You'll love it if:
- You loved Breath of the Wild
- You're a Zelda fan
- You like open world games
- You like sandbox type games
- You own a Nintendo Switch
Not for you if:
- You did not like Breath of the Wild
The sequel that brought us to tears – of joy
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (TotK) is unarguably one of the most anticipated games of 2023. Nintendo first teased the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW) as early as 2019. TotK released on May 10th for the Nintendo Switch exclusively. The reception so far has been wild, both in terms of rave reviews and of creative content on social media. Keep reading for our take on the latest entry in the Legend of Zelda series.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (TotK) is a success on all fronts. This game has proven that the Nintendo Switch, a console from 2017, can still bring an unparalleled gaming experience to millions of players around the world. The sequel to Breath of the Wild has everything you could hope for from a sequel: both returning and new characters, both recognizable and new environments, both familiar and brand-new gameplay. Fans of the franchise are, as is usually the case with new entries in the Zelda series, not disappointed either. TotK is a must-play if you own a Nintendo Switch, unless you were one of the few gamers who disliked BotW.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Story
While the story isn’t the main point that carries the game, it still plays an important role in whether or not you’re compelled to keep playing when the puzzles are getting the best of you. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but will touch upon the setting and the main idea of the story in TotK. If you’re new to the Legend of Zelda, I recommend you also check out Skyward Sword before diving into BotW and/or TotK.
The story takes place after the events of Breath of the Wild. Though it’s not specified, Hyrule presumably has only known a couple of peaceful years after Link defeated Calamity Ganon. There’s speculation that the events in Tears of the Kingdom take place at the -possibly very- end of the timeline within the franchise. Don’t let that stop you if you’re a newcomer to the series though, the story stands on its own very well. TotK again takes place in Hyrule, the map being the same as it was in BotW. The game designers haven’t been slacking off though, as two additional maps are available: one above and one below Hyrule.
Tears of the Kingdom kicks off with Link and Zelda investigating the ruins beneath Hyrule castle. Even though the late King warned Zelda not to go exploring there, our fearless heroes of course don’t heed his warning. The ruins tell the story of the first king of Hyrule, and also depict a battle against great evil. As they explore further, they find a mummified Ganondorf. In an attempt to stop him, Link’s right arm gets corrupted and his Master Sword is shattered. As Hyrule castle starts floating into the sky, Link and Zelda fall into the depths. Zelda vanishes, but Link is rescued by the spirit of Rauru – the Zonai king. He brings him to the Sky Islands above Hyrule and gives Link his right arm. They see Zelda in the Temple of Time, where they witness her taking the (broken) Master Sword and vanishing.
Hyrule is in chaos because of the Upheaval, with various regions reporting unusual phenomena. Link is focused on finding Zelda, but has no idea where to start looking. So he sets off to explore Hyrule and talk to people who have witnessed strange events since the Upheaval, hoping for clues as to Zelda’s whereabouts.
The Upheaval also caused chasms to appear, giving direct access to the world below Hyrule, named “The Depths”. This world is pitch dark and is home to powerful monsters, but also to curious artifacts from the Zonai who used to live in Hyrule. The tricky part is something called Gloom, the same matter that corrupted Link’s right arm. While Gloom has also been spotted on the surface, it covers a vast amount of land in the depths and makes exploring dangerous.
Tears and stones
Geoglyphs have started to appear all across Hyrule. As the name implies, they’re like Hieroglyphs but on a much larger scale. They are laid out across plains or mountains, kinda like crop circles. Their images should be seen from above ideally. Each Geoglyph uses tears in its design, and one of the tears will unlock a memory when you interact with it. Cut-scenes of past events will play out and with each one you learn more about the Zonai and past events that took place in Hyrule. If you like exploring all the story content available, you should definitely investigate all the Geoglyphs.
Just like in BotW, the main story points you to four regions in Hyrule – each conveniently in a different corner – where you will meet important characters. They all need your help in solving a local crisis, which will eventually lead you into a Temple. These Temples are major puzzles, just like the divine Beasts in BotW. As a reward for solving the crisis, the region’s Sage appears and gives a Secret Stone to their successor. Secret Stones amplify the user’s ability, a crucial instrument if you want to defeat Ganondorf. I strongly recommend you start with aiding the Wind Sage in Rito village, as his ability will make exploration a lot easier.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Gameplay
If you thought the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom would bring the same gameplay as Breath of the Wild, you are right. If, on the other hand, you thought Tears of the Kingdom would bring new gameplay, you are also right. It’s the same game, yet it’s completely different. I’m probably making no sense to you right now, but let me explain.
Breath of the Wild 2.0
If you haven’t yet, I very strongly recommend you play BotW first. Not for the story per se, but for the gameplay. Almost every feature that made BotW such a beloved game, makes a reappearance in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. And that makes sense, because the events in TotK take place very shortly after BotW, and on the exact same map to boot. The exploration, the monsters, the combat, the Koroks, the cooking and the damn weapons that break over -very little- time. It’s all still there. While you’ll receive basic combat tutorials, don’t expect the game to hold your hand and explain every single feature that was also present in BotW.
The most notable absence is that of Link’s Sheikah Slate. Instead, he receives a new device called the Purah Pad. The basic functionalities are the same: accessing the map, taking pictures, recording lore & keeping track of quests. But the Purah Pad is technically a downgrade, as it no longer offers specific abilities such as infinite bombs that were crucial to solving puzzles in BotW.
The most game-defining feature in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is without a doubt Link’s new arm. The arm introduces new special abilities that will change how you approach more or less everything during your playthrough.
