Action Adventure Review

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Review

With bated breath, the sequel to arguably the most acclaimed game of the 2010s is upon us at last. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s legacy is one that has cast a looming shadow upon the open world genre. If games don’t take direct and sometimes blatant inspiration from it, then they’re often still compared to it anyway. That only begged one important question, though. How was Nintendo themselves to follow up on such a monolith? A little over six years later, they’ve answered back with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

Hyrule’s Open Airs

The goal of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is the same as its predecessor: to provide a complete and absolute sense of freedom. Go anywhere at any time, go climb any mountain you see, cook whatever ridiculous recipes you want, and so on. Do the story in any order, or heck, skip the story outright and beeline it straight for the final boss whenever you want. Whether you succeed in doing any of that is a question of skill and preparedness, but it’s this hands-off approach where the game trusts the player that makes everything far more enticing.

Most of the reason why it’s successful here is the same as it is in Breath of the Wild, but there are a few key differences in their execution. Tears of the Kingdom when compared to its predecessor is a more circuitous game. This is mostly the result of Link’s abilities being changed and the overall level design providing more friction than before. There may be more blockades, there may be fewer surfaces that are immediately climbable, and natural hazards may impede you too. It still completely adheres to allowing the player to do what they want when they want to, but the player’s going to have to be much craftier. In every way, it is a more demanding sequel that asks the player to demonstrate a fuller understanding of its systems to progress.

For example, getting something like the Champion’s Tunic in Breath of the Wild was a straightforward affair that most players would easily figure out within the first few hours. Getting that exact same item in Tears of the Kingdom, however, is hidden far out of sight from players who aren’t willing to look for clues. I ended up finding it by complete accident, well before the game drops a hint for it. Just finding it was a massively satisfying affair, and it’s these roadblocks put in the way that makes the game more exciting to discover.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Link in the Air

The Skies Above

After the game’s short introductory sequence, the player is whisked away to one of the many Sky Islands now visible in the clouds of Hyrule. The Sky Islands are small, truncated areas composed of both unique content and what you would see on the surface. It’s not populated by anyone but service robots called Constructs, creating a strong sense of isolation.

Sky Islands are spread out very far from each other, and take much more effort to reach compared to any other part of the map. While there are things like towers that will shoot you into the sky and falling rocks that you can send back upward, those often aren’t enough. The player must interact with a variety of devices and carefully manage their tools to hop from one island to the next. These efforts are generally rewarded with some of the most desirable items in the game. When I see one, I always make the effort to plan out a route to reach it—and that by itself makes them something of a puzzle. Since Sky Islands are in, well, the sky, they are extremely perilous to traverse. Any slip-up in your plans or insufficient resources will send you barreling back down to the surface. This happened to me a number of times, and although these moments were frustrating, they were frustrating in a good way.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Hot Air Balloon

This makes even seemingly menial tasks like transporting a large rock from one island to another much trickier. Knowing how to best manipulate your tools and the environment around you is key to your success in these many scenarios.

Sometimes you might actually be directly asked to go back to the surface, though. Transitioning from the sky to the surface world is completely seamless, and it’s not just for show. A good number of quests will have direct interaction between the sky and the surface. One area might have you skydive from an island all the way back down to the surface, others might have you take leaps of faith to complete certain quests. It’s a simple, but impressive synergy that helps to enrich quests and general gameplay all at once.

The Surface Between

The surface world of Hyrule appears at first the same as its predecessor. However, due to an event called the Upheaval, the world is in disarray and much of it is quite different. New monsters have appeared all across the land, most locations have changed, and the general topography has noticeably shifted. Still, before having rediscovered this refreshed iteration of Hyrule, I was weary that it would be too similar. Luckily, those fears were unfounded. Hyrule is fresher than ever, and it’s changed in ways that are surprising and clever.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - River of the Dead Waterfall Cave

The first big change is the introduction of caves and more indoor areas in general. Breath of the Wild was noticeably scant on these, but Tears of the Kingdom has blown the door wide open on them. In every hill, crevice, well, and so on, there’s usually always a cave system or two nestled in there somewhere. They could be brief or they could get absurdly long. Enemies such as the resource-eating Like-Likes and tons of breakable walls also create a strong sense of claustrophobia. You may also find things like new, rare items and even Shrines—which give you items needed to upgrade your health and stamina.

Outside of that, Hyrule’s surface world is where the majority of the main story, side quests, towns, and NPCs are found. Towns in particular have received a big upgrade and become far more interconnected; A way of showing that the world is healing and becoming less isolated after the events of the previous game. Characters have grown older, relationships have evolved, and overall there’s a nice sense of slow but steady change for the entirety of Hyrule’s populace. Despite being the same map on the surface, Link’s new abilities and the changes made to it still make it as exciting to explore as before.

