Welcome to Save State, where I’ve been stuck in the land of Hyrule for a whopping two weeks. Zelda’s latest release, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, dropped last month, and I’ve been trying to stick to my policy of beating a title before reviewing it. There is just a whole lot of game in Tears of the Kingdom, with tons of different things to explore, exploit, and engage in battle. Breath of the Wild really went out of its way to give players freedom to tackle a variety of tasks in inventive ways, but Tears really ramps this element up to 11, and what I’m going to focus on today is just how much fun I’ve had breaking Tears of the Kingdom six ways from Sunday while compiling notes for my review.
When players initially start up Tears of the Kingdom, you’re treated to some scenes of Link and Zelda exploring some caverns beneath Hyrule Castle, which apparently fell into a state of severe disrepair after the events of Breath of the Wild. What they find underneath the castle, however, is a mummified Ganondorf sealed by a crazy looking hand, with a toxic miasma the people of Hyrule have come to call gloom leaking out from around his body. Their approach awakens Ganondorf, who promptly destroys Link’s right arm along with his equipment, nearly killing him, while Zelda falls into an abyss created by an earthquake caused by Ganondorf’s awakening. Link arises sometime later with a completely different arm attached to his body, and then you’re off to the tutorial area to get yourself acclimated to Tears of the Kingdom’s new approach to rune powers.
The single largest change in Tears of the Kingdom is that Link’s previous rune powers from Breath of the Wild are gone- Magnesis, Cryonis, Stasis, those are now things of the past. Link, from venturing all over the tutorial island, will acquire the power to Ascend through surfaces above him, making traversal much less of a chore all around. The Fuse ability allows Link to take two objects and stick them together, boosting the durability of the items by a set amount, which is always very useful. Recall allows players to reverse time on an object of your choice, which can do everything from reversing projectiles back at the boss who fired them, solving puzzles, or effectively letting you fly forever by reversing time on your flying machine when you run out of energy to keep it aloft.
By now, most players should know about the wacky flying machines and other inventions that Hylian engineering have crafted, and the power you use to create all those is Ultrahand. Using Ultrahand lets you stick objects together, including the 27 Zonai devices available in-game that perform a variety of tasks. Fans generate lift- so you can jump on them and paraglide over obstacles, but you can also slap them onto the bottom of a surface, or a steering stick, and create a fancy little airbike so you can get to out of reach locations. You can make ground vehicles, air vehicles, and even orbital strike devices consisting of a hover stone to keep it suspended midair, a couple targeting devices, and (OMG) 16 beam emitters which can obliterate Silver Lynels, one of the most challenging enemies in Tears of the Kingdom, in a matter of 10 seconds or so.
Of course, it’d be boring if you had to make your weird, constructed devices manually every single time, and there’s a hidden power you can easily find by following sidequests in the first town you see that reconstructs anything you’ve previously made using Ultrahand. This Autobuild power, which definitely shouldn’t have been thrown in as part of a side quest because it’s immensely useful for accessibility, is probably my second most used power in the game. The ability to just drop some Zonai devices on the ground and have it reconstruct something I made in the past is incredibly useful, and even if you don’t have the devices on hand, Autobuild will just consume a resource called Zonaite to construct your vehicle for you.
Of course, while you can make fancy devices to shortcut combat, a lot of the time you will still want to engage in battle with enemies on your own, and Fusing parts to your weapons will aid substantially in raising the attack power of your weapons as well as their durability. One thing to note about Fuse is that while you can stick, say, two weapons together, like slapping two spears on top of one another for the longest reach weapon you’ve ever seen, doing this doesn’t seem to provide a lot of durability. In fact, the durability added by most items seems to be a set value, so you’re much better off taking monster parts that drop from enemies and attaching them to your swords and spears so you get the greatest attack value possible. Monsters drop goodies like nobody’s business, and those items are doing you no good if you’re just hoarding them in your inventory.
