Editor’s Note: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is arguably the most important game released for the Nintendo Switch since the console’s creation. As such, we have several GiN reviewers, all with deep backgrounds in the Zelda franchise and with Nintendo games, covering and reviewing it. Our first review was from Michael Blaker. Next up is Vincent Mahoney’s take on this amazing title, and be sure to also check out his Save State column where he gives a deep dive into all things Zelda.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a game with important impact on the gaming sphere, and basically everyone has had some kind of interest in seeing how Nintendo would outperform themselves with the highly anticipated sequel. Building upon the foundation the first title laid, Tears of the Kingdom brings players back into the fantasy world of Hyrule… but this time, Link can be his own auto dealership.
The story of Tears of the Kingdom begins some number of years after the end of Breath of the Wild. Hyrule Castle has fallen into disrepair, and some kind of strange red miasma they call gloom has begun pouring out from underneath the castle. Link and Zelda explore the caves underneath the castle, finding murals depicting the Zonai civilization merely hinted at in the prior game, as well as a mummy being held in place by an arm. As the two approach the mummy, the seal seemingly breaks, and the gloom becomes much more intense- the mummy awakens, and worse yet, it seriously injures Link, shattering the Master Sword and destroying his arm.
The beginning of Tears of the Kingdom is great- it’s just enough to get you hooked on the concept, showing you new islands in the sky as well as the dark depths lurking deep beneath Hyrule. The overworld of Hyrule looks a little worse for wear in Tears of the Kingdom. The map is very similar to Breath of the Wild, but has giant pits wrapped in gloom dotted all over the map as well as floating islands in the sky. There are a good number of locations that can be visited from the past game, but they’ll feature destroyed architecture, different enemies, or something of that sort, instead.
For those wondering what the progression is like, there are still shrines with small puzzle challenges for you to complete, and clearing each shrine rewards you with an item with which you can convert four of them into a new heart container, or to expand your stamina wheel so you can climb and glide for longer distances. The Divine Beasts, which were longer, dungeon-like puzzle challenges, are completely missing from Tears of the Kingdom, instead replaced by Temples that build around a central theme for you to solve puzzles with, such as the Fire Temple having multiple minecart and gate challenges. Tears of the Kingdom has a grand total of 152 shrines across the sky and overworld of Hyrule, and four-ish Temples for the player to complete.
While the Depths may not have any shrines, it’s still worth spelunking through the darkness to acquire useful resources like untarnished weapons and zonaite, which can be used to build a variety of vehicles and mobile weapons. Throughout the Depths, you’ll find a great number of combat challenges that can reward you with useful armor, like a mask that makes enemies ignore you until you attack them, and the only thing you need to do is brave the dark. Which, yes, The Depths is pitch black before you activate large sources of light called Lightroots, so having Brightbloom Seeds to light the way so you don’t step in noxious gloom is very useful, and thankfully the seeds are very plentiful throughout the land of Hyrule.
Link’s toolkit from Breath of the Wild has also been changed up, and the new powers at his disposal completely change how players will interact with the land of Hyrule. Ascend allows players to teleport straight to the surface through an object, allowing for new and inventive methods of puzzle solving like using Ascend while gliding when you can’t actually gain enough height to reach the top of a platform otherwise. 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.
On top of the two previous abilities, Link has Fuse and Ultrahand, as well. Fuse allows Link to take objects and stick them to his weapons, shields, and arrows, providing added damage, crowd control effects like ranged mind control, or burning enemies who strike your shields. Ultrahand, conversely, allows Link to take objects and stick them to other objects, allowing the player to make cars, bikes, flying machines, or even remotely controlled violations of the Geneva Conventions that seek out and destroy targets by dousing areas with water and then electrifying anything unfortunate enough to be close to the area of effect.
Fuse has an incredible interaction with combat because you can control how difficult or easy combat is by utilizing items you stockpile throughout your adventure. Is an encounter with a swarm of enemies too difficult? Fuse muddlebuds to your arrows and get some of those enemies working for you, while you freeze some others by gluing icefruits to your shields. Ultrahand dramatically impacts your exploration and traversal by allowing you to make a wide variety of crazy contraptions to get to your destinations more quickly, letting you make ground vehicles, air vehicles, and even orbital strike devices that hover in mid-air and fire lasers at whatever offends you, utterly decimating mini-bosses like Hinoxes and Lynels with your spare zonaite.
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 them. Breath of the Wild had a decent number of detractors who hated that their weapons could break, and Tears of the Kingdom still has this system in place, but I’d argue it’s better implemented this time as fusing anything to your weapon increases its durability by a large amount on top of raising the damage. In fact, the durability added by most non-weapon 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 dramatically changes how players interact with Tears of the Kingdom’s weapon degradation system because not only will most weapons last two or three times longer by fusing, but you can provide yourself so many useful effects in combat that it’s always worth doing, even if you’re the greatest hoarder in all of video games. Tears of the Kingdom provides a really nice positive feedback loop in that spending resources, whether through weapon fusion, cooking food, crafting elixirs, or upgrading your armor at the Great Fairies, will make it so much easier to acquire even more resources that it’s always worth doing.
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 even completely skip the combat encounter in question by attaching a rocket to your shield and flinging yourself into the air for a quick escape. There’s a ton of flexibility you’re afforded in how you interact with the various systems of the game.
The flexibility of Tears of the Kingdom isn’t just exhibited in its combat, either. Many of the shrines house physics puzzles can be solved in a wide variety of ways, and you have an immense amount of freedom in determining how you want to approach the puzzles in the shrines and Temples. Some people may make a bridge to cross a moat of lava, but others may use a lever and platform to launch themselves across not just the river of molten rock, but fling themselves all the way to the end of the shrine. Breaking the puzzles in Tears of the Kingdom is part and parcel of the fun, and if you enjoy finding wacky solutions, you’ll love encountering the numerous shrines throughout it.
It’s in this way that Tears of the Kingdom completely recontextualizes how you interact with the world and its systems- you can make or break things basically all the time. You can get a horse and play the game much like Breath of the Wild, but you can also build your own vehicle to scurry across the terrain at your own pace, maybe even putting weapons on said vehicle so you don’t even need to get your hands dirty when you encounter enemies. There are some limiting factors to what you can build- Zonai devices consume energy from an expandable battery you acquire at the start of the title, and one of the first things you’ll want to do is acquire zonaite to buy energy charges, then take those charges to a construct that will expand your battery for you. Ergo, exploring the depths for zonaite lets you make greater use of Autobuild, which allows you to use your vehicles or portable war crimes devices for far longer, which can make traversal a ton easier across not just the land of Hyrule, but the sky above it, too.
Of course, Autobuild as a power is, for some reason, hidden away as part of a side quest that players can easily miss at the start of the game. Autobuild is probably the second most commonly used power throughout my very lengthy playthrough of Tears of the Kingdom, and it’s incredibly useful because it allows you to instantly resummon any Zonai contraption you may have slapped together, which means that rather than using Ultrahand to rebuild your hot air balloon or violation of the Geneva Conventions from scratch, you can reconstruct those devices without all that added effort every time. There’s another power that you can acquire at the end of a side quest that lets you strike enemies without using your weapons, and there’s no doubt in my mind many players missed out on Link’s Earthwake technique, in spite of its questionable combat usefulness.
The thing is, that’s just how Tears of the Kingdom approaches its game design. There are so many things to do that it can be somewhat overwhelming. There are tons of shrines, side quests, caves to explore (and kill ghost frogs), and things to unlock, that you’ll be exploring every nook and cranny to acquire new Zonai devices, items, and upgrades for not just yourself but the various sages you’ll encounter along the course of your journey. In fact, the one thing I found less than exciting about Tears of the Kingdom was that, due to its open-ended nature, finishing a Temple basically shows you the same cutscene four separate times rather than actually building upon the story established at the start of the game.
There’s still a story to encounter but once against those memories found through Dragon’s Tears littered all across the map, they can be found out of order and give you story developments in the least impactful way possible, through no fault at all of the player. Even if you’re a player ardently against the use of guides or walkthroughs, it’s very recommended that when you do the Dragon’s Tears main quest line, you look up a guide to find the memories in order, so you have the best intended experience. It would have been much more reasonable for Nintendo to have changed up cutscenes based on the total number of memories found so every player would see the same story developments in the same order, but I’m also just a reviewer, not a game developer.
The visuals look fantastic in many areas of Tears of the Kingdom, appearing to be some kind of feat of engineering miracles to have a title appear this good on the Switch’s aging hardware. Many locations, despite their swaying grass, light refractions, or particle effects don’t push the frame rate down below 25. This, of course, goes out the window in some locations while using Ultrahand, where you may have frame rates in the teens while trying to glue together some kind of ramshackle during a thunderstorm so you can create a campfire to pass the time. All in all, though, the performance of Tears of the Kingdom is outright impressive in many respects, and while you will experience dips in frame rate here or there, it doesn’t normally happen during combat which is where a consistent frame rate is most important.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a game that, if you enjoyed Breath of the Wild, there’s a very real chance you’ll love this as well. There’s a saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and that could have especially been true of a revisit to Hyrule, but Tears of the Kingdom’s approach to navigation and puzzle-solving really goes out of its way to reinvigorate how you engage with a similar world. The additional challenges, complete change up of weapon degradation, and new ways to interact with the world to complete quests, solve puzzles, and just wander around and take in the landscape which gives players great opportunities to find something fun to explore.
If you like third person action-adventure titles with loads to do, there’s a great chance that Tears of the Kingdom will addict you from beginning to end.