The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — Review
We’ve been waiting for the sequel to Breath of the Wild for almost seven years. When it was first shown, and even up until a month ago, we really didn’t know what kind of game it would be.
Nintendo showed little of the game right up until a presentation by Eiji Aonuma last month, and even then, it gave us more questions than answers. The follow-up to one of the best games of all time would always be hard to top, so what do you do with it? With Tears of the Kingdom, Nintendo has chosen to do something very different. They’ve again set the game in the same Hyrule we know from Breath of the Wild, just years later. But, for the first time in a long time, Nintendo didn’t hit the reset button and start a whole new Zelda continuity, or pick another point in the timeline.
No, you can see the consequences and results of your actions from the last game this time. With time having passed, however, this is a very different Hyrule, and its people have again been struck by an unfortunate incident. The Upheaval has turned a recovering Hyrule into a completely different place, where there are islands in the skies, and everything has been affected by this cataclysmic event in different ways.
A word on spoilers.
Before we go any further, this review, no matter where you read it, will contain no story spoilers; however, the mechanics of the game, the locations, and returning characters could still be considered spoilers by some. There are also new locations that also may be regarded as spoilers but do nonetheless show up in the review.
So we’re splitting this review into two. Below will be the review’s conclusion as if you had just scrolled to the bottom – spoiler free. However, the rest of the review will refer to locations and characters that are at least featured in the trailers. So, if you want to read about how this game is, then read until you hit the spoiler warning and no further.
Tears of the Kingdom is the perfect sequel. Breath of the Wild upended two decades of patterns and traditions of the franchise and made people rethink how that world can work.
Tears of the Kingdom could never do that again, but what it does do is take that world, along with your expectations and assumptions of it, and throws them out the window. Everything in the game requires you to think differently, and everything in the game exists for a reason.
Crafting and fusing on the fly forces you to adapt. It changes how you get around, how you complete tasks and how you approach combat. You have to think four dimensionally and use all the tools at your disposal. Your planning has to be methodical. It’s a big evil scary world out there – and it’s massive. There are sixty ways to do each of the thousands of things to do.
Tears of the Kingdom is Nintendo’s most grandiose game ever. It’s now the best Zelda game ever crafted, and again one of the best games of all time. The two titles will go down in history as one of the best back-to-back releases in any media of all time.
Story spoiler-free below, but new locations and gameplay mechanics will be discussed.
The poor people of Hyrule. With just a couple of years into a big rebuild following the Calamity, things start turning pear-shaped once again. A catastrophic event dubbed the Upheaval occurs, and it’s doing bad things all throughout the land, making people sick and empowering monsters. There’s an evil gloom spreading; it’s thin in some places, but in others it’s a viscous sludge infecting all it touches. Princess Zelda and Link are sent to investigate below Hyrule Castle. The short of it is Zelda goes missing, whilst Link is badly injured, stripped of his heart containers, stamina and even the Master Sword., He is also given a new arm. This arm is someone else’s, and luckily for Link, this new arm and the abilities it unlocks will be essential for him to find Zelda and save Hyrule once again.
Once the prologue is done, you begin your journey in the Sky. From there, you’re introduced to the game’s new mechanics one by one in a similar manner to the Great Plateau opening section from Breath of the Wild. By the time you make your descent from the clouds, you’ll have come to grips with most of your new arm-given abilities.
Fusing is a big part of Tears of the Kingdom and it makes the combat deeper than in Breath of the Wild, with an emphasis on type-matching during combat. It sure is early in the review to talk about weapon degradation, but here we are. The Upheaval has made almost all weapons in the game weak and decayed. This sounds really bad for some, but luckily you can now fuse anything to a weapon to help make it stronger – or even change what a weapon can do. Attaching a rock to a sword enables you to smash through mineral deposits and other bigger breakable rocks. You can make an axe with a Construct’s horn, a single-handed sword, or even a stick. Then there’s elemental fusing, making a sword electrified to hit switches or stick on a Flame Emitter to dole out fire. Adding one thing to another doesn’t mean you can beat anything down though — some enemies can deflect certain types of elements or have defences. So you’ll want to keep a range of weapons on hand. You can also fuse things with your shield or arrows.
