The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review - A masterful adventure

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review - A masterful adventure
Images via Nintendo

Written by 

Dani Cross

Published 

19th May 2023 12:20

I’m sailing atop a winged construct forged by a lost civilisation. Below me, I see a grand temple towering above a lilypad-laden lake. That’s my destination. The wind is all around me - I hear it gushing as it pulls me forward.

On the vast horizon, I spot mist-shrouded mountains and the slender serpent-like form of a dragon writhing through the sky. In Breath of the Wild, this beast was an awe-inspiring sight as it soared above. In Tears of the Kingdom that awe remains, but now I’m looking down upon it, questioning what it would take to sail my inanimate steed all that distance to pay it a visit.

Strangely, I’m still in the tutorial area. This experience would be a lesser game’s defining moment, the peak of its creativity and wonder. In Tears of the Kingdom, it’s the first of a colossal number of high points, a mere glimpse into the magic that permeates every inch of this evolved Hyrule.

A royal reunion

Link flying on a glider in Tears of the Kingdom.
Click to enlarge

Tears of the Kingdom excels at more than just mesmerising you with gorgeous sights. For every huge moment, there’s a series of smaller ones that all join together to create a story that's entirely your own. From hilarious mishaps with your handcrafted creations to quaint puzzles hidden away in the wild, this game is a constant delight.

A surprisingly linear opening following Princess Zelda may trick you at first. Before long you’re let loose in the open world, and I soon found myself skydiving over hills and plains in the complete opposite direction of the main quest just because something caught my eye.

I climbed down a well and saved a man stuck underground, flew a rocket-propelled glider to another area, fought a giant stone monster covered in wooden scaffolding, and got a huge damage boost for one of my weapons. That boost made the next part of the main quest a lot easier, and that’s the beauty of such open-ended games - you approach things how you want and when you want, and your experience is shaped by your own decisions and discoveries.

Forge your own adventure

Link riding a horse tied to a cart in Tears of the Kingdom.
Click to enlarge

Ultrahand is perhaps the biggest innovation here in terms of gameplay mechanics. Nintendo clearly saw the crazy things players were doing with Breath of the Wild’s sandbox and leaned into it more heavily than it ever needed to.

On the simple end, you can use it to combine trees and make a giant log bridge, but if you want, you can build cars or flying machines and push the game to its limits. And as it turns out, limits are few and far between in this version of Hyrule. It brings to mind the bizarre, slapdash vehicle creation of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, but far more fun. It’s satisfying to build your own little creations to solve problems, and it encourages you to get wacky and test stupid ideas on the off-chance they might actually be brilliant.

Fusing is another idea only Nintendo could seemingly conjure up. Outcries about blades and bows breaking have been noted, and now you can combine them with objects in the environment to create an improved arsenal of weird weaponry. Attach a fire-breathing head to your shield; instead of blocking, you’ll spray a stream of flame in your foe’s direction. Put a rock on your sword and you can smash through otherwise-unbreakable barriers.

Just like Ultrahand, it rewards your creativity and encourages you to experiment. Being forced to swap your whole array of powers from Breath of the Wild helps this sequel feel fresh, despite re-treading familiar ground.

Zonai craftsmanship

A handcrafted boat with Zonai Devices.
Click to enlarge

At first it might feel like your building abilities are limited. A few bits of wood and some wheels aren't going to get you very far. This is where Zonai Devices come in.

These easily-pocketed parts are one of the game's smartest additions, allowing you to deploy objects from your inventory to craft quality creations on the go. From simple wheels to fire hydrants, flamethrowers and Sonic-esque spring pads, there's no end to the bizarre things you can build. You can lose hours finding each type of Zonai Device and experimenting with them.

If you feel like going on a bit of an expedition, build a fan-powered boat and sail it over to a distant island. Deploy a rocket and attach it to a Korok's backpack to send it careening off a cliff edge. Anything is possible with Zonai Devices.

The way Tears of the Kingdom reinvents navigation is impressive, giving players full control over how ridiculous they want their travels to be. There are so many paths to take and so many ways to traverse them, and putting together a working invention and seeing your creation come to life is a joy I didn't know I needed in a Zelda game. It never pushes you to do things you don't really feel like doing, so a more classic adventure is still very much possible. But if you wanted to build a giant mech and lay waste to a Bokoblin camp, there are no barriers besides your own creativity. Well, that and finding the parts you need to build it.

Dark depths to soaring skies

Link climbing near Kakariko Village.
Click to enlarge

Hyrule itself is not the same as it once was. When you first see four corners of the map light up in your adventure log, it immediately brings to mind Breath of the Wild’s main questline. Thankfully, worries that this game will feel like some kind of oversized DLC are soon quashed.