The culprit for spamming gamers’ “for you”-pages on socials with TotK clips. Ultrahand allows you to stick materials together using some kind of adhesive. The main purpose was to let you build vehicles so you can get around land, water and air more easily. It’s also a main instrument to solve puzzles. But there’s room to let your creativity run wild. While I expected gamers to turn to phallus shapes very quickly, I did not expect them to torture the poor Koroks. Give it a Google search if you haven’t seen these clips yet, in particular the crucifixion is one that I just can’t erase from my memory, no matter how hard I try…
The Fuse ability lets Link fuse his equipped weapons and shield with materials you can find while exploring. The materials will either just give a basic boost to your damage output, or will also add an additional power to them. Fuse a rock to your sword to make a hammer, fuse a stick to it to extend the reach or fuse an eyeball to your arrows to give them a homing ability. Most spectacular is fusing them with Zonai devices however (see later) to create e.g. flamethrowers. And when a weapon is close to breaking, I recommend fusing it with a (new) material, as this will extend the durability again. You’re welcome.
Probably my personal favourite. Ascend lets you travel through ceilings within a certain range, and you emerge above them. This doesn’t only work on proper ceilings of course. If you can create or find some kind of ridge that’s just large enough, you can avoid having to climb your way up or even to solve certain puzzles. It has saved me a lot of headache and time by cutting corners where, to be honest, maybe I shouldn’t have. But it’s entirely up to the player how far you want to go in (ab)using these new abilities.
With Recall you reverse the flow of time for an object. So if an item moves towards you, you can cast recall and it will retrace its steps and move back to where it came from. I’ve mainly used this to solve puzzles, to fight bosses or to travel to sky islands by standing on a piece of rock that just fell down and making it travel back upwards.
Thanks to the Upheaval artifacts and ruins from ancient times have made a reappearance. Most importantly Zonai devices. These are devices like fans, flame emitters, rockets, self-moving wheels, etc. etc. You can power them with what’s essentially a battery that will recharge itself over time. There’s also mechanics in place to permanently increase the capacity of your battery. Together with Ultrahand and Fuse, these devices become very interesting toys to play with. You can find them at certain locations across the world, but there are also places where you can insert gathered materials into a gacha machine and it will give you portable Zonai devices for single use.
Caves and Shrines
While Shrines have made a reappearance from BotW, they look different as they’re now Zonai. Shrines offer the player a unique puzzle that they need to solve, often functioning as some kind of tutorial on new ways you can use the magic arm’s abilities. As a reward the shrine becomes a fast travel point and you receive a “Light of Blessing”, four of which can be exchanged for additional heart containers or stamina.
Caves however have received increased importance in the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. When you enter a cave it will be marked on your map, and you’ll also see a little check mark once you’ve uncovered all its secrets. Every cave is unique, offering valuable resources, loot and sometimes puzzles. Some caves are larger than others, almost turning them into dungeons. They’re very fun to explore and I find myself rarely skipping out on entering a new cave.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Wait, there’s more
There is still so much that can be said on the gameplay front, but this review is growing pretty long and there’s still a few other aspects I want to touch upon. Take my apologies if you wanted to read more on combat, enemy types, puzzles, horses, armour sets, the Depths, temples, erotic fairies, newspapers, the weather and whatever else you can think of. Let’s take a deep breath and bear with me as we cover just a few more topics.
Most of the cut-scenes and some of the in game dialogue is voiced. While I usually prefer Japanese audio for Switch games, the English voice acting in the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is superb.
More notable however to me, however, are the ambient sounds and music. While a lot of the sounds and songs will feel very similar if you played BotW, there’s an obvious improvement still. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but not once have I been tempted to put on headphones and listen to my own music instead – something I’m often guilty of while gaming. None of the sounds in TotK feel excessive or out of place. The sound immerses you completely, which is one of the reasons you lose track of time way too easily.
Every time a game performs poorly on the Nintendo Switch, we would refer to Breath of the Wild as the front runner of how it should have been done. The staple of the Nintendo Switch when it comes to offering a great experience on all fronts: gameplay, graphics, sound & performance. We were amazed that this little console could offer such an incredible gaming experience. To me, the Nintendo Switch was built for BotW and BotW was built for the Nintendo Switch. I expected nothing less from the sequel.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is even more ambitious than its predecessor. More locations to explore, more complex abilities and visual dependencies. Unfortunately, the frame rate suffers from it. While not game breaking, the drops are noticeable. I personally don’t think the Switch is necessarily outdated, I just think we push it too far. Now that even TotK has touched the limits of the best selling console, I think we can expect a new console from Nintendo in the relatively near future.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Conclusion
The reception of the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has been incredible so far. It sold ten million copies in just three days, making it the fastest selling Nintendo game in Europe and the Americas to date. But it’s not just the sales that are impressive – reviews for this game are outstanding. At the time of writing it’s the highest rated game of all time on OpenCritic, rating just above its predecessor Breath of the Wild. While there’s different opinions on how the game’s performance should impact its score, I personally would have preferred to wait for TotK to release on a better console than to see it take a hit on performance. There’s on the other hand not a single game element I would be willing to sacrifice for a better performance on the Nintendo Switch.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is living up to the expectations and in many ways exceeding them. How they managed to make this game feel brand new, yet built on the foundations of BotW is a mystery to me. While I prefer TotK over BotW, you should seriously consider playing it before diving into TotK. It will enhance your experience and you’ll be pleased to explore Hyrule all over again. Unless you’re just here to torture poor Koroks. In which case I think you might be the reason the Kingdom is in tears.
Big thanks to CDMedia for the review copy.