Knowledge of Breath of the Wild’s map and storyline is also regularly rewarded in ways both big and small. There’s a strong sense of visual continuity with this game. For example, in the Great Plateau region, there’s a set of tree stumps sitting on some cliffs. Players will recall that it’s at that exact spot where they had to cut down trees in order to cross a gap in the original game, since they hadn’t yet obtained the Paraglider. Details like that are a dime a dozen in Tears of the Kingdom, making the world that much more of a joy to traverse.

The Darkness Beneath

Scattered all around Hyrule’s surface world are enormous holes to fall into, leading to the massive subterranean map called The Depths. When I say The Depths are massive, I mean it. It’s the exact same size as the surface world, and is at first a complete unknown to traverse. The main thing you’ll first see about The Depths is that, well, you can’t see. As caves deep underground typically are, The Depths are pitch black. You can barely even make out where Link is, much less what’s right in front of you. Few games come close to matching the sheer unnerving darkness of this place, making it all the more perilous to traverse.

The only way you’re traveling this place in any sensible way is with Brightbloom Seeds, throwable items that can stick to any surface and light up a small area. These essentially act as glow-in-the-dark breadcrumbs for you to leave behind, lighting the way while also telling you where you’ve already traversed. To steadily brighten up The Depths, you’ll have to locate and activate Lightroots. Sounds like a simple task on paper, but you’ll be met with a lot of resistance as just traveling The Depths eats away at your resources. The number of Brightbloom Seeds you have are finite, so using them cautiously and economically is key to being able to plunge The Depths for a long time.

The main thing you’ll find down in The Depths are items that relate back to Link’s abilities, making this a highly valuable place that you’ll need to come back to quite often. You’ll also find chests containing various famous items, weapons, and gear from across the whole series. This includes Link’s outfits from old games, an armor set that makes you like Phantom Ganon, and even Majora’s Mask. These are often hidden in some of the most obscure and hard-to-reach places, making them a joy just to track down.

Additionally, you’ll have to contest with a big new mechanic here while in The Depths: Gloom. Scattered absolutely everywhere in The Depths is a nasty-looking substance called Gloom, covering the floor, walls, and even enemies. Wading through this Gloom for more than just a moment will see you take steady reductions to your maximum HP that won’t recover until you return to the surface or reach a Lightroot. This means that taking utmost caution in The Depths and planning a safe route is a necessity. Battles that take place in The Depths are also significantly more tense, because even just a single stray hit can be massively punishing in the long run. Gloom-infested enemies run rampant down here and oftentimes carry or guard some of the most valuable items in the game.

Another aspect of The Depths is the map and how it’s laid out in relation to the surface world map. It parallels it in a lot of ways, and in a few cases you’ll need to dive down into The Depths to reach an area on the surface and vice versa. It does a lot in challenging a player’s spatial awareness on an incredibly big scale, and slowly piecing such a massive map together feels very rewarding.

Link’s New Bag of Tricks

Even bigger than any changes or additions to the map are the changes made to Link himself. If mechanics are a way in which the player communicates with the game, then Link’s new abilities are like a whole new language for the player to learn. Gone are the old Sheikah Rune abilities, replaced instead by some brand new abilities that are even more versatile and game-changing.

The biggest of these abilities is the Ultrahand skill, which works as a sort of upgraded Magnesis. The player can drag and manipulate just about any in-game object and turn it into a plaything. Objects can be stuck together in ways both mundane and outrageous, makeshift vehicles can be constructed, and the environment can be manipulated to solve puzzles or just to screw around. The amount of things you can do with Ultrahand is probably infinite, and I mean no hyperbole when I say that. Even over the course of a full playthrough, I felt I was far from tapping into its bottomless mechanical potential.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Link Hiding Behind a Rock

What’s really miraculous about Ultrahand is that there’s absolutely no bugs or game-breaking involved in using it. The game’s internal logic is so consistent and damningly polished that the end result looks and feels effortless, to the point that I sometimes forget just how impressive it really is. Attaching a set of rockets to a makeshift raft and speeding across the sea isn’t something I ever have to think about working, despite how absurd it sounds. It would be faint praise to say that that alone is a feat.

This extends to the Ascend and Recall abilities, both of which are vital for getting around and puzzle-solving. Ascend lets you phase right through a ceiling and pop out at the other side of whatever you were in, no questions asked. With the emphasis on indoor traversal in this game, it’s quite the handy tool to have around and keeps up the pace. Recall is similar, letting you hit the rewind button on any object and reversing their movements. Clever usage of all of these techniques rips some puzzles and battles in two, and it feels glorious.

Fighting in a Sandbox

Yet another big carryover from its predecessor is this game’s impressive physics and sandbox simulation. Everything affects everything in this game, and there’s always an element of realism dynamically changing the player’s approach to play in some way. Intense heat causes gunpowder-based items to automatically explode, sliding down a snow-covered hill grants more speed, lightning strikes metal, and so on. All of this works in very logical ways that’s easy to immediately understand and thus apply to one’s strategies in exploring and in combat.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Flame Gleeok

Combat in particular is relatively unchanged from Breath of the Wild at a glance. Weapon durability is still present, forcing resourcefulness and on-the-fly adaptation from the player. You can still counterattack by dodging, parrying oncoming attacks and projectiles, and using different sorts of weapons to change up Link’s moveset. This might at first seem like scant few options, but this is elevated by the game’s sandbox elements changing encounters dramatically. Even simple things like fighting during a thunderstorm can cause frequent lightning strikes, making the player wary of lightning strikes. If the player wants to be especially crafty, they can use lightning strikes as a tool by baiting enemies with metal weapons—and that’s only the most simplistic example.

Rather than add new skills to Link’s immediate combat repertoire, the new additions in Tears of the Kingdom instead focus on squeezing out the most from its physics system. Fuse is the headlining addition here, allowing Link to stick basically anything he wants to his weapon, shield, or arrows. This can range from sensible things like wood or logs to reinforce a weapon’s attack power, to really questionable things like attaching an acorn to the ends of your sword. Many fusible items do have an effect, though. This can be things like attack buffs, adding an element to your weapon, or giving a weapon the ability to smash rocks and mine ore.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Constructs

There are also some particularly wild things you can do with them, too. My favorite thing to do when fighting enemy encampments is to take whatever throwing spears I have and combine them with nearby bombs: creating literal boomsticks. Weapons have also had their balancing changed considerably to account for Fuse. Most of them do peanuts for damage now, but compensate for this through having desirable fuse effects such as increased counterattack damage or throwing damage.

Overall, Fuse is like Ultrahand in the sense that the potential for it feels almost limitless. It adds an excellent layer to combat that squeezes out the best of the previous game’s elements while giving it a unique rhythm of its own.

Small Hero in a Big World

Across Hyrule are people who need help and quests aplenty. Like in the previous game, there’s a vast and rich population to talk with, assist, and learn about. Nearly every single NPC is their own named character with a unique design and set of quirks. Talk with one NPC and you may hear a story about how they saw another character do a strange thing, which the player may then want to go find for themselves. This usually doesn’t lead to much, but it’s details like these that make the world truly feel bustling and alive. I doubt anyone is going to be able to fully uncover all of the goings-on of Hyrule in a single playthrough, the sheer amount of things to see is daunting.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Link talking to Penn

Compared to the last game, quests in particular have seen an upgrade. While they were always good to start with, quests in Tears of the Kingdom are multi-part and oftentimes more in-depth than before. What may have been a quest to navigate one maze in Breath of the Wild is now a quest to solve three, taking you from the Sky, to the surface, and to The Depths. Almost every time I felt I was on the verge of completing a quest, I was usually rewarded with an extra part of it that was even more in-depth.

One of my favorite examples of this occurs in Hateno Village, which has been going through a cultural upheaval of sorts. My quest to at first simply open up a shop then quickly spiraled into a story that dictated the town’s mayoral status. There were secrets, history, lots of laughs, and even some character development all wrapped up in a concise package that was over before I knew it. That’s just one example though, side quests with lots of substance are absolutely everywhere in this game.

Some side quests are also tied with main story progression as well. Like in a lot of Zeldas, there’s a strong emphasis put into the world and story progressively becoming more optimistic because of the player’s actions. If a minor character you meet along the road is troubled due to a main story incident, it’s always worth checking up on them after it’s been resolved. There’s a great sense of community and interconnectedness here that you don’t often see applied to such a large scale.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Fistbump

Strange Happenings Across Hyrule

The main story of Tears of the Kingdom is structured quite similarly to Breath of the Wild. After a close encounter with a mummified man who identifies himself as Ganondorf, things quickly go awry. Ganondorf destroys the Master Sword, Link is critically injured, and Zelda is whisked away to… somewhere. While Link is saved from his injury by an entity named Rauru, he’s forced to start his journey to uncover what happened from scratch. Stripped of all of his power because of Ganondorf’s corruption, Link races off to find out just what in the world is happening to Hyrule and find Zelda.