Arrows are the real heroes this time, and you’ll constantly run short on them because they can do so much now once fused. The Fuse interface can take a little while to get the hang of. You need to drop an item on the ground, then select Fuse, then fuse it – unless it’s arrows as they allow items to be attached as you’re firing. You have to reattach an item with every arrow, but luckily the action slows down so you’re not open to attack. Be sure to collect everything; you’ll undoubtedly need to utilise it somewhere along the line. The only downside to this strategy is that the scroll menu where you attach items can get very long. Despite being able to sort the menu, it does take a little while to find the things you need once you fill up your bag. You can attach things no matter how ridiculous it is, even if it can result in weird clipping issues as, for example, Link carries around a table on his back.
When I first saw the Ascend ability in the trailer, I thought there was no way this would be useful in the game, or it at least would be limited. How often do you need to travel up through things? Perhaps it has been too long since I played Breath of the Wild, but I forgot how vertical Hyrule is, and now with the Sky it’s even more so. That’s not to say you can Ascend from the ground to the Sky, but there are more wells, holes in the ground and places where you must go down before you can go up. I’d often get into a Cave and get stuck, only to realise I have to warp out or go down further and then up to get a treasure chest.
Recall is very interesting in that it offers similar functionality to Stasis from Breath of the Wild, but just a little more directly. It’s used predominantly in puzzles, and though it can be used in battles, trailers for the game certainly made it seem like it would be far more useful in combat than it actually is. Much like Ascend, you use it only when you run out of options; there have been only a few times I’ve needed it in combat.
The real star of the new abilities is Ultrahand. The evolution of Magnesis from Breath of the Wild, Ultrahand lets you carry around almost any object and manoeuver them to build almost anything. All the items you can pick up with Ultrahand can be attached to each other to build vehicles, aircraft, hovercraft, tanks, or whatever else you can think up. It’s not just a novelty; when you think about your tools, you realise it might be easier to make a hot air balloon and fly up. Your trip across the desert would be much faster on a hovercraft. So how does this all work in the fantasy world of Hyrule? Aside from the logs, planks, and boards lying around from the rebuild, the world is littered with Zonai devices from the Upheaval. This ancient race’s trash tip is now your playground. Aside from the fans and laser beams you’ve seen in the trailers, there are mirrors, lights, cannons, springs, stakes and even a homing death cart.
At 90 hours into the game, I was still finding new Zonai devices. All of these devices are dispatched from capsule machines littered across the Sky. Each machine dispenses only a limited range of devices, but you can check your map and usually find them next to a warp point. Still, there’s no exact way to get as many of any specific devices as you’d like – that’s Gacha for you.
So, if you just want to build a vehicle to go around Hyrule Field, you can; or a glider with a fan to help zip you from one mountain to another, you can do that too. These Zonai devices help out in combat, puzzles, and just getting around. There are a few great side quests hidden away where you’re given a few items for ideas and then can tackle how to take down a cave full of Moblins. I went with the fortified tank, equipped with laser beams coming out of every side – it chewed through batteries, but it was great fun to rip through a wave of enemies. For those without imagination or those worried that they must make something, you could do it the old-fashioned way and call upon a trusty horse to get around the map. Still, between all the goods lying around and another new helpful ability, you won’t need to.
Once you’re in the game for a while, you will be building many of the same things. I’ve seen Unicycles, Hovercraft, and even Aerial Assault Platform all in the game too. This is where Autobuild comes in and will help you make or remake creations you’ve made before. It has a memory of everything you build, but you can also favourite items – and there are prebuilt creations to find as well. The Autobuild can use parts lying around, but it can also manifest single-use items. So if you have a Cart and a Control pad lying around but no fan, you can use Autobuild to put one together, and it’ll use your Zonaite resources to give you a fan.
All Zonai technology also requires the use of Energy Cells; you start with one and can unlock more later by converting Zonaite into crystalised charges. You can also keep the juice flowing by using Charges to keep it powered. So where’s all this Zonaite to power this tech coming from? Well, some of it’s on the surface due to the Upheaval, some of it’s in the Sky – but most of it’s underground.
There’s no way not to talk about it; there’s an entire area under Hyrule in Tears of the Kingdom called the Depths, and it’s effectively another area under the ground that’s the same size as the Hyrule surface to explore.
The Upheaval hasn’t just made all the islands appear in the Sky, and the Gloom spread all over the ground – its ripped holes into the landscape of Hyrule, and there are gaping chasms all over the place. You can drop down into the Depths with these holes, but once you’re down there, it’s pitch black and covered in Gloom, and enemies are infected by it. At the start, it’ll be hard to get around, though eventually you’ll find Lightroots to help guide you – but the threat of Gloom remains. The entire time you’re down there, you’ll lose a heart if you get hurt and won’t be able to heal until you head back to the surface, find a Lightroot or eventually find some tools (or elixirs) to help.
So what’s down there? Without ruining too much, it’s basically Old New York from Futurama. It is littered with things to do and see and plays a pivotal part in much of the game. You need the Zonaite from down there; the loop of planning and then taking on missions is now bigger than before. You have more tools and objects to fire at people, but you also need the consumables to power it all. I’ve still only uncovered roughly 25% of the area down there, it’s massive and was one of the many holy crap moments in the game.
The much-hyped Sky in the game is also a new playground. The opening area serves much like the Great Plateau did in Breath of the Wild, but it does a better job of introducing you to the game’s mechanics. There aren’t islands everywhere up in the Sky, but if you thought Breath of the Wild was vertical, you haven’t seen anything yet. Some of the sky islands can be reached from the tallest parts of the surface, and others require the use of the new Skyview towers to reach. Even now, after all my hours playing It, I’ve not explored everything up in Sky, and that could be said for the rest of the game too.
Breath of the Wild was a game where you could get lost for hours. Even though you might have explored all of the surface last time, there is so much new to see. The Upheaval has changed things, and now there are the Depths and the Sky to explore – it will take years to find everything.
One of the few complaints with Breath of the Wild was that the game lacked classic Zelda dungeons and that the Divine Beasts were just a bit too simple compared to them. I’m happy to report that this has been addressed, and people will be pleased with the result (Nintendo has now self reported what these are). These parts of the game contain the best set pieces in the journey, the preceding hours leading up to them are intense and challenging, and the rewards are sweet.
There’s so much going on in this game, so much more than Breath of the Wild. So many things to collect, see and do; the side quests are more in-depth and even have a different Adventures categorisation. These are hour-long side quests, and people need Link’s help. These side adventures and quests are the real story of Tears of the Kingdom. Sure, there’s the main story that plays out, the one with Ganondorf (which is told a lot through memories), but if you only tear through that then you’re missing out on everything else. Seeing Hyrule again and how everyone is doing after the first game’s events is also an adventure in and of itself. Go visit Tarrey Town!
I haven’t even written about Shrines yet (they’re back), the abilities of the new Purah Pad, which replaces the Sheikah Slate, all of the different outfits, how you can cook anywhere, or the recipe book – just so many other little things added to beef up the package. The amount of content in the game almost makes Breath of the Wild look like a prototype.
So with everything else going on in this game, from the Sky which can be accessed quickly, down to sprawling Depths, it leaves one big question – can the little old Switch keep up? The good news is, for the most part, it can. It could be better, and the Day 1 patch makes it even better. In places where you have a lot of Ultrahand tomfoolery going on and enemies everywhere, it can stress out the old Switch. Still, this is the only game on the system that does open world this big. It’s a beautiful game; there’s just a gorgeous horizon or vista everywhere. The weather and lighting system only accentuates this.
There’s so much love in every corner of the map; everything has been touched since Breath of the Wild. The game’s UI has also been refreshed, and the radial menu to select abilities is most welcome. The sound design for the game remains the same as Breath of the Wild; no big grand sweeping tunes in the overworld, and subtle sounds and music help tell you what’s going on. I can leave the game with Link standing there out in the wild and it’s just calming to have this environment rotate through the weather and to hear everything going on. There’s also more voice acting this time, and even though only some things are voiced once again, what’s there helps tell the story.
Disclosure: A review code of Tears of the Kingdom was provided to us before its release by Nintendo Australia
+ A Switch game at this scale may never happen again
+ Tremendous world-building, literally and figuratively
+ A surprise around every corner
+ A Zelda tale for the ages
- AI partners can get in the way a bit
- Can't pet dogs