The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review (spoiler-free)

Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom updated to Version 1.1.0 (patch notes)

NOTE: This review will not include any major gameplay or story related spoilers. General overall opinions will obviously be given, but only a description of the opening establishing cutscene and features that have been revealed in official trailers or other Nintendo-released promotional material will be explained in greater detail. The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that has a special place in the hearts of millions, and going into a new release as blind as possible is the ideal way to play for many. Aspects that have/haven’t been carried over from Breath of the Wild are not being considered as spoilers, so if that’s something you’re also trying to avoid, you’ve been warned.

It has been over six years since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launched for Wii U and day-and-date with Nintendo Switch. An impressive 30 million copies have been sold since then, which is over three times as many as Twilight Princess, the previous best selling Zelda game. With its unfounded critical and commercial success, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when Nintendo announced at E3 2019 that a sequel to Breath of the Wild was in development. Following much fan anticipation, after being unfortunately delayed from its initially planned 2022 release timeframe, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is finally here. Not only have I been graciously given the opportunity to play it early, I have already re-obtained the legendary Master Sword and brought peace to Hyrule once again, making me more than qualified to answer the burning question: Does the sequel actually live up to its immense amount of hype?

Tears of the Kingdom takes place directly after the events of Breath of the Wild, meaning that from the very beginning, Link wields the Master Sword… but this doesn’t last for long. While Link is exploring the ruins underneath Hyrule Castle alongside Zelda, learning through cave engravings of the historic “Imprisoning War” and the ancient civilization known as “The Zonai,” the duo stumble across a teardrop shaped object near a mummified Ganon. When Zelda curiously picks up the mysterious artifact, it begins to glow brightly, and the vengeful corpse suddenly comes alive, destroying the Master Sword, and Link’s entire right arm, in the process. As Hyrule Castle begins to violently quake, with a red gloom causing it to lift into the sky, Zelda and Link fall into a pit of darkness. Zelda disappears into a gleaming light that engulfs her, and Link, unable to save her, is faithfully caught by the hand of an unknown spirit and given a powerful replacement arm.

The story follows Link as he ventures through the kingdom of Hyrule, as well as the newly found sky islands above, learning more about the aforementioned Imprisoning War and the Zonai race in hopes of discovering Zelda’s whereabouts and stopping The Demon King. How the plot progresses follows many of the same beats as Breath of the Wild, with “Memories” to find and four new dungeons to concur, but the narrative itself is, of course, very different. My jaw dropped more than once at some of the events that occur, and I was overall very impressed with the storytelling and fully voice-acted cutscenes with beautiful animations and character designs. And don’t worry, if (for some reason) you haven’t played Breath of the Wild, you’ll still be able to follow along, but I recommend playing that first, as the story will have a greater impact if you do.

Remember the Sheikah Slate; the useful map-activating device from Breath of the Wild? If you thought that looked like a Nintendo Switch, just wait until you see the Purah Pad; the Tears of the Kingdom equivalent with all the same features (and then some). It looks so much like a Switch, it’s almost upsetting that the recently released Special Edition OLED model didn’t take inspiration from it, but at least what they went with is still a beautiful system design regardless. Anyways, the Purah Pad comes complete with character profiles, an adventure log, photo album, Hyrule Compendium, shrine locator, and both a sky map and a surface map, which you must progressively fill in by activating and obtaining data from the Skyview Towers spread across the different regions of Hyrule. Once activated, you can not only freely teleport between them at any time using your map, but also launch yourself upwards into the Zonai sky islands.

The sky islands play an important role in Tears of the Kingdom, as they’re one of the all-new expansions that comes in addition to the surface world that many of us are already familiar with. Some of these islands are small, containing merely a single chest or shrine, but others are much larger, with puzzles to solve and unique areas to explore. What took me a bit by surprise though is how few and far between the sky islands are. That isn’t to say that there isn’t more than enough to justify their existence, on the contrary, but if you were expecting another surface-sized world in the sky, It’s worth noting that the islands cover less than 10% of the available space. However, the sky isn’t the only major new area in the game, but I’ll let you discover that on your own. Although the majority of your time will be spent on the surface, enough has changed since Breath of the Wild to make it feel like a new experience, including new towns, caves, secrets, and a whole new set of Korok seeds to increase your inventory space.

Most of the mechanics from Breath of the Wild have been carried over to Tears of the Kingdom, including the functionality of weapons, shields, bows, armor, and Link’s standard moveset. This includes locking on to enemies, jumping, shield surfing, paragliding, slow-motion aiming, throwing weapons, whistling to summon your horse, and so much more. However, all of his rune abilities have been completely replaced with new ones (with the exception of the camera), and instead of being contained within the Sheikah Slate, are now a part of Link’s handy, powerful new arm. There are six total “Right-Hand Abilities,” with most of them being unlocked early on. As somewhat of a replacement for Magnesis, “Ultrahand” allows you to freely move and connect any object or item together to create various contraptions. There is a limit to this, but it’s not restrictive in the slightest. Through experimentation, I discovered the game wouldn’t allow me to bind more than 21 objects, but in practicality, you’ll never really need to connect more than that anyway.

Another tool introduced in Tears of the Kingdom are Zonai devices. These technologically advanced gadgets, created by the Zonai, are a great pairing with the Ultrahand ability. Zonai devices are a large variety of useful tools, like a high-powered fan, a motorized wheel, or a flamethrower, that can be attached to other objects. In areas that they’re required to be used to proceed, they’ll typically be naturally presented to you, but there is also a way to add them directly to your inventory for a 1-time use whenever you want (with the exception of inside shrines). Gumball machine-like dispensers are available for you to exchange construct horns or Zonai charges for a random Zonai capsule. Zonai charges can also be used to temporarily increase the battery on the devices, as some of them only function for a limited amount of time.

As for the other Right-Hand Abilities, “Fuse” grants the ability to fuse objects with your weapon or shield, increasing its durability and/or strength, “Ascend” lets you move upwards through most solid objects, placing you on top, and “Recall” reverses an object, causing it to go back in time a few seconds. These abilities alone really help to differentiate TOTK from BOTW, making the puzzles of the shrines and dungeons feel very fun and unique. Although on paper it sounds like these mechanics would be game-breaking, the puzzles are so expertly designed that even though you always feel as though anything is possible, most of the time you’ll be unable to cheat your way out of it. Still, there are usually many different possible solutions, and I loved not knowing whether or not I was completing an area the way that the developers actually intended.

Since this is a spoiler-free review, I will not be detailing the four dungeons or the unique Champion Ability equivalent replacements that are unlocked upon completing them. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that they’re just as good, if not better, than Breath of the Wild. The new characters that are introduced have wonderful personalities, with great new abilities to boot. The difficulty level and length of the dungeons themselves, both the puzzles and the boss fights, also felt perfect, and you can always choose to make things harder for yourself by wearing weaker armor, not obtaining extra hearts and stamina by completing four shrines and trading in the Light of Blessings to a Goddess Statue, or refuse yourself food and elixirs before going into battle.

Sadly, I was unable to 100% Tears of the Kingdom by the time of this review embargo (I’m not a machine), so I can’t confirm the exact number of shrines or Korok seeds in comparison to Breath of the Wild. Just completing every shrine that I happened to come across throughout the main story though, I can say for certain there are at the very least 80, and likely dozens more based on the game’s massive scope. Playing at a leisurely pace, looking for secrets and doing some of the many side quests, I clocked in at 60 hours of playtime before obtaining the Master Sword, but don’t take that number as gospel. The amount of hours it will take you to finish the story will likely be very different from mine, and that’s part of the excellence. For the most part, you can do things in any order you want, and that makes the sense of adventure all the sweeter. I still feel like I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what Link’s latest escapade has to offer.

*A patch has been released that fixes the majority of framerate issues mentioned in the following paragraph. It now runs at a much smoother and consistent 30fps (thanks Digital Foundry).

As expected, Tears of the Kingdom is capped at 30fps, the same as Breath of the Wild. However, despite being built from the ground up for the Nintendo Switch architecture, it unfortunately suffers from major framerate drops* more often than its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong, it runs smoothly most of the time, but in certain areas and intense battle sequences, the framerate can sometimes be cut in half, especially when there are a large number of objects on screen at once. Personally, I was able to mostly ignore it and not let it ruin my experience, but those who are used to playing games at a consistent 60fps may find it to be a bit jarring. Considering the Switch hardware is almost seven years old, it’s hard to put the game itself at fault, especially since it looks absolutely gorgeous, with some obvious graphical improvements, such as better lighting, textures, and visual effects. Some more optimization would have been appreciated, and while this opinion may be a bit controversial, I’m not gonna knock off any review points since the exceptional gameplay more than makes up for the occasional technical hiccups. Hopefully a backwards-compatible Switch revision or successor is coming sooner rather than later, as this beautiful game deserves to run at its utmost potential.

Tears of the Kingdom is a huge game; quite possibly the biggest Nintendo has ever released, which makes it a bit easier to swallow that it’s also the most expensive. It comes in at $69.99/£59.99 for a standard copy of the game, and while definitely unfortunate, it’s important to take inflation into account before getting out your pitchforks. In the United States, $59.99 in March 2017 (the launch month/year of Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild) is equivalent to $74.65 at the time of this review’s publication. If you’re still on the fence about it though, Nintendo is offering “Game Vouchers” (US only) that includes two full-priced Switch games for $99.98, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of the eligible titles for the promotion.

Developing a sequel that’s at least on par with a game that’s widely considered to be one of the greatest of all time is no easy task. That being said, Nintendo has managed to not only meet my expectations, but exceed them far beyond what I ever could have imagined. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom recaptures the magic we felt while playing Breath of the Wild for the first time, taking what we loved about it to exciting new heights by switching up some of the mechanics. It’s a perfect blend of freshness and familiarity, while still being accessible to newcomers. As long as you can look past the occasional framerate issues, Tears of the Kingdom is simply a masterpiece, making it a must have for every Switch owner young and old. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have hundreds more Korok seeds to go find across Hyrule. Yahaha!


A copy of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom for review purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.


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