Compared to the previous game, which was much more contemplative and reflective, Tears of the Kingdom offers up a story that is much more active and mysterious. Or it would, if the mystery of what was happening in Hyrule wasn’t all too obvious. I’m not going to spoil what’s what, but you ought to be able to figure out what’s going on before you even leave the first major area. To the story’s credit, it does do more to lean in on the emotional implications of what’s happening more than the mystery aspect. Still, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every time the story made reference to all the sightings of Zelda when I already knew what was going on.

Tears of the Kingdom’s main theme is unity, which is visually represented through hands. Throughout the game, Link is usually never alone for most of his journey. Characters from the previous game rise to the occasion and are constantly assisting him. It makes for a memorable and appropriate contrast to Breath of the Wild’s more isolationist approach. While I don’t think it was as emotionally resonant as its predecessor, for what it was, it worked.

Like the gameplay, the storytelling is mostly hands-off. A lot of it is divulged through visuals, diaries, and optional content as opposed to cutscenes. To make the most sense of what’s going on, you must explore the lands and be thorough in doing so. Personally, I love this as it brings gameplay and storytelling in perfect harmony. While you’re not getting anything material for doing so, getting those extra nuggets of info for exploring makes the story more satisfying and textured.

Lots and Lots of Puzzles

Puzzles are everywhere in Tears of the Kingdom, but what else would you expect going in? Returning from the previous game are Shrines and Dungeons which are structured very similarly to one another. Shrines are short mini-dungeons that focus on a singular mechanic or idea that the player must figure out to get one of the many Light of Blessings used to further upgrade Link. Like before, just finding the Shrines themselves can be an involved puzzle. Some take a lot of effort to find or involve creative thinking to get to, others may involve participating in sidequests to open the way forward.

Shrines are excellent in that they are perhaps the biggest embodiment of the game’s trust in the player. They provide a goal and some potential answers, but how you go about getting to that goal is completely up to you. Many times I provided a straightforward solution to problems, but many times I also did things in my own way. Some shrines also mix up mechanics dramatically so the player doesn’t get too comfortable, introducing things like low gravity and challenges to complete it armorless. It’s a constant, yet well-paced string of varied challenges.

On the flipside, there are Dungeons. Dungeons are like several shrines woven together that feature a central gimmick or idea, bringing them in line with the puzzle-solving you’d see in older Zeldas. They’re shorter than in the older games, but usually play part in much larger and more memorable set pieces. They’re also very focused on the more navigational aspect of play. They ask the player to think about how to move around a wider structure and always consider where they are in relation to where they need to go. I think they do a good job combining the best of both puzzles and exploration that Zelda is known for. The cherry on top are excellent boss battles that test the player’s understanding of that dungeon’s central gimmick.


The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is basically the same as its predecessor in technical terms. It looks the same, runs the same, characters all look the same, much of the music is the same, and so on. As Tears of the Kingdom is a rare direct sequel, that much is to be expected. This is far from a bad thing, though, as this makes the game as easily readable and understood as its predecessor.

Despite how technically complex the game is in both mechanics and visuals, I was always comfortable and assured in how things worked. Grass would always burn away if I used fire on it, dry grass would burn and spread simultaneously. Gusts of wind denote where a draft can be used to fly up, blasts of frost cover Link in cold areas to denote dangerously low temperatures. The list goes on and on. Even at a glance, the most complex and weird environments and objects took only a moment of studying for me to grasp how they operate. It’s telling that the game’s Pro Mode completely disables the UI, yet I never once missed it once I enabled Pro Mode.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom - Link and a Sunset

Like in the previous game, the music is something that only steps up when the player happens upon a point of interest or is engaging in a certain activity. This gives the game’s impressively detailed soundscape the room it deserves to shine. When the music does kick in, melodies are often soft and evocative, but will ramp up when stakes and emotions reach a fever pitch. I quite enjoyed the soundtrack, humming along to most of the melodies and happily pointing out whenever they incorporated old music in new tracks.


No number of superlatives can do this game proper justice, so I’ll cut to the chase: this game is nothing short of a masterwork that must be played. By all accounts, it is as much of an accomplishment as its predecessor. Like the game that came before it, it’s by no means perfect, but the number of new and creative things it does far outweighs that and turns it into something more important. Better still is that just about every new thing it does is well-conceived, fleshed out, and fun most of all. Even in moments of frustration or when things started to slow down, I was never anything less than enchanted by all of the new things it was doing. It’s like the game cast a spell that I was all too happy to be under. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom embodies what it means to be an outstanding video game.


Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Purchase: Nintendo Store

If you would like to see more Nintendo Switch titles, you may be interested in our review of Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Or perhaps you’d be interested in another title with Adventure elements, such as Yakuza: Like a Dragon?

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