one is entertaining and spectacular. One dungeon required me to explore a smaller, cave-like section, which opened up the access to a sky-style dungeon, before leaving me to complete a proper dungeon-dungeon. It took well over an hour, and nearer two, to get through that entire section, and it felt superb.
There is just so much mystery and exploration on offer here. Even forty hours in I was discovering items that I just didn’t know what to do with. There are vehicles I’ve yet to design, and caves I haven’t yet spelunked. It doesn’t feel like five years since Breath of the Wild, but Tears of the Kingdom feels fresh, exciting, and a proper adventure in a way I can’t remember many games feeling like, and a few frame rate issues can’t dampen the enthusiasm I have for it.
I am almost envious of anyone playing this one fresh, because I had so many moments my head was in my hand in sheer astonishment. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of Kingdom might just end up being one of the best games ever made, with unparalleled exploration that offers freedom and creativity on a scale never before seen.
A sense of adventure like no other
Nothing feels wasted
A few frame rate issues