My Review of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
This review is spoiler-free, so you can safely read it even if you haven't played or finished the game yet.
The Legend of Zelda is my favorite game series of all time. Understandably, I was pretty excited for Tears of the Kingdom to come out. And it took its time! Announced in 2019, two years after the release of its predecessor (Breath of the Wild), a lot of people thought it would have a shorter development cycle, considering it seemed to feature the same world as Breath of the Wild's, the graphics were the same, and the engine was already done. How wrong we were!
Instead, Tears of the Kingdom (which I'm gonna call "TOTK" from here on for brevity) had at least a 5-year development cycle, almost as long as BOTW's. We had a global pandemic in the meantime, which definitely slowed things down. Still, it was a lot of time for "just a sequel". And, to be honest, while the first trailers were exciting because they pointed to a return to BOTW's world, they also were a bit lackluster, as they didn't show much new.
You see, Breath of the Wild's release was a pivotal moment in the gaming industry. In theory, it didn't introduce a lot of new things - open world games have existed for a while, even the first Legend of Zelda from 1986 was like that! But in practice, it brought a world that was so fun to explore, so seamless to traverse, and its gameplay had so many possibilities, that there was nothing quite like it. It also reinvented the series, which had been stagnant for some years, with games of high quality but that weren't really hitting the mark.
That was in 2017, though, and games have evolved since then. With BOTW's relevance and success, a lot of games started taking it as an inspiration (and almost every open world game was compared to it somehow). So, when TOTK was shown and it didn't seem to offer a lot new, I was a bit worried it'd be more of the same.
And then BAM! that final trailer shows up.
It is incredible! It shows new story bits, but more importantly, a lot of new gameplay mechanics, abilities, and some of them are so unique that I don't think anyone could have imagined they'd be in a Zelda game. And so, after years of waiting for the game to come out and an extra month of waiting for my copy to be delivered, I finally played it.
The game begins quite differently than it did in BOTW. In this game, the idea of being able to go anywhere anytime is still present, but not taken to extremes (no, you can't go straight to the final boss right after the tutorial). We have a linear story-focused tutorial, where the main plot begins, and then we are introduced to Link's new abilities in this game. They are a huge step up from BOTW's abilities, which were fun but feel very limited now.
There are 4 main abilities:
- Ultrahand, which lets you manipulate most objects in the game, and then stick them on other objects. It's an improved version of Magnesis from BOTW, and probably the one you use the most;
- Recall, which lets you make an object go back in time (and space). You can make some really great combos with this and Ultrahand, like using Ultrahand to hold a platform up high, then let it fall, and use Recall to have it go back up with you on top of it;
- Fuse, which lets you fuse any material to your weapon/shield/arrows, improving its attack power or giving some status effects;
- Ascend, which lets you swim through any solid material, as long as its right on top of you. Honestly, I thought this one was going to be the lamest one, but it was the biggest surprise! I used it so much and always felt smart when I did;
The abilities are less specialized, but more powerful, which gives you so much freedom to use them! 80h into the game, I was still figuring out new ways to use and combine them.
I believe TOTK fixes or remediates all of BOTW's problems. The story isn't told only through a series of flashbacks (though flashbacks are still a thing); the world feels much more alive (which makes sense after BOTW); the soundtrack is more varied; and weapon durability is fixed.
Weapon durability is fixed? Does that mean they don't break anymore? No, actually they break much faster now 😅. You see, the main problem with BOTW's weapon durability system is that it was very frustrating. Fighting monsters was often not worth it because it'd make your weapons break, and there was a big chance that whatever new weapons you'd get from fighting them would be worse.
In TOTK, all weapons are now "decayed", which means their durability is even lower. But, remember the Fuse ability? Whenever you fuse a material to your weapons, they become stronger and more durable. And most of the better materials are obtained from... killing monsters! So, chances are, if you fight monsters you'll probably end up with better materials that make your weapons stronger than before! It's as it should be.
I admire that, after all the backlash this system had in BOTW, they didn't simply remove it, and instead figured out a way to make that game system enjoyable and unique. Mix-and-matching weapons and materials was a fun part of the game, and made it a lot more varied.
Ultrahand lets you attach objects to each other, and there are a ton of objects in the world, including new Zonai devices, which include things like motorized wheels, steering sticks, and fans. They could have half-assed this mechanic and limit how you can attach things to each other, or the number of objects you can use. But nope, they went all the way. That final trailer gives you a taste of just how flexible it is, with Link riding a tank made of stone, with wheels and arms (at the 2:33 mark), and that only scratches the surface.
I had a lot of fun building things! Honestly, most of the stuff I built either didn't work or was a car that was slower than walking, but the fun of experimenting was worth it. By the end of the game, I was already building flying machines to cross Hyrule with.
It's hard to talk about the story without spoiling, but I just want to say: it is very good. Even with all the freedom and gameplay possibilities of the game, it doesn't feel like the story takes a backseat this time. It has incredible moments, great pacing, and honestly one of the best endings I've ever seen in a game. It brings back some Zelda conventions but also has some unexpected twists that keep it from being predictable. Zelda games were never known for having a super complex and nuanced story, but as far as heroic adventure games go, this is one of the best.
This review has been very positive so far, which doesn't mean the game doesn't have problems. But honestly, they are a bit hard to identify now because they're very minor and they don't stain the overall experience. You might notice them while playing, but they don't stick out in your memory after you play, if that makes sense.
The main issue of the game might be a huge deal to some people, but less so to others. The thing is, this game has so much of everything! There are so many mechanics, sidequests, places to explore, things to find and collect, stories to see, people to save. And honestly, besides some of the collectibles, which are understandably many because the world is so big, all of them are pretty high quality. I never found a sidequest that I just didn't want to do.
The problem is, it can become quite overwhelming. If you're one of those people that feel overwhelmed by having many (optional) things to do, you will feel overwhelmed with this game. When I first started playing I felt like that, and I wanted to do everything, because it was so good. Of course, eventually the feeling of having to do everything made it a bit of a chore to play. I realized this and also realized that the game was not making me do any of those things at all. It was just giving me the freedom of choosing what I liked best. So, I started focusing on some of my favorite things and decided to progress the main story until I got to the ending.
Not everyone will be able to do that, though. And I can totally see those people giving up on the game because it's just too much.
Tears of the Kingdom is the ultimate Zelda game - and to me, also the ultimate open-world game. I finished the main story and did a lot of side content, but after 95 hours, I only played a fraction of what the game has to offer.
I believe its impact is not as big as Breath of the Wild's was, though, at least not to me personally. That was a rebirth of the series, and it came at a moment of big changes in my life. TOTK, in comparison, doesn't fully reinvent anything, but instead improves (greatly) all the reinventions that BOTW did. It's not fair to judge a game by its impact alone though. If every single game reinvented everything, then reinvention wouldn't matter.
If BOTW was a 10/10 to me, because of its impact and just how good it was, then there's no way TOTK, which improves on BOTW in every single way, could be anything less than that.