Right from the get go, Tears of the Kingdom had all the odds stacked against it. It was a follow up to one of the bestselling, most received games of all time. It reused the same map, with many of the same characters and concepts.
And after 6 years of development, hopes for it were sky high, with many Nintendo fans hoping this would be the Switch’s swansong, the game that defined the entire console.
In every way, it seemed like it was destined to fail. To be yet another sequel that failed to failed to live up to its predecessor, just like so many other games before it.
Yet against all odds, Tears of the Kingdom has actually done it. It’s created a follow up to Breath of the Wild that’s not only better than its earlier instalment, but so much so it basically obsoletes the entire thing.
So how could this happen? How could a sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time, actually make the original obsolete? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out!
A Story That’s Better Told
Starting with the story structure. Put simply, it’s a hundred times better than Breath of the Wild’s one ever was.
Oh sure, on the surface it shares a lot of similarities. You’ll once again start out in a deserted area separate from the map with ‘Great’ in the title, and need to conquer four ability granting shrines to leave. You’ll again need to rescue the four major species in Hyrule from their woes by conquering dungeons and defeating bosses.
And like before, you’ll encounter shrines to complete, Korok puzzles to solve and Great Fairy Fountains to upgrade your armour at.
But here’s the key thing; every single one of those things has been done better in Tears of the Kingdom.
Like the shrines. In the last game, most of them were pretty short puzzle rooms with a single simple puzzle to solve. They looked dull, had dull music, and ended in roughly 5 minutes a piece, a few exceptions around the edge of the map notwithstanding.
That’s not the case here. Nope, every major shrine has at least three rooms of puzzles to explore, and multiple challenges to conquer, and they’re all more interesting than their Breath of the Wild counterparts. Is the shrine about Balloons? Well, it’ll be a full mini dungeon involving creative ways to use them, not just a single empty room where you need to float to the top. Is it about Fuse? Again, it’ll be a full mini dungeon about the ability, involving everything from using fused weapons to defeat enemies to use fused arrows to light vines on fire.
Hell, even the combat ones work this way. Forget the samey single room setups with a single weak mini boss from the last game, these ones are full blown enemy gauntlets with Eventide style rules, where you have to salvage items from your surroundings and use the environment to help take down the army of Constructs. It’s a nice change of pace, and means that even the most basic ‘Proving Grounds’ setup will garner less groans than a ‘Minor Test of Strength’ would this time around.
And the same level of polish now applies to the story sections and dungeons too. Remember how in Breath of the Wild, the Vah Medoh quest was like 10 minutes long and consisted of a single mini game? Or how apart from the Zora one, most of the other dungeon build ups would be a small series of trivial obstacles to clear?
Yeah, that’s not the case here. Now, every story section has a full blown dungeon esque build up before it, where you have to explore vast swathes of the surrounding area, clear various mini dungeons to unlock key items, and even do things like fight of a horde of enemies in a tower defence style sequence or battle a three headed monster on a plane.
It’s incredible really, and it genuinely makes you realise how much better BoTW’s lead up sections could have been before.
Especially given the dungeons haven’t been phoned in either. Yeah, you know how BoTW had the 4 Divine Beasts? And they all looked and felt mostly the same with the same colour scheme, same two enemy types and same style of boss with ‘Ganon’ and ‘Blight’ in their name somewhere?
That’s not the case in Tears of the Kingdom. No, Tears of the Kingdom actually has real dungeons with unique theming, and creative bosses to fight at the end. You’ve got a flying ship in the middle of a cyclone. A creepy electricity and light themed temple filled with the undead. An ancient Goron City littered with minecart tracks and puzzle rooms. And so, so much more besides.
Hell, they’ve even got dungeon item equivalents too. Now, the sages themselves join you for the dungeons, with their abilities acting like dungeon items from the previous games. So, if you ever wanted to experience Zelda as an RPG complete with character party, here you go!
And speaking of abilities, it’s worth pointing out that Tears of the Kingdom shares nothing from Breath of the Wild in that department. Oh sure, you get a camera at some point. And there’s always amiibo to use too.
But the main core set are entirely different, with Ultrahand, Fuse, Ascend and Recall replacing Magnesis, Bombs, Cryonis and Stasis respectively. At first glance, you might think that’s a weird choice. After all, the BoTW ones were pretty open-ended right? How can making vehicles and going through ceilings compete with that?
Well, very easily of course. In fact, these abilities become so second nature to you here that you genuinely forget the last game’s set were even a thing and can shape the world to your leisure at almost a whim by the endgame.
With Ultrahand probably being the highlight. Why? Because you can pretty much glue anything to anything else, and create all kinds of insane contraptions as a result. Want to make a raft? Sure, you can do that. But you can also make a boat, plane or flying car too, and that will also work perfectly fine. The sky really is the limit here, and with enough creativity and resources, you can pretty much go anywhere and everywhere in any way you feel fit.
(or just make a Metal Gear replica, like the guy in the below tweet)
— にかいどう@レゴ機械生物図鑑 (@uran120) May 25, 2023
And then there’s Fuse. Oh boy, Fuse.
This basically lets you create powerful weapons by merging them with everything from materials to Zonai devices to other weapons, creating hybrids as a result. Want to make a flamethrower? Attach a flame emitter device to a sword or shield. Need a skateboard? Eh, just stick a minecart on said shield, then shield surf on the rails like it was nothing. Heck, you can even use them with arrows too, letting you attach gems and elemental items to blast struck foes with a burst of fire, ice or electricity. Again, the possibilities are almost endless, and a creative player can find all kinds of sneaky ways to take out a room full of foes in seconds.
It’s an amazing toolbox of abilities, and one that lets you do anything you can put your mind to.
