The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom review - an expectation-defying work of brilliance
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Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
They say failure is the best teacher. Nowhere is this truer than in The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom. Here are three valuable lessons I learned from old Mr Failure in the first few hours in this new (old) Hyrule:
1: If you attach a rocket to a wooden plank, there’s a good chance the flames will burn your makeshift vehicle mid-air, leaving you to plummet back down to Earth.
2: Never try to build a go-kart on a hill… unless you want to chase your wheels into a gaping chasm where a demonic beast is waiting to eat you.
3: The chances of being murdered by a three-headed dragon are slim, but never less than zero.
Yep, Tears Of The Kingdom is a triumph. Six years after Breath Of The Wild redefined what it meant to be a Zelda game and generally set about making every other open world that released anywhere near it kinda ‘meh’ by comparison, Nintendo is back with an epic new adventure that doubles down on and deepens everything that made the 2017 Game Of The Year such a success, while introducing an almost overwhelming amount of staggeringly brilliant new ideas and features. This is a jaw-dropping sequel that delivers everything fans could possibly have hoped for and more.
Right out of the gate Tears Of The Kingdom positions itself as a darker, more story-focused adventure than its predecessor. The game kicks off as Link and Zelda investigate the source of a mysterious malaise deep underneath Hyrule, and it’s not long before Link once again wakes up with no clothes on and a near-fatal wound. If he had a nickel for every time that happened he’d have two nickels, which isn’t that many… but it’s weird that it’s happened twice.
To go much further into where the narrative takes Link and Zelda would be to risk Nintendo sending a Blue Shell to my house. All I’ll say is that there’s much more story to sink your teeth into in this adventure, and plenty of brand-new lore that’s going to give timeline obsessives headaches for years. This is a wildly ambitious yarn, one packed with twists and turns that will shock longtime fans of the series. Yes, Ganondorf is back for the first time since Twilight Princess, and yes, he is terrifying. Let’s leave it there for now.
As was the case with Breath Of The Wild, Link is slowly introduced to his new tools by way of a tutorial island - this time located high up in the sky, far above Hyrule. In Tears Of The Kingdom, Link has an entirely new set of abilities that aid exploration and puzzle solving in all manner of highly flexible and creative ways.
Link can, for starters, now swim up through solid objects; an incredibly useful tool for people who hated climbing mountains in the last game. If you see a massive peak, chances are there’s a cave somewhere at the base you can explore for a much quicker way up. FYI, you will still have to climb occasionally, but Nintendo has mercifully added a ‘sticky’ effect that can be obtained through cooking or certain clothing, meaning if you’re prepared enough you don’t have to slip halfway up a mountain when it starts raining anymore. Thank the Goddess Hylia.
Our hero can also ‘fuse’ objects to weapons in a gleefully anarchic doubling down of Breath Of The Wild’s much-debated weapon durability system. Yes, weapons still break and shatter - but this only encourages you to constantly put together the maddest sh*t you can think of. Stick a Moblin’s horn on the end of a wooden stick to make a spear, or strap an ancient device to your shield to make an actual flamethrower. You can even fix a cannon on the end of a sword to turn it into a bomb slinging bringer of death. Never getting attached to anything for too long means constantly trying out new combinations and being shocked at what actually works. Bigger, tougher monsters also drop deadlier parts, which certainly encouraged me to take more risks as I built up an enviable arsenal of hodgepodge weapons.
A neat reversal skill allows Link to send most items back to their original starting point, which can be super handy for puzzles or just reaching the sky islands high above, but it’s the Ultrahand skill that will dominate most of your time and attention in Tears Of The Kingdom.
Functioning as a kind of advanced Magnesis from Breath Of The Wild, Link’s Ultrahand can be used to build, well, pretty much anything from the parts around him. Strap some wheels and a steering stick to a wooden plank and you’ve got yourself a go-kart. Slap a couple of fans and a balloon to some metal plates and you can soar through the skies in your very own flying machine. It basically turns Link into Wallace from Wallace & Gromit. There truly is no limit to what you can actually create in this game, and I adore that Nintendo saw players doing everything they could to break Breath Of The Wild and decided to fully lean into it for the sequel. I truly believe we’ll be seeing all kinds of mind blowing inventions in this game for years to come.
Essential parts are generously scattered around Hyrule and the skies above, too, meaning you’ll almost always have everything you need to put something fun together, and more importantly fail on a few test runs in the process. You can even carry certain tools like wheels, fans, and carts with you in special capsules, pulling them out when you need to build something on the fly. A little later into the game you’ll even be able to save your best creations and rebuild them instantly, as long as you have the parts in your inventory.