The more you explore the more unfamiliar Tears of the Kingdom feels, which is odd, as it shares so much DNA with its predecessor. There are returning characters, enemies, and areas, but the world has been re-populated with so much more to see and do, and the experimental sandbox gameplay makes doing all of it an endlessly exciting journey. 

There’s more depth than ever before, with literal chasms opening up from the darkness underground. This hidden realm is so dense it's actually quite overwhelming when you first set foot down there. The sky is your playground too, and rewinding time to ride ancient ruins up to the floating realm they came from never gets old. It’s almost like three worlds instead of one, and it’s practically impossible to see everything on offer without dedicating an immense amount of playtime.

Returning to old locations is just as exciting as visiting new ones. Breath of the Wild players will remember many of these areas, and learning how they've changed adds a thrilling sense of discovery to areas that could have felt like re-runs.

Kakariko Village is one of the best examples of Nintendo's approach to this changed world. Ring-shaped ruins have fallen from the sky and crash-landed on the village. These rings damaged parts of the village, but they've also brought in renewed interest from the rest of Hyrule, with researchers from all over the world making the trek to Kakariko for their studies. The village has been re-populated, new structures have been built, and a new chief is overseeing it all.

For the player, this means a whole new mystery to solve, a brand new cast of villagers to get to know and an all-you-can-eat buffet of side quests to partake in. I spent hours in Kakariko alone, only leaving when I was eventually distracted by another incredible sight just over the hill.

One with nature

Link riding a horse into the horizon in Tears of the Kingdom.
Click to enlarge

If you value a sense of escapism and freedom, Tears of the Kingdom is the absolute zenith of open-world exploration. Just like Breath of the Wild, you’ll be trekking through forests, climbing cliffsides and gliding over lakes, but now there are even more ways to traverse Hyrule and soak in its majesty.

The serene solace of the wilds is highlighted by soft pianos and a natural ambience. If you want to relax and take in the beautiful environments, you’re always free to do so. Whether you’re snapping pictures of fauna and flora or cooking meals as Link hums Ocarina of Time songs, the quiet moments are just as enjoyable as taking on a tough monster camp.

Small issues can crop up occasionally but rarely dampen the experience. The settings you can tweak are quite limited for a huge release in 2023, which is a disappointingly common trend on consoles - especially the Switch. Frame rate drops are fairly common in combat or dense areas, but for a game this big, the performance is still quite miraculous. It’s honestly impressive how much is packed into such a tiny cartridge, and how well it runs with minimal problems.

Dungeon delving

Link fighting the boss of the Wind Temple.
Click to enlarge

For fans clamouring for a return to the huge, interconnected dungeons from Zelda's past, Tears of the Kingdom might slightly disappoint. While its temples are an improvement over the Divine Beasts from Breath of the Wild, they're not quite as unique or immersive as those older dungeons.

Despite that, they still succeed at providing a large puzzle-filled set piece to cap off each region's storyline. Characters from the original return to the forefront to help you out, and each temple is designed in an open-ended way, giving you free rein over how you tackle problems without veering into counterintuitive territory.

Proper boss fights are back and they're extremely fun, almost acting like rewards in their own right for finishing the temple's puzzles. What's more, the build-up to each dungeon feels like a part of the dungeon itself, making each one of these quests a more fully-realised journey.

The Verdict 

Ganondorf, the villain of Tears of the Kingdom.
Click to enlarge

The more you play, the smaller you'll feel in the grandiose expanse presented by Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Distant sights draw you in, and distraction after distraction will pull you away from your goals. Each new discovery has a magnet grip, wrenching you away from your current quest to give you a whole new chapter to unravel.

The story is bigger and better than before with a strong cast of characters from Hyrule's past and present. Exploration is constantly gratifying, and the amount of content is staggering. It's a monumental task to pull yourself away from this world.

Tears of the Kingdom is an impossible feat. It manages to one-up perhaps the most influential game of a generation, masterfully surpassing it in areas I never thought possible. This is undoubtedly the most impressive title on Switch, and one that will be talked about for a very long time to come.

5/5

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Dani is a Guides Writer for GGRecon. She graduated from university with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, then worked as a freelance writer before joining the GGRecon team as a full-time writer in 2023. In her opinion, the best game of all time is Elden Ring – but her favourite is Halo: Reach, a game that created lifelong friendships and somehow started her down the path to a career in media. She’s also way too invested in Pokemon cards, and a big fan of guinea pigs, cats and other cute creatures.

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