Once again, the vast world of Hyrule is yours to explore. And this time, not only is it bigger than ever, you’ve also got cars, tanks, flying machines, and bizarre weapon fusions to aid you in your journey. You’ll fly through the Sky Islands, delve deep into the mysterious Depths, and just maybe save Princess Zelda – but one thing is certain: you’ll need to come up with some absolutely crazy creations to help you along the way! That’s right – after a seemingly endless wait, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is finally here!
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I absolutely loved The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I considered it my favorite game of all time. So my expectations for Tears of the Kingdom were sky-high. And I can say with confidence that the sequel not only met but surpassed every single one of those expectations.
Several years after the events of Breath of the Wild, another catastrophe has befallen Hyrule. The “Upheaval” has caused floating islands to appear, rubble and ancient devices to plummet to earth, and caves and chasms to open up across the kingdom. Princess Zelda is missing, and the warlord Ganondorf has risen again after decades sealed beneath the Castle. Link, the Hero of Hyrule, must set off on an open-world adventure to rescue Zelda and stop the Demon King’s plans. Along the way he’ll reunite with old allies, make some new friends, gain and master some powerful new abilities, and possibly drive a few cars completed with screaming Korok hood ornaments.
Everything there was to love about Breath of the Wild is back with a vengeance in Tears of the Kingdom. The world is huge, expanded further from its already impressive size by the addition of the Depths and the Sky Islands. Puzzle-filled shrines are scattered across Hyrule for Link to solve. There are tons of side quests and side objectives, from finding hidden Koroks to racking up Pony Points at Stables to learning about Hyrule’s ancient history via reading tablets and documents. And it’s all wide open – once you leave Tears of the Kingdom‘s tutorial area, you can do things in pretty much any order you want!
But Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t just rest on its laurels; it takes what was already great about Breath of the Wild and makes it better. For example, Link’s new abilities. Ultrahand and Fuse make the game even more open-ended and creativity-rewarding, allowing players to craft everything from cars, carts and mobile artillery platforms to rocket-powered balloons, literal “meat shields,” and swords with skeletal monster arms hanging from the end. So much of Tears of the Kingdom is centered around “the joy of creation,” and no two players’ inventions and weapons will be exactly alike. In just a few weeks, players have made dog-petting machines, carnival rides…and, yes, a staggering variety of devices designed solely to torture poor Koroks.
There are many quality-of-life improvements and all of them genuinely feel like things that were desperately needed additions from Breath of the Wild. There’s a Recipe Book to store meal recipes in. You can climb slippery surfaces by cooking Sticky Frogs and Lizards or wearing the Froggy Armor. The addition of the Pony Points system incentivizes catching and registering wild horses rather than simply sticking with Epona. Formerly Amiibo-exclusive items, the majority of which were much-loved outfits and weapons from past games, now have a chance to appear in treasure chests. Truly, it feels that every change made to Tears of the Kingdom from Breath of the Wild was for the better.
One area where Breath of the Wild drew criticism was the relative weakness of its story, with some players feeling that the characters – especially Zelda herself – were flat and lacked depth. Tears of the Kingdom features a richer story that focuses on several returning characters who are forced to step into the roles of heroes and leaders in their communities, and the struggles they experience in the process. While it is somewhat disappointing that Zelda once again is missing and cannot journey alongside Link, the game does share her story in a unique way through memories Link can gather and Zonai documents he can read. This does make Zelda’s presence feel more tangible than in Breath of the Wild, even if she may not make many physical appearances.
Speaking of the characters, Tears of the Kingdom makes one major decision that sets it apart both in combat and story from its predecessor. In a returning tradition from previous Zelda titles, several characters are revealed throughout the game to be Sages, individuals blessed with strong elemental powers who are called upon to fight against the Demon King. Using a new system called Sage Vows, Link can call upon avatars of these characters to bless him with special abilities and aid him in battle. I loved the Sage Vows; not only did they make combat even more flexible, but they truly emphasized that Link is no longer alone in his journey and has allies and friends willing to fight beside him. It also meant that characters made more appearances outside of their story sections, even if it was just as wordless avatar versions. But, Nintendo, did you REALLY have to give Prince Sidon a fiancée? I waited years to see my favorite Zora Prince again, only to find that his heart belongs to another and he is no longer Hyrule’s most eligible bachelor…
Combat is genuinely fun in Tears of the Kingdom, and primarily has the Fuse ability to thank for that. Low weapon durability can be frustrating, but I loved the ability to combine pretty much anything and discover lots of unique effects. Most of my wins against the game’s more difficult bosses and mini-bosses (of which there are MANY more and a MUCH larger variety than in Breath of the Wild) only happened thanks to a clever fusion that I managed to come up with mid-battle, such as using a Ruby to give my sword the power of fire or utilizing arrows tipped with the disgusting, yet effective, Hinox Toenails.
I also was happier to see a much wider variety of enemies compared to Breath of the Wild where it could definitely get tiring stumbling on Bokoblin camp after Bokoblin camp. In particular, there was little variety when it came to rare enemies – it felt like Lynels and especially Hinoxes and Talus were everywhere. Tears of the Kingdom expands enemy variety in a big way. There are new Zonaite-powered Constructs in several different forms (all MUCH less annoying to deal with than Breath of the Wild’s infamous Guardians!) Bokoblin hordes can be led by more powerful Boss versions, Horriblins and rare Bubbulfrogs dwell in caves… not to mention all of the classic enemies from previous The Legend of Zelda games finally make their return after several years of absence. Like Likes are back (and as annoying as ever to defeat)! Gohma’s back! Gleeoks are back, in fire, ice, and lightning forms. Phantom Ganon is back and now accompanied by a horde of terrifying Gloom Hands!
For those wanting a taste of classic Zelda dungeons, Tears of the Kingdom‘s Temples do feel a lot more like dungeons of titles past than the Divine Beasts seen in Breath of the Wild. There are quite a few tricky dungeon puzzles that reminded me of older titles, and the bosses feel more distinct than the four Blight Ganons from the previous games. The Fire Temple’s boss, a tense match against an enormous ceiling-dwelling creature in a volcanic arena that required a combination of precision arrow-shooting and pure destructive power, was a particularly fun fight. The Depths also had a bit of classic “dungeon” feel to it, with the oppressive, dark atmosphere and monsters around every corner. Although it is more similar to Breath of the Wild than other previous Zelda titles, I do think that Tears of the Kingdom really does have at least a little bit of something for everyone.
Tears of the Kingdom is just… an adventure. There’s so much to do but you can truly choose what quests and stories you do or don’t want to pursue. Every time I sat down to play Tears of the Kingdom, I had a totally different experience. One time, I spent hours exploring a labyrinth under the depths of Hyrule Castle; another, I devoted an entire session to helping a woman win a mayoral election in the hopes of receiving an ultra-stylish hat. Dyeing your armor a rainbow of colors? Becoming a teacher at what seems to be Hyrule’s only school? Catching enough wild horses to become a top-scoring Pony Points member? Hunting the nefarious Yiga Clan in their new underground hideout? You can do all of these things and more!
Like the seams of Zonaite that run through the abandoned mines underneath Hyrule, there is a seam of pure joy running through Tears of the Kingdom. Yes, things are dangerous. Yes, Zelda is missing and Ganondorf is back. But this is a Hyrule that already survived one Calamity, but they’re rebuilding and they’re going to get through whatever comes next – together. Unlike the scattered, barely-holding-on settlements of Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom shows Hyrule finally beginning to thrive once more. There are more travelers on the roads, and more people of different races can be found outside of their home settlements. Tarrey Town, which Link himself built as part of a Breath of the Wild side quest, is bustling. The Gorons are working to build a mine cart-themed amusement park, while a brand-new settlement, Lookout Landing, has been established near Hyrule Castle. The people of the kingdom are working together to recover and rebuild, and their successes and triumphs are everywhere.
