The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is exceptional. Six years in the making, Nintendo has achieved a staggering feat in delivering a truly remarkable sequel that surpasses The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in every way imaginable.
Hyrule is in turmoil once again. After its citizens become unwell when coming into contact with the gloom that lingers from long-undiscovered caverns beneath Hyrule Castle, Princess Zelda and Link decide to brave their depths. Born out of a concern for the wellbeing of her people, that investigation takes a fateful turn when they witness Ganondorf’s mummified corpse reawakening.
The magic holding him having weakened after the castle was damaged during the Calamity a century ago, Ganondorf unleashes his power to cause a cataclysmic event that will forever be remembered in the annals of history as the Upheaval. Hyrule Castle is torn up from the ground, Zonai ruins start falling from the sky and, to make matters even worse, Ganondorf’s power shatters the Master Sword, Link is left gravely wounded and Princess Zelda’s whereabouts are unknown. It is up to you to learn the truth behind her disappearance.
I will leave you to discover the rest as it unfolds on your own adventure, but the storytelling, elevated by voice actors whose commendable performances effortlessly breathe life into their respective characters, excels at delivering one of the most heartfelt yet momentous tales to have ever graced the storied series. I have laughed, sat teary-eyed, awestruck and even aghast as this latest quest took its twists and turns, which has once more raised the bar on what we will expect from the legends to come in the series’ future.
Where Nintendo’s goal with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was to break with convention, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom looks to subvert your expectation. Even those who have spent countless hours with Link’s previous open-air adventure will be surprised to discover just how much of Hyrule has changed and is no longer recognisable from what came before. That’s understandable given that it is your own curiosity combined with the freeform nature of its masterful game design that will fuel your desire to explore the kingdom in its entirety.
After a scene-setting prologue area high in the skies above Hyrule – which is not too dissimilar to the Great Plateau in how it looks to steadily introduce to you Link’s new powers – you courageously leap from the Great Sky Island to the surface far below. It is here that your excitement will continue to build, now granted the freedom to go anywhere and do whatever you like. This is yet another epic adventure in which your actions only feel limited by what you can conjure in your imagination.
Scanning your eyes across the horizon, there are skyward-catapulting Skyview Towers to activate, Shrines of Light to conquer to be rewarded with a Light of Blessing to boost your health and stamina, and plumes of smoke that could lead you to either friendly stables or enemy encampments. Even if you choose to ignore the main storyline, Nintendo has thrown so much content at this game to keep you distracted – whether that be side quests, side adventures, helping Impa locate geoglyphs or even navigating low-gravity labyrinthine puzzles. After more than 105 hours with the game, I have a 45.50% completion rate. There’s a lot to do.
It is that flexibility in its approach that makes The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom such a breathtaking spectacle to participate in. There’s seemingly something to uncover around every corner and each astounding discovery becomes a talking point to compare notes with your friends. “Did you find the Hylian Shield yet? How many Korok Seeds have you found? Have you cooked any useful recipes?” It also makes it a game that’s challenging to write about, because you don’t want to risk spoiling that experience for others.
Much like mine, your curiosity may even be fueled by what you experienced in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Are the Akkala Citadel Ruins now restored and manned? How’s the Great Deku Tree holding up in Korok Forest? Is Eventide Island still as punishing a location? I’ll leave it for you to discover the answers for yourselves.
As a playground to unleash your creativity, Hyrule is an unending joy to exist in. There is a greater variance to the puzzles that you need to overcome in the Shrines of Light – using a makeshift baseball bat-like contraption to slam spheres into targets, sticking a lightbulb to a shield to illuminate a darkened room or steering a rickety Zonai-powered car along a broken-up race track. Playful in their creation, I am yet to come across one that has felt like a complete dud.
It was a brave decision to set the Sheikah Slate aside, but the Purah Pad is a more than worthy upgrade. The Legend of Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has succinctly demonstrated Link’s new powers – Ascend, Ultrahand, Recall and Fuse – better than I ever could, and the last is Autobuild which lets you quickly assemble any blueprints or recent constructions you have haphazardly glued together with Ultrahand. Gone are the runic powers Bombs, Magnesis, Stasis and Cryonis, but the game feels all the fresher for the change and their use permeates the experience.
Can’t easily reach the top of a tower? Use Ascend to warp through the terrain. Unsure how to get to that distant Sky Island? Construct a makeshift glider with Ultrahand to help get you closer so you can paraglide there. Muck up a Shrine of Light puzzle? Use Recall to rewind an object’s trajectory to save yourself time. Is an enemy swatting you into the Game Over screen one too many times? Fuse a Silver Lizalfos Horn to a weapon to deal greater damage back to floor them before they have a chance. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom allowed me to come up with solutions to problems in ways that I have never experienced with other games, and, for that, it’s hard not to call the development team’s achievement anything short of remarkable and truly special.
While you will spend your time exploring the sky and surface, something that Nintendo has also kept quiet about is the Depths – a harrowing and expansive underground cavern that lies deep beneath Hyrule. With Souls-like oppression, this was a place that I dreaded early on in my adventure. Pitch-black and with only the Poes’ blue flame and the menacingly crimson gloom lighting the way, you have to either rely on Brightbloom Seeds or seek out the Lightroot points – similar to Skyview Towers – to unveil the map and bring light to the dreary darkness. Making this area all the more challenging is the fact that you cannot recover hearts after taking gloom-related damage, unless you return to the surface or scoff a Sundelion-infused recipe. That made success feel even greater though, and I grew to love trekking around this menacing area and ended up spending more time here than on the Sky Islands – especially for the rewards that it hides.
Nintendo has heralded the game’s dungeons this week, which complement its open-ended nature. It’s clear that a concerted effort has been made to return these to a more traditional formula and, compared to the Divine Beasts in the previous game, their puzzle-orientated design hits more than it misses. There was one that I didn’t enjoy as much as the others, but their creativity is shown in abundance. It’s a step in the right direction for sure, even if there will be those that still won’t be entirely convinced. Their boss battles are immense, although didn’t come as a surprise as it’s an area that the team doesn’t usually falter in.
The expanded scale of your open-air adventure never fails to impress, in what is now a three-tiered world that awaits you – particularly in moments where you heroically dive from the sky right down into the Depths without any loading screen. Even though the experience is no longer shackled by the Wii U, that doesn’t mean that it’s free from momentary technical inconsistencies. These are few and far between and never detract from its spectacle, but Issues with object pop-in remain and the frame rate can stutter when there are many enemies in a particular area or a lot happening on-screen. Regardless, this is still the best-looking and frequently breathtaking game on Nintendo Switch.
The greatest legend that Nintendo has ever told, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a shining beacon of wondrous brilliance in an enviably storied franchise. Nintendo’s playful creativity and ability to surprise its players seemingly know no bounds, and it is a testament to the team’s hard work that a sequel can outpace its predecessor in such miraculous ways. I cannot sing the game’s praises enough, and this is a rare occasion where simply writing about it won’t ever do the experience that awaits you enough justice. Where the series goes next from here is anyone’s guess, but, when I didn’t think that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild could be surpassed, it’s clear that Nintendo is more than capable of achieving the impossible.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo