The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of the most influential titles of modern gaming. While brilliant, I often wonder if Breath of the Wild is looked at more favourably because it was a launch title for a new console that was also a brand new concept; being able to take that game anywhere with the Switch was revolutionary. Six years later, the Nintendo Switch is no longer the new kid on the block, but somehow The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom captures that sense of wonder, discovery, and immersion that no game has found since Breath of the Wild.
Tears of the Kingdom opens after the events of Breath of the Wild in the depths of Hyrule Castle as Princess Zelda and Link discover old ruins containing the history of Hyrule. By accident, they stumble across the Demon King and accidentally awaken him, triggering the upheaval and Links’s new journey across Hyrule. I was worried that Hyrule would feel too similar, but the upheaval changed everything. The Sky Islands were often shown before launch as these big expansive islands in the sky; while they are dotted throughout Hyrule, you will still spend most of your time on the ground. These events entirely change Hyrule. I’ve been eager to return to every location I remember from Breath of the Wild each time I discover something new, how the characters have changed, how the upheaval has changed the landscape and new adventures for Link to complete. A core element of Breath of the Wild was the sense of discovery, seeing something in the distance and being compelled to find out what it was. Nintendo understood this and has found that sense of discovery again, avoiding the familiarity of reusing icons, landmarks and objects; there are brand new things to discover all across Hyrule, with new colour pallets that keep the world feeling fresh, such as the introduction of the Depths. A massive hidden world beneath Hyrule filled with its secrets and discoveries.
Combat was a secondary element to Breath of the Wild. I was more interested in the world, and the weapon degradation system made combat feel like a punishment at times, as my favourite weapon would break at the worst time. Tears of the Kingdom doubles down on weapon degradation, with base weapons having less durability because of the upheaval. This is countered by the new rune abilities, specifically, Fuse, which allows you to fuse anything-literally- to your weapon, shield and bow to increase its damage and durability and add unique effects. My favourite is combining a minecart with my shield to improve my shield surfing speed and allow Link to grind on cart rails like the next star about to hit Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. This is one of many unique interactions found by simply experimenting with attaching monster parts, food, or objects in the world to your equipment. Most Fuses are used merely to improve your weapon’s capability, but I found this new system added the spice to the weapon degradation system that was missing in Breath of the Wild. If my weapon broke, I was almost excited, thinking about what I would do with my next sword, what I would attach to it, and what it would do.
Shrines and their puzzles also return in Tears of the Kingdom, but instead of rehashing old puzzles and mechanics, now heavily lean into the new abilities; Ascend, Fuse, Rewind and Ultrahand. Ultrahand is the star of the show, allowing Link to attach any object with another to create vehicles, boats, flying machines and any other wild contraption you can dream of. Many Shrine puzzles teach you about these new abilities and their uses. I found myself eager to enter as many Shrines as possible and often learned new ways to use these tools inside and outside combat, such as attaching a rocket to my shield to propel Link into the air to reach new spaces.
Tears of the Kingdom is unbelievable in many aspects, more than doubling the world size from Breath of the Wild while adding new mechanics, expanding on the physics and combat systems, and a wealth of new stories for Link to discover, all somehow running on six-year-old hardware and performing better than Breath of the Wild, with some minor FPS drops during high-intensity areas which is to be expected. I’m in awe of my time in Tears of the Kingdom and cannot wait to play more.
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