I want the adventure of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to never end. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a dramatic departure from the series’ formula but one that reinvigorated it and created one of the greatest games ever made. Its vast open world, filled with discoveries to make and secrets to uncover, coupled with multiple layers of environmental systems, was incredibly compelling. It was a pinnacle of open-world gaming that remained unmatched for six years.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is appropriately the first game since to match its heights. More than just a simple sequel, Nintendo has dramatically increased the scale, scope, and polish of its predecessor while retaining the sense of wonder and discovery that pervaded it. It’s an adventure that surprises at every turn, leaving me eager to explore every corner and uncover every mystery. And it does so by giving you greater creativity and freedom in nearly every aspect of its systems and mechanics. It is simply wonderful to play.
Set some time after Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom follows Link and Zelda as they discover an ancient evil awakening and seek to conquer Hyrule. After a brief opening, Zelda disappears, Link is stranded and weak, and islands rise up into the sky. There is a dark force to be conquered, and over the course of many, many hours, Link will gather allies and grow stronger to defeat it. Dungeons will be conquered, cities will be saved, and a mystery spanning thousands of years will be unravelled.
If Breath of the Wild was a game about finding your place in a world that has moved on, Tears of the Kingdom is about protecting what you care about with the people you care about. The world has begun to grow and thrive after the defeat of Calamity Ganon in the original, and it feels so much more alive.
There’s optimism and happiness in the lives of Hyrule’s inhabitants that weren’t there before, and the little stories they tell you help form a link between towns and provinces, telling the story of a place that people will fight to protect. The overarching plot may be straightforward, and the voice acting limited, but the heart of the story elevates it above its predecessor.
Structurally, Tears of the Kingdom follows a similar path to Breath of the Wild. An opening tutorial area, in this case, a massive chain of floating islands, gives you the opportunity to learn Link’s new abilities at various shrines slowly. Eventually, you will have to go to the four homes of Hyrule’s other races — the Goron’s, Rito, Zora, and Gerudo — to solve a problem threatening their homeland. Along the way, there are shrines to complete, towers to climb, hidden quests to uncover, and a vast world to explore that is identical in size, at least on the ground, to its predecessor.
One could simply say that this is just more Breath of the Wild, though that would be a disservice to Nintendo’s work. There are certainly more places to explore, more shrines to complete, more enemies to challenge, and more secrets to uncover in comparison to its predecessor. And while the shrines are once again uniformly great to experience, there being more of something does not automatically mean that it’s better by default. After all, a map can be utterly massive, yet the space is wasted if it doesn’t have anything fulfilling to discover.
“Tears of the Kingdom is an unforgettable experience that stands as one of the greatest games Nintendo has ever made.”
That is absolutely not the case in Tears of the Kingdom. Despite featuring the same world, Hyrule is just as new and refreshing to traverse as it originally was six years ago. The simple act of exploring, be it by flying, walking, riding, or driving, never loses its lustre due to the fact that there are so many mysteries, quests, and challenges to uncover no matter how you move about the world. Nintendo tasks you once again with forging your own path, and the fundamental nature of how you do so remains unchanged.
Yet outside of the basics, exploration is dramatically different due to the new areas added. The sky islands are ever present, looming hundreds of thousands of feet off into the distance and tempting you with their unknown secrets. The constant threat of gravity when you explore the sky means you have to get creative with how you survive and travel. That could mean parachuting from one island to another, using a glider to slow your descent, or launching yourself on a makeshift rocket. In one memorable instance, I constructed a barge out of a floating platform, some fans, and a balloon in order to slowly inch my way across empty air to reach a monumental labyrinth.
But it’s not just the sky that promises adventure – the underground is just as compelling a place to visit. The depths, as they are called, are a massive underground cavern that spans the entire length of Hyrule. Filled with a substance called gloom that drains the life of those who touch it, the depths are treacherous to traverse, filled with powerful monsters and intimidating landscapes that require plenty of preparation in order to survive. Each trip into it had me on edge, yet it also provided many of my favourite moments in my time with Tears of the Kingdom.
Rather than have each area remain disconnected from each other, the core systems of each region require you to explore the other two to succeed. Sky islands feature powerful items and upgrade materials that can only be acquired using items found on the ground and in the depths. The items you acquire from the sky enable you to better survive on the ground, and the only way to get to the depths is through the gigantic chasms located throughout Hyrule. And the depths require the strength gained from shrines exclusively located on the ground and in the sky so that you can walk through it with less fear of death.
The result is far greater freedom in navigating the world than can be found in any other open-world game. There are few if any, hard barriers to exploration. Your imagination is the only thing holding you back, as Tears of the Kingdom provides a host of new tools and systems that elevate the mechanics that already existed in its predecessor.
That primarily comes in the form of new powers unlocked in the tutorial. The four abilities include Ascend, which allows Link to travel through ceilings, Rewind, which reverses time on an object, Fuse, which allows you to combine multiple materials into new weapons, and Ultrahand, which lets you manipulate and stick objects together.
While Breath of the Wild’s abilities let you interact with the world and environment in a number of limited but powerful ways, the ones in Tears of the Kingdom feel as though you have been given the keys to tools that let you truly forge your own path through Hyrule. I am still discovering new ways to make use of them dozens of hours in, and experimenting with their capabilities never grows old.
These abilities also interact with an entirely new set of items that Link can acquire: Zonai devices. The Zonai are a precursor race for Hyrule, and their technology and equipment can be used to make whatever you can imagine. These items include carts, gliders, balloons, wheels, flamethrowers, cannons, fans, and steering devices; all of them can be combined to make objects that can fulfil any purpose you can imagine.
All you need is an understanding of how each device works and how they interact, which you will gradually pick up on as you play around with them. The barge I mentioned earlier was constructed using Ultrahand alongside devices that I picked up from various outposts scattered throughout the sky.
Learning how to build vehicles and structures is not easy, but you will intuitively discover how to make awesome creations on your own. My first couple of hours with Ultrahand were spent figuring out how to rotate and move each object in my grasp; I struggled to build a simple boat. Within five hours, I had made a car that could go forward but couldn’t steer, resulting in it flying off a bridge while on fire. And after thirty hours, I had built a rocket-powered plane with a cannon to engage in an aerial dogfight with a rival pilot in the Depths.
There are so many new ways you can interact with the world to solve problems and puzzles. Link can now attach any material that he picks up to an arrow, granting it properties ranging from fire and ice to confusion and homing arrows. Horses you tame can now be given harnesses that let you pull objects alongside you, enabling you to carry passengers or even make battlecarts that attack enemies as you ride. Each and every tool that has been added amplifies the simulation that Nintendo so expertly crafted in Breath of the Wild.
This is best demonstrated in combat, which retains a survival focus while giving you far more interesting ways to overcome enemies. They remain powerful and deadly, and dozens of new types have been added to the game that requires different approaches to take down, such as a Like Like’s thick skin preventing most attacks from damaging it. Each weapon now has a damage type assigned to it, such as slash or stab, and enemies are often weak to one type over another.
Weapons still break, but thanks to Fuse, every weapon in the game can be turned into something far more powerful when you attach an item to it. Grab a stick and fuse it to a boulder to create a makeshift heavy hammer, take an advanced Zonai sword and turn it into an even more powerful weapon when you attach the heart of a Stone Talos to it, or simply slap a fire fruit to a weapon and light the enemy on fire with your first strike. The choices are always interesting when it comes to battle.
But it is just one piece in the tapestry of Tears of the Kingdom’s design. At no point do any of the systems overpower the others — it is all interwoven together expertly to ensure that you’re creating their own tale with each action they take. Stumbling across someone on the road can lead to a rumour that will take you across the entire map in order to confirm its veracity.
Falling down a hole can lead to a multi-part boss battle that will, in turn, lead to an alternate path you never even knew existed. And this is supported by an experience that is, remarkably, devoid of major technical issues – only the occasional framerate drops occurred, but even those decreased after an update in the review period.
Breath of the Wild is my favourite game of all time; Tears of the Kingdom is, at worst, its equal. However, I cannot say it is a better game yet. I won’t know that answer until I stop delving into dark caverns, ascending to soaring heights, and interacting with the refreshing, wonderful world Nintendo has crafted. Except I don’t want my journey to stop. I don’t want to let go.
I want this adventure never to end. Because every mountain I climb, every object I craft, and every person I meet on the road combine to bring forth wonder and joy that few games have ever matched. Tears of the Kingdom is an unforgettable experience that stands as one of the greatest games Nintendo has ever made.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available on the Nintendo Switch for $89.99 CAD / $69.99 USD.