One of the things I loved best about Tears of the Kingdom was the fact that so many of its side quests and plot threads are centered around helping people pursue their dreams, goals, and hobbies. Hyrule’s people have started to move beyond simple survival mode, and it’s wonderful to see the various NPCs chasing their respective bliss. There’s a woman who wants to catalog every well in Hyrule, a man who believes he can become a divine being by eating Bubbul Gems, a fashion designer with a thing for mushrooms… the list goes on. While I’m already the kind of person who loves side quests and tends to play games in a completionist manner, Tears of the Kingdom made this style of playing even more fun than usual by fostering a genuine feeling of helping people reach their dreams.
One concern that some people had was that Tears of the Kingdom would feel tacked-on, something that would work better as DLC for Breath of the Wild than as its own game. I personally did not feel as though this was the case at all. Although some parts of the map were the same, the story was fresh, the addition of the Sky Islands and Depths emphasized how much Hyrule has changed, and the locations and characters that did return had changed and grown enough to feel like something new. While I would definitely recommend playing Breath of the Wild first to get to know the world and characters better, I would even argue that Tears of the Kingdom stands on its own well enough for someone to play it without having played the first title and still thoroughly enjoy it.
The number one reason I would recommend playing Breath of the Wild first, though, is because of the emotional payoff. As I mentioned earlier, this game features a Hyrule truly beginning to thrive after the final defeat of Calamity Ganon. Getting to see these characters and towns again to experience how far they’ve all come is one of the most heart-warming moments I’ve ever had playing a video game. You will be crying, sure, but these won’t be Tears of the Kingdom – they’ll be tears of joy at seeing all of your old friends and familiar haunts again.
Pretty much as soon as I got out of the game’s tutorial area, I ran to Tarrey Town, eager to see how the residents I (well, Link…) had recruited from all across Hyrule were faring. I got there to find them all doing better than ever – the town had expanded, new shops had opened up, new people had moved in, and Tarrey Town had become the hub for a bustling construction company that was at the forefront of Hyrule’s rebuilding efforts. Best of all, Hudson and Rhondson, the adorable couple Link introduced to each other who got married in Breath of the Wild, were still happily together with a daughter of their own. This was the first time I happy-cried while playing Tears of the Kingdom, but it wasn’t the last.
Possibly the best moment of all on the “nostalgia trip” across Hyrule that took up much of my first few hours of playing was returning to Link’s house in Hateno Village. In the first game, one side quest allowed Link to build his very own house in the village, and later furnish it with weapon racks, pictures of his friends, and other items. I was so worried that something would have happened to the house during the time gap between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, and was thrilled to discover that this was not the case. Not only is the house still there, but it has been very clearly lived in – by both Link AND Zelda! – and the two have become beloved members of the Hateno community. Needless to say, there were more tears. Many more – all happy, of course. And as Link walked through the door of the house we had so tirelessly built, I turned to my husband and said the one statement that I feel sums up Tears of the Kingdom better than any other: “This game feels like coming home.”
And that’s really it. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom manages to combine heart-warming nostalgia with the sweeping, epic feeling of discovery and the joy of creation. It’s a sprawling, gorgeous experience that takes everything fans loved about Breath of the Wild and makes it more and better. There are dungeons, shrines, side quests, collectibles, lore, and a little bit of something for everyone. This is a triumph of a game that will easily keep myself and many other gamers journeying through the newly changed, expanded Hyrule for hundreds of hours at the very least. So strap in, grab your paraglider, pick up your favorite horse from the nearest stable, and head for the sky – because it’s time to go on the adventure of a lifetime!
Kate played The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on the Nintendo Switch via a their own purchased copy.