Gaming Writer Ash Cole reviews The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom finding it to be a fantastic extension of the foundations laid by Breath of the Wild
This review contains minor gameplay spoilers.
If anyone had asked me last year “what game would you want to experience again for the first time?”, I would have answered with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017). The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom delivers on that wish, and so much more, such that I don’t think I could ever go back. Tears of the Kingdom is, at its essence, truly magical and an essential play.
Thrice the Hyrule
Preceding its release, one criticism that Tears of the Kingdom met was that of its world. “It’s just the same map as before” was a common narrative spun by naysayers, but with 100 hours of gameplay under my belt I can confidently say that this is simply not the case. Yes, it is still Hyrule, and the lay of the land largely follows the same broad strokes. Very frequently I would find notable differences between the Hyrule of 2017 and that of today, and where similarities exist it felt comforting and homely.
But the ground floor is hardly all that Tears of the Kingdom has to offer. The Sky Islands offer a whole new world above, rife with puzzles and secrets and useful tools to help your journeys elsewhere. They are a little more sparse than I would have liked, but I digress. Much like Breath of the Wild, what makes this game so refreshing is that you are left to find and explore all these things yourself, rather than being force-fed map markers to tick off a checklist like so many other open-world titles.
Which brings me to the Depths. Lurking beneath Hyrule is an underworld comparable to Minecraft’s (2011) Nether, which can only be accessed through gaping maws of the earth called Chasms. These are frankly terrifying, accompanied by an ominous musical tone that blares out as you plummet down into the darkness. Again, however, the Depths are home to boundless discoveries, resources and even story elements, so be prepared to steel yourself and take the plunge. Finally, the Temples typical of a Zelda title return as more diverse and fun dungeons than Breath of the Wild’s Divine Beasts, which is a welcome return to form. Overall, Hyrule and its expanse above and below ground are well worth full exploration, and are chock-full of moments that made me audibly gasp under my breath.
Magic at your Fingertips
What makes Tears of the Kingdom so satisfying to explore is how the game allows the player to do so in any manner they desire. Staples such as the paraglider and horses return from Breath of the Wild and are much the same as they were before. This time, however, Link is equipped with an arsenal of new powers which are instrumental to the traversal of Hyrule.
First is the straightforward Ascend, which allows Link to rise through a ceiling above him and emerge on top of it, although I did frequently find myself puzzled as it can sometimes appear arbitrary which ceilings Link can and cannot ascend through. Recall allows the motion of an object to be reversed, and can be used on boulders falling from the sky to hitch a ride up to the Sky Islands on a whim.
Fuse is slightly different; it allows Link to stitch any loose object to his weapon, shield or arrows, boosting their power and durability and sometimes granting special effects. This is clearly Nintendo’s approach to criticism of Breath of the Wild’s weapon durability system, whilst also allowing incredible freedom in how a player may present any situation on the fly. For example, one can fuse a bomb flower to a shield, then bounce on it and be propelled into the sky by the force of the explosion. The possibilities are endless and vary from useful to hilarious.
The standout ability is undoubtedly Ultrahand. Ultrahand allows the player to ‘glue’ loose objects in the overworld together – for example, sticking a bunch of wood planks together to make a massive bridge, an exercise which has taken up an alarming amount of my playtime. Combine this with various technological devices scattered across Hyrule and Ultrahand truly allows the player’s imagination to run wild. Slap a Stabiliser on the end of that plank bridge and you have yourself a catapult. Stick Cannons and Big Wheels on any given stone slab and there’s a tank. The possibilities are endless – I only wish Nintendo would facilitate sharing of blueprints online so I can recreate the X-Wing I saw on TikTok.
On occasion, I would find myself missing Breath of the Wild’s Stasis ability, which allowed for some incredible physics-based problem-solving, but the abilities this time around generally do a far better job of integrating into the world’s physics system. I sometimes wish that some classic Zelda equipment made a return though – imagine crossing Hyrule with a hookshot-paraglider combo like the Just Cause series!
The Plot Thickens
The story of Tears of the Kingdom is far more present than last time around, with tragedy having beset Hyrule in a period following Link and Zelda’s brief disappearance. Much of the main quest line again involves travelling to the four corners of the world and solving a problem there with the help of one of their residents. Most of these return from the last Zelda outing, meaning more Prince Sidon content, and Yunobo of the Gorons has some especially endearing character development here. I won’t say too much more about the story, but it is very good, and the overworld does contain some extra plot that can help explain some details (but I’m not telling where).
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a rare kind of game that has once again redefined what a video game can be capable of, just as its predecessor did six years ago. Some small frame rate drops and tiny nit-picks never prevent it from being, above all else, endlessly fun.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available on Nintendo Switch.
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