May 11, 2023 - Technology

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom surpasses its predecessor

Video game close-up of a young man with a bow on his back, looking at a burst of light on his wrist

Link from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Screenshot: Nintendo / Axios

Nintendo’s newest Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, offers a grand, gorgeous and deeply interactive adventure, one that exceeds the high quality of the system’s launch game, 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Why it matters: Surpassing Breath of the Wild means clearing a very high bar.

Details: Tears of the Kingdom, launching on Friday, remixes and improves Breath of the Wild’s approach, dropping players into a lengthy fantasy adventure designed to encourage ingenuity.

  • Once again players are in control of sword-swinging hero Link, but gone are Breath of the Wild’s tinkerer-friendly magnetism, freezing and time-stopping powers.
  • In their place, Link has become a builder, able to assemble makeshift contraptions, like so much virtual lego, out of logs, planks, wheels, wings and more. Players can combine items to weapons: attaching meat to swords, rockets to shields and monster wings to arrows and more.
  • And now Link can reverse an object’s movement through time and magically swim upward through ceilings, altering how he and the things around him may move through space.
Video game screenshot of a young man standing on a green wing that is flying through the sky, propelled by two large fans
Testing a flying contraption built early in the game. Screenshot: Nintendo / Axios

What are Link's new abilities?

Link’s new powers are deployed in service of a single-player game that feels built for community, a playground that challenges players to find the wildest ways to cross gaps, reach the sky, and defeat giants, then find the nearest friend to regale them with the results.

  • If the last game was about stacking boxes and rolling boulders to solve a problem, this one’s about building planes to summit mountains and testing the game’s limits. Maybe the best way to board a ship is to magically levitate a plank onto its deck, lower that plank back to the dock, stand Link upon it and then rewind its movement through time to ride the plank as it flies back onto the boat.

There is a story and a main adventure in Tears of the Kingdom, this time about saving the kingdom of Hyrule from the malevolent Ganondorf, whose revival has ripped chasms in the land, sent debris crashing from the sky and filled the heavens with strange, floating islands.

  • That main quest plays out as a series of thrilling missions and an excuse to send Link touring the world of Hyrule.
  • But it’s also just one task of many, a main event in a land of alluring distractions across a richly populated world. Lengthy side-quests allow Link to help people in a town riven by a divisive mayoral election, rebuild another wrecked by pirates and much more.
  • As with Breath of the Wild, wandering is constantly rewarded with the discovery of new puzzles to solve, generally more complex than those of the last game, befitting Link’s more elaborate abilities. One recurring winner: Link’s repeated encounters with a hapless builder whose teetering road signs present brief challenges to find ways to prop each one up

How long is Tears of the Kingdom?

Most video game sequels take players to all-new lands and levels, But Tears’ designers have boldly and correctly – from our 50+ hours with the game – bet that players of Breath of the Wild will enjoy the experience of knowing the lay of this well-trodden land and seeing what has changed.

  • Tears is mainly set on the same virtual Hyrule from the last game, though its forests, deserts and lakes have been significantly transformed, as have its people.
  • Familiar towns have new problems. Old caves contain new treasures. A newspaper has been established. A scientist has started a school, where he needs Link’s help with lessons. And so on.

Do I need to play Breath of the Wild first?

No worries for players who skipped Breath of the Wild or are exhausted of it. There is vast new territory to discover as well, including an archipelago of islands in the sky.

  • Those new regions let Tears’ designers showcase one of the Zelda series’ best concepts: the use of the games as large-scale experiments for moving through variations of the same virtual spaces.
  • Past games let Link switch into photo negative or near-future versions of his world, then back to the original, challenging players to explore and even manipulate the differences.
  • Tears stretches the concept across surprising and awe-inspiring switches in elevations, the variation of its world laid out literally on different levels. As above, not always so below.
Putting the salvation of Hyrule on pause to prop up a sign. Screenshot: Nintendo / Axios

This Zelda’s most radical twist is its crafting system built for the age of audience as co-creator of their own entertainment, as seen from Minecraft to TikTok.

  • The construction system seemed daunting when Nintendo dropped reporters into the midst of it a few weeks ago, but goes down better as it is carefully introduced to players early on.
  • That said, the new Zelda is complex, and its convoluted controls can sometimes tangle one’s fingers.

The bottom line: Tears’ scale, complexity and references to its predecessor may be intimidating to some players, but it stands apart as a stunning adventure full of surprises. Some of those are placed by the developers but many will be concocted by the players themselves as they push the game’s elaborate new toolset to the limit.

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