The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review

How do you create a follow-up to one of the greatest games ever made? That’s been the question on everyone’s minds since The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was announced four years ago. After a game as revolutionary, as magical, and as adventurous as Breath of the Wild, how could you possibly top it? The answer, as it turns out, is to take the formula of what some would say is the greatest game ever made and somehow improve upon it in nearly every conceivable way.

Breath of the Wild received universal acclaim for completely upending the ageing Zelda formula to make way for something fresh and exciting. Tears of the Kingdom goes one step further by refining the advances made, making Breath of the Wild feel like a proof of concept in the process. Sure, it’s not quite as revolutionary, but there’s no denying this feels like the game Nintendo wanted to make all along. Now, free from the technical limitations of the Wii U and a carefully crafted world with which to experiment, Tears of the Kingdom is a vision fulfilled, and the resultant game is one I believe we’ll all be thinking about for many years to come.

A Changed World

With a game so vast, it seems impossible to know where to even begin to talk about it; but in a way, that’s really the genius of Tears of the Kingdom – everyone’s experience is different. The beauty of the breadth of this world is that there are so many paths to walk down. The sky island that Link awakens on as the game begins does a brilliant job of acquainting (or reacquainting) you with this world. Similar to Breath of the Wild’s Great Plateau, the Great Sky Island presents you with the tools you’ll be reliant on throughout the game, teaches you how to use them, and then sets you on your way. No fluff. No hand-holding. Just take this, and let your imagination do the rest.

Nintendo has come to master the tutorial level at this point, by making them not feel like tutorials; instead, they enforce the sense that every moment is an integral part of your adventure. A lot of games suffer from a lack of trust in the player, breaking up moments of action and excitement with a trite tutorial screen that only serves to remind you that you’re in a game. Tears reserves these intrusions for specific moments, choosing otherwise to nudge the player along through visual clues in the environment or some (admittedly heavy-handed) cues in dialogue. Each new power-up of Link’s comes complete with its own shrine serving as a tutorial but even then there’s a lot more showing than telling. It’s a philosophy that’s carried over from Breath of the Wild, one that permeates throughout the entire game and elevates the experience in the process.

The sky is a tough place to traverse, but once you’ve mastered the basics, the only limit is your imagination!

Because, as you take that leap of faith back onto the surface of Hyrule, you find a world forever changed. Though it may look familiar, closer inspection reveals this to be a Hyrule scarred by past and current events, hiding more secrets than I ever thought possible, and somehow retaining the same sense of excitement found in Link’s previous adventure. Like many, it wasn’t until the final trailer Nintendo released for Tears that I truly understood how unique this game would be. Upon playing, its unique nature becomes apparent almost immediately, but still, after scouring this version of Hyrule so extensively before, what could it possibly have left to offer? As it turns out, a great deal!

Everywhere I ventured in Hyrule felt completely new. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why; some areas remain virtually unchanged; however, I think the subtle differences made to some locations have a much larger cumulative effect. I think it also helps that Hyrule is brimming with so much more life this time around. Link is not alone anymore, and that has quite an effect on the feel of the world. Whether it’s the emergence of new towns, the eclectic characters you simply meet along the road, or even newfound enemies terrorising the land; Hyrule is building itself back up, which makes certain new discoveries all the more terrifying…

As Above, Down Below

Perhaps the greatest argument as to how different Tears of the Kingdom is, is through the new depths added to the world… literally. After Link and Zelda inadvertently free the Demon King from his imprisonment, Hyrule experiences an event later dubbed the “Upheaval.” As the sky falls, so too does the ground, or rather, sections of it. Littered across Hyrule are vast chasms, a quick jump into which reveals a whole new world to explore. As extensive as the overworld, The Depths (as they are so named) are perhaps one of the most significant and exciting surprises of Tears. Speculated upon though they were, discovering the secret of what is effectively a second world to explore is an absolute blast and speaks to the overall nature of the game. Quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality, but the Depths are a perfect example of how so much more has been packed into this game with little of it feeling inconsequential.

There’s only so much you can say about the Depths without delving into spoiler territory, heck even their very existence might be spoiler enough for some, however, they hold some of the most rewarding moments of the game. Exploring the murky gloom that infests this underground land is equal parts terrifying and awe-inspiring, and it’s amazing how Nintendo has managed to craft a space that at once feels as one with the entire world, yet also completely unique. The impact of this space and its implications are something that’s best experienced for yourself, as I can guarantee there will be plenty of moments in the gloom that will leave your jaw on the floor.

Some areas of the Depths are more inviting than others. Trust me when I say the flowing lava in this area is one of the nicer things you’ll find!

The existence of the Depths ultimately ends up being something of a relief, as it takes some of the sting out of the more underdeveloped Sky Islands. Given how heavily they featured in the marketing for the game, I was surprised by how sporadic and at times empty these areas felt. I never expected anything as extensive as Hyrule’s mainland, however, beyond the opening island there is a sense of diminishing returns. Part of that feeling might be owing to how difficult it is to traverse these islands, which itself is often a fun challenge, however, it does mean there’s less incentive to explore. When you see something of interest in the Depths or on the land, you can make your way there and see what it is with relative ease, yet the same can’t be said when looking up to the sky. It breaks up the seamless exploration that made Breath of the Wild so great, and more often than not I unfortunately found myself ignoring or even forgetting about the Sky Islands.

Helping Hand

Speaking of traversal, this is a feat made all the more enjoyable through Link’s newfound abilities. After Ganondorf does irreparable damage to Link’s arm it’s replaced by a shiny new magic one, complete with the abilities to reverse time, phase through solid matter, manipulate the world around you, and fuse items together. Not all of these are created equal, and you may find yourself forgetting you have certain abilities due to their sporadic use throughout the world, but each certainly brings a unique flavour to the gameplay.

I’ve never been a particularly creative person when it comes to building things. As much as I love games like Minecraft, my designs are rudimentary at best. As such, I was worried that Tears’ Ultrahand ability would alienate me from the game too much. This ability allows you to pick up certain objects in the world and combine them to make all manner of unique wonders; from a simple cart to a rocket-powered jet, the only real obstacle is your imagination. What I found to be quite a relief however is that the game never pushes you to rely on anything more than the simplest of creations. Each and every shrine and puzzle in the overworld is incredibly intuitive and so the basics you’re given are all you ever need. It’s yet another example of Tears catering to all kinds of players, and it ensures you never feel as though you’re missing out on a big part of what the game has to offer.

Did I ever manage to make anything this good? No, no I did not…

That said, I do appreciate the way the game rewards experimentation. The Fuse mechanic for example is Nintendo’s answer to all those weapon degradation complaints: now even the smallest stick can become the mightiest sword! Given some thought, all the fusible items act as you would expect them to, however, the surprising part is that they work at all. Whether that’s the springy nature of a mushroom bouncing an enemy out of your way, or a broken icicle giving your weapon a temporary freezing effect, you’re never really penalised for trying to think outside the box as anything you do will inevitably have some sort of use, even if it wasn’t the one you originally envisioned.

Rise of a King, Tears of a Kingdom

It’s easy when talking about this game to simply compare it to its predecessor; in a way, however, I think that would be doing it a disservice. I think both Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild attempt different things, and no clearer is that to me than in the story each tells. The latter followed an isolated Link in a devastated land, whilst the former sees that land in the midst of recovery, and as such there’s a very different feel to the overall tone of the game. It feels much more grandiose, not just in scale but in emotion. The stakes are just as high as the previous game, in that there’s an evil entity about to destroy all Hyrule, but with the story focusing more on its characters, that threat suddenly feels a lot more personal.

Ganondorf isn’t just some faceless mass here swirling about Hyrule Castle as little more than an afterthought; he’s an almost overwhelmingly ominous presence. His actions permeate every corner of the world and are what lend this title a greater sense of urgency. You feel the hurt he’s caused through the memories of the past scattered throughout the world and the ruin he’s enacted on its people. It’s those personable connections forged through both big and small moments in the game that drive you to thwart the Demon King and feel a greater connection to the story. When you run into folks like Riju or Hudson, whether you’ve played Breath of the Wild or not, there’s a clear sense of history there. Tears emphasises the connection everyone in Hyrule has to one another and it’s all the more emotional for it.

Link is no longer alone, and the people of Hyrule are ready to stand with him and fight!

As it’s hard to say that Link has any sort of personality, in essence being a stand-in for the player, so too it’s difficult to form any sort of connection there, which is where the game cleverly pivots to Princess Zelda. By focusing on what she means to the denizens of Hyrule, anchoring her in the very centre of the game’s narrative (even in smaller moments) applies a powerful level of emotion to the game. There are few times I can remember being so swept up in the story of a game, especially a Zelda release, but Tears knows exactly what to do to make those emotions swell. After all, every story needs a hero, or at the very least someone to root for, but here that person isn’t Link, it’s Zelda. There’s a reason this game series is named after her, and Tears of the Kingdom shows the princess truly living up to her legend.

The Hero’s Path

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

In truth, I could talk about Tears of the Kingdom for days on end, but there comes a point where we all have to stop and just take a moment to appreciate what we have. Tears isn’t a perfect game, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect feeling than that I have when playing it. The title exudes joy and is a wholly rewarding experience for anyone who chooses to go along for the ride. I could nit-pick some of its finicky controls or its sometimes-stuttering performance, but I genuinely don’t think that matters. Not because I’m avoiding critique of the game, but because those moments are ultimately inconsequential, fleeting stumbles in a symphony of joy.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is quite simply one of the finest games I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. Whether it’s the cathartic resonance of a truly epic Zelda story being told for the first time in a long time, the empowering sense of freedom and creativity the game places at your fingertips, or even just the simple notion that there really is something for everyone here; the power of this game can’t be overstated. Tears of the Kingdom could have just been a fun expansion of Breath of the Wild’s themes and ideas and that would have been genuinely fine. Instead, Nintendo opted to demonstrate that there’s always room to improve, to be greater than you ever thought possible, and in doing so created a true masterpiece, or dare I say… a legend.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom £59.99


The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a work of art in every way imaginable. In combining the core ethos of the Zelda series with fresh, modern sensibilities, Nintendo has crafted not only the greatest game in the history of the franchise but perhaps, the greatest game in history.