Which brings us to the world itself. On the face of it, it might seem kinda dull to re explore the same Hyrule once again. After all, aren’t all the landmarks in the same places again?
Well, as it turns out, the answer is more complex than you may imagine.
Since while this technically is the same world, so much has changed between games that it doesn’t feel like the same world. There are new towns, villages and stables across the map. The removal of the Sheikah tech and the mix of modern and Zonai replacements changes whole regions to feel entirely unique.
And then there’s the new areas on top of it. The Sky Islands and the Depths.
Oh boy, these areas are something else.
In fact, they basically add anywhere between 150-200% more content to the game, since the Depths are literally a dark world equivalent right underneath the map. You’ve got new areas to find, Zonai mines to explore, bosses and enemies only found in these areas plus entire dungeons and story content is mostly contained there, with the game’s major dungeons basically being split evenly between the two.
Plus, here’s the crazy thing. Note how we said ‘Depths’ not caves.
Since in this game, the two are entirely separate altogether. While the former is a dark world underneath the entire map, the latter is another set of mini dungeons and explorable areas littered beneath the surface of the world, with entrances in every hillside and well.
So, you’ve basically got 30% of the map added in the form of floating islands, 100% in the form of the Depths, and about 80% in the form of caves. That’s without even counting the stuff added by the shrines, dungeons, side quests or side adventures, of which there are hundreds.
This game is absolutely freaking huge. In fact, it may well be the longest, most content packed game Nintendo has ever released.
In fact, if you need a personal anecdote to compare…
We’ve spent the last few weeks playing the game almost non-stop. We’ve cleared every shrine, beat every aspect of the main story and all its side adventures, and took care of dozens of side quests, mini bosses and other pieces of content.
All in all, that’s over 200 hours of playtime so far.
How far into the game do you think we are?
Oh, maybe 60-70%?
Yeah, we’re not kidding. The amount of content in this game is absolutely insane, and it means even a pro gamer speeding through it with a map will be spending the best part of a month or two completing everything they find.
Meanwhile, a more casual player could spend years on this game, or even decades.
And that’s especially true given how much harder Tears of the Kingdom is than Breath of the Wild. Oh sure, the latter could be brutal at the start, especially on master mode. And sure, it was indeed tougher than any Zelda game released before it.
But Tears of the Kingdom is on another level, with a ruthless Hyrule filled with monsters that will destroy you in seconds.
This is for two reasons.
First, the new enemies are a brutal bunch. Boss Bokoblins hit hard, elemental Like Likes can flood the area with deadly ice, fire or electric projectiles in seconds…
And the new bosses are another level. Remember how hard Lynels were in Breath of the Wild? Yeah, Gleeoks and Froxes hit about that hard, potentially even more so. The former especially, with a health bar on par with the final boss and attacks deadly enough they could probably wipe out an entire army.
But the second and more important reason is because everything you relied on in the first game, has been nerfed to hell in this game. Think you can blitz things with hearty meals again? Nope, most of the ingredients only appear on Sky Islands and in the Depths now, with durians actually being removed from the game entirely.
Think Fairies will save you? Well, they can, but they’re a lot harder to come by now too, since they’re only available on certain sky islands and in certain caves now, rather than just hanging around freely besides every random fairy fountain.
And the same goes with weapons too. While you can still enter endgame areas to get powerful ones early, the Gloom has annihilated their attack power and durability this time around. So just having a Royal Claymore won’t help you, you’ll need some Lynel or Gleeok drops to make it truly shine.
Hell, even the story content is harder here. Those shrines are more challenging, with multiple room setups meaning you’ll need to truly master the mechanics in question to move on. The dungeons are actual dungeons again, rather than glorified puzzle boxes with a map rotation gimmick and two mostly worthless enemy types.
While the bosses themselves are an actual challenge once again. Oh sure, they’re not Dark Souls level hard. Or to be honest, particularly difficult for bosses in the genre.
But they’re a hell of a step up from the Blights nonetheless, with weaknesses that require actual strategy rather than just blitzing them with your strongest weapons. Now, you actually have to think to figure out what you need to do, and make use of the abilities found in the dungeons rather than just shooting and hacking away in a blind panic.
Same goes with the final boss too. Unlike Calamity Ganon who seemingly fell over after the slightest bit of resistance, Ganondorf actually knows what he’s doing in a fight, and his boss battle reflects that. It’s got multiple phases, he’s got interesting abilities to play with, and he can do much of what Link can as well.
It’s a true test of skill, and one which becomes the pinnacle of a challenging boss rush if you happen to attempt it at the start of the game.
So, Tears of the Kingdom is a great game. It improves on just about everything Breath of the Wild has to offer, and it basically acts as the ultimate Zelda game overall. But nothing is perfect right? Surely this masterpiece has a few flaws?
Well, in my eyes it certainly does, though they’re generally on the minor side.
With the majority of these tiny issues being quality of life improvements that haven’t been made here.
Such as Fuse being way slower than it needs to be. For weapons and shields, it’s fine. Just equip the item, then fuse it to whatever in the environment you need to attach to it.
But for arrows… it gets frustrating quite quickly. Why? Because there are no presets here. There’s no quick menu to say, auto equip bomb flowers or Chuchu jelly for elemental effects.
Instead, you have to scroll through a huge list of materials, with the sorting options not really making the process all that more convenient. So, you end up either forgoing fused arrows entirely, or sticking to the same few options that appear at the start of the ‘most used items’ list.
Either way, it would have better if presets existed here, and you could just select bomb arrows or shock arrows, with the system choosing the relevant material to give you the effect you need.
There are also a few location changes that feel unnecessary too. Like say