This system completely changes how you interact with Hyrule. Tears Of The Kingdom constantly dares players to ask ‘what if’, and then punishes or rewards them in glorious fashion. I genuinely spent a good thirty minutes building a rocket-powered hot air balloon (there were several prototypes) to get up a mountain. I probably could have just climbed the damn thing in ten, but testing out how the various parts all work (or don’t work) together is a massive part of the fun. By the time I was able to throw together a hovercraft and rocket gracefully across the sky in the space of five minutes, I felt like I’d truly conquered the world.
Speaking of the world, it is massive. Frighteningly so, in fact. Anyone who suggested Tears Of The Kingdom looked like glorified DLC and didn’t justify its price tag will be eating humble pie by the shovel load when they clock the game’s map - which is split into three separate parts. There’s the sky, Hyrule, and The Depths, a terrifying underworld filled with genuine horrors. Each of these realms feels markedly different, and it blows my mind that Nintendo has made it so that you can travel seamlessly between all three without a single loading screen. Yes, there’s the occasional frame-rate stutter and some rare pop-in, but when you can launch yourself from the highest point in the world and dive right down into the bowels of hell without a whiff of loading on a six-year-old handheld system, you have to question what black magic Nintendo invoked.
On the subject of Hyrule itself, a few fans have expressed concern that the world wouldn’t be different enough from Breath Of The Wild. I can confirm this is absolutely not the case. Yes, there are familiar locations and landmarks, but the Upheaval causes some pretty substantial changes to the landscape that make it feel fresh again. A number of caves have popped up across the land as a result of Ganondorf’s cheekiness (this is in addition to The Depths, mind you), and they’re all filled with their own secrets and treasures. One quick trip down a well to find a treasure chest underneath Castle Town ended up with me spending an hour exploring a hidden network of caves filled with bosses and a shiny new armour set.
Then there are the sky islands, many of which are a puzzle in themselves to reach. Finally managing to cobble together a rickety flying device that just about manages to get you up to that infuriatingly intriguing floating outcrop miles above your head is an immensely rewarding feeling. The Depths, meanwhile, give way to genuine survival horror as you work to slowly piece together a markedly different realm that feels properly alien.
It’s also worth factoring in that some time has passed since Breath Of The Wild, and the world feels far more populated as the good people of Hyrule continue their rebuilding efforts in earnest. There’s a new settlement in front of Hyrule Castle, Kakariko Village has undergone significant changes, and Tarrey Town? Well, let’s just say you won’t be disappointed.
This is, I think, what I love the most about Tears Of The Kingdom. For the first time ever in the history of Zelda, we’ve been invited back to the same version of Hyrule - a Hyrule many of us have spent hundreds of hours in already. Far from detracting from the experience, this forges an incredible emotional connection - it’s a feeling I haven’t felt since returning to Kanto in Pokémon Gold, but amplified tenfold. We’ll all have a first location we want to go back and check on, and I suspect most of us will feel a personal drive to save this Hyrule and restore it. Not just because the game is telling us to, but because it is, more than any other, our Hyrule.
Distractions abound in every direction. There are sidequests to follow, armour sets to collect and upgrade, Korok seeds to find, photographs to take, islands to explore, and secrets to uncover. I’ve already put in somewhere around 70 hours, and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. Longtime Zelda fans will also be thrilled to learn that traditional dungeons do make a return, after a fashion. There’s still nothing quite as complex or robust as in Zelda games past, but they’re certainly much meatier than their immediate predecessor’s. They’re also thematically distinct from one another, with completely unique bosses and puzzles found in each - a welcome change from Breath Of The Wild’s repetitive Divine Beasts.
There are also, of course, a ton of shrines with their own mini puzzles and challenges scattered around. The very best of these smaller dungeons are the ones that essentially turn the game into Scrapheap Challenge: Hyrule Edition, giving Link a ton of junk and then inviting us to use Ultrahand to build something beautifully weird to get over the obstacles presented to us.
Whether you’re leaping from a jet-powered glider onto the back of an ancient dragon or accidentally riding your go-kart off the edge of a cliff because you strapped too many fans to it, Tears Of The Kingdom effortlessly dances between the epic and the ridiculous - and every single moment in this vast, gorgeous playground will be completely unique to each player. I don’t know how, but Nintendo managed to follow a straight-up masterpiece with something bigger, better, and smarter. I genuinely feel bad for every other video game that has to be released in 2023.
Pros: A gorgeous and massive open-world to explore, being able to build anything you want leads to true freedom in exploration and puzzle solving, excellent dungeons and bosses
Cons: Ultrahand can be a little fiddly, the occasional frame rate hiccup
For fans of: Elden Ring, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, Minecraft
The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom is available May 12 for Nintendo Switch. Code for review was supplied by the publisher.
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