Direct sequels in The Legend of Zelda are rare, but when they do arrive they are often some of the best and most beloved games this series has to offer. Following on from the transformative Breath of the Wild, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom comes with huge expectations upon its shoulders, and it absolutely lives up to them.
There are, quite understandably, a lot of parallels between Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild. After the opening moments that show this new threat to Hyrule being unleashed, Link wakes up once more on an island – the difference being that this isn’t the Great Plateau, but the larger Great Sky Island floating up in the sky. Once again, you’re depowered and are quickly given the handful of key abilities that you’ll use throughout the game.
These are new and in many ways completely change how you will approach the adventure ahead of you. Ultrahand lets you not just pick up and move certain objects around in the world, but can fuse them together. Need a bridge? Glue these large wooden pallets together. Need a boat? Make a raft by cutting down trees and attaching a sail. Want a car? Well, let’s come back to that.
This same concept is then extended through a second ability, with Fuse letting you attach world objects to your sword or shield, adding their properties to them in the process. At the most simple level, it means you can make a stone axe or hammer – always needed for when you want to smash some weak rock walls to secret caves – but it can also dramatically enhance more powerful weapons by attaching certain parts dropped by enemies.
However, both of these abilities would be fairly shallow, were it not for the wealth of gadgets and gizmos that are made available to you by reemerging Zonai technology. Fans, single-use cooking pots, rockets, wheels, gliders, control sticks, flame emitters, water hydrants, and more can all be cobbled together with various world elements to create some wild contraptions.
Tears of the Kingdom does a fantastic job of presenting you these options close to where you’re probably going to need them, whether it’s fans to propel mine carts, or just material stashes dotted across Hyrule as part of a kingdom rebuilding effort that’s now being cut short – look out for the hapless sign builder with no grasp on gravity as one of a number of recurring characters and enjoyable new mini-puzzles. Crafting a vehicle is often not the best or quickest option for getting around or overcoming environmental hurdles, but I love to spend a few minutes making an impromptu hot air balloon or some other barmy contraption.
The last two core abilities are reversing an object’s passage through time with Recall, so that a fallen rock can take you back up into the sky, for example, and being able to jump and swim up through the ceiling to a surface above you with Ascend – you just need a close and flat enough ceiling above you, as well as a clear point to emerge from.
Put them all together, and it’s clear that Nintendo has embraced the way that players would toy with the abilities and physics of Breath of the Wild. The puzzles found within the world, in shrines and temples will have all been designed with specific solutions in mind, but it so often feels as though you’re ‘breaking’ the game and getting away with unintended shenanigans. Pretty much every time you use Ascend outside of a clearly signposted moment, it feels like you’re cheating. It’s such a sneaky little joy, even if this kind of gameplay is utterly intended and accepted.
While Hyrule itself is largely the same landscape, the latest calamity – dubbed the Upheaval, given what has happened – has transformed certain parts. New disasters have befallen the various towns and races here, and so wandering into Rito Village or Goron City has a rather different tone to it compared to Breath of the Wild. It’s a delight to see how characters have grown up, emerged into new roles after the events of Breath of the Wild, and how they’re now facing the new blights on their lands.
There’s also new heights and new depths to explore, expanding on the world in a sweeping fashion. So much of the game looks upward to the sky, from the map-revealing towers that shoot you up into the sky to dive and paraglide back down – a sublime way to get to new places quickly – to the broken scraps of ancient stru cture and islands just hanging up in the sky.
In many ways, the sky islands and Hyrule feel as one, even if they are two layers on the world map, while the underground realm feels completely separate and detached. Heading down blight-filled chasms that have been poked through Hyrule’s surface sends you into a world of inky darkness that you need to pierce with bioluminescent plants, food and elixirs that make you glow, and reaching light-filled roots. There’s also a direct affect to you, as any damage taken from the blight cannot be healed until you reach a root checkpoint. It’s a major tonal shift compared to the action above ground, the true overworld and underworld divide of this game.
There’s a more direct narrative that runs through the game, if you wish to be guided. The opening on Great Sky Island is longer than in Breath of the Wild as it teaches more complex ideas with the abilities on offer to you, and from there you find some of the memorable returning characters really taking the lead or at the heart of the new mystery. The world immediately feels more alive thanks to this, and there’s a real hustle to how Hylians have quickly set out to explore and study the world-altering ruins everywhere in their land.
However, Tears of the Kingdom also has the same freeform structure, for better or for worse. You can tackle the main temples in any order you like, and so you’re treated to the exact same snippet of backstory at the end of each because of this. The design and difficulty of these temples also has to be fairly steady without a strict progression through them, though they are still rather enjoyable and tap into new companion abilities each time.
For the overarching story, there’s a new set of visions to find in the world tied to spotting geoglyphs that have appeared across the lands. You can visit these in a totally mixed up order, potentially giving you the end of Ganondorf and this latest calamity’s origins before you’ve seen the beginning. Still, there’s a nice mystery that plays out as you trek across the lands and fight to resolve the existential threats that divide its peoples, and while the writing really hammers in plot points at times, there’s a real poignancy as a tragedy that spans the ages is revealed.
So much of Tears of the Kingdom feels like returning home after a few weeks away. It’s comfortable to slip back into the familiar style of combat, to set off toward a particular point and end up getting sidetracked when you spot a shrine or need to reunite some worn out Koroks, to being able to remember the best recipes. There’s also a handful of quality of life improvements, from numbered positional markers on the mini-map, to being able to quickly select a previously cooked recipe and grab all the ingredients at once.
Having said that, you will still spend a bit too long stood over a cooking pot, throwing restorative meals together, and it will still grind your gears to have weapons deteriorate and shatter mid-fight. The way that you now select and attach any item you want to an arrow instead of crafting specific arrow types also means you’re presented with your full inventory, all on a single scrolling line. At least time pauses while you’re scrolling back and forth…
Thanks for having the guts to really review a Nintendo game, instead of just handing out a 10/10, like too many other sites just do. The game maybe good, but it’s generally overrated, in my view.