Fuse automatically gets used when you draw your bow and select an item to fuse to the arrowhead- some items make your arrows home in, fly straighter, farther, make elemental explosions, or just dramatically boost the damage of the arrow fired. I actually really like this approach of the title, because it encourages the player to use their resources, effectively allowing you to select your difficulty. Sure, you can hoard 112 Electric Keese Eyeballs, which not only home in when used on arrows but shock your enemies, causing them to drop their weapons, but you’re only making combat encounters more difficult for yourself by uselessly hoarding items.
So, all these powers can be used in a wide variety of ways, and you can do funny things like fuse explosive barrels or bomb flowers to your shields to make an explosive surprise for enemies who try to hit you, but those can also be used as propulsion to jump high into the air by trying to surf on your shield. Attaching items with the power of electricity, like Shock Fruit, Electric Keese Eyeballs, or even Topaz to your shields will shock any enemies who hit your shield, making them drop their weapons so you can get some free hits in. You can attach Zonai flame emitters to your shield so you set enemies on fire when you guard, and can put beam emitters on your weapons so you shoot lasers at enemies while you stab them. There’s a ton of flexibility in the systems you’re afforded, and I loved having utility items attached to my shields with the strongest monster parts available on my weapon, so I was freezing and shocking enemies while guarding, and bashing them with the most damaging weapons at my disposal, too.
I guess what I’m trying to express is that combat in Tears of the Kingdom can be as easy or as difficult as you make it, and there’s a ton of flexibility in how you can engage with enemies. Even puzzles can be solved in a wide variety of ways given the open-ended nature of Tears’ systems: for example, one particular shrine apparently demands you set up a “batting cage” of sorts to launch a golden ball into a target located over a pit. Successfully doing this will open the door. When I first triggered the object intended to launch the ball into one of the targets, I apparently was looking in the wrong location, so I thought that switch needed to be triggered after getting the ball to a target. So, I attached every object in the area to the ball, making an extremely large hammer of sorts, and threw that into the target over the pit which opened the door to clear the shrine puzzle.
There are many examples of things like this, mainly because Tears of the Kingdom hands you a bunch of tools and says, “Figure it out” for a lot of the shrines. There have been a number of times while talking with friends who got stuck on certain puzzles that they’d tell me what they did to get everything in the shrine to get a treasure chest. Meanwhile I glued a stick to the treasure chest to knock it off its perch and plundered its goodies. Finding out the “correct” ways to solve something after the fact has been a lot of fun, because apparently I approach puzzles in the absolute dumbest manner possible at every opportunity, like getting frustrated at a puzzle only to discover that bomb fused arrows can trigger switches inside shrines.
Which, that’s precisely what makes Tears of the Kingdom great. It’s Breath of the Wild but more, giving you some fun islands to explore in the sky, a giant area in the depths beneath Hyrule (which is a great place for getting the Zonaite you need to fund your engineering addiction). Combat in Tears is very similar to combat in the previous game, but expanded with tons more options for the player to utilize by expending just a few resources. With more options for traversal in vehicles, you can construct weapons of mass destruction that break the Geneva Conventions, the sheer volume of things the player is given access to really go far and beyond the pale considering how on-rails Zelda titles have been for a couple decades.
Really, the only disappointing thing is that the dungeons of Tears of the Kingdom, the temples, are pretty short puzzle challenges. The boss fights in each temple are fantastic and are more memorable than the [Element]blight Ganons from Breath of the Wild. But the puzzle dungeons to get to the bosses are less memorable than even the Divine Beasts from the last game. Which, the Divine Beasts were already a bit less memorable than the dungeons from past Zeldas like Skyward Sword- even if you’re a hater, dungeons like the Sandship and Ancient Cistern were the one thing Skyward Sword did right.
That being said, I’ll stop gushing about everything I’ve enjoyed about Tears of the Kingdom, and will probably save anything else for my upcoming review. So, I hope you enjoyed this entry of Save State, and please keep an eye out for future reviews and additions to this column in the upcoming weeks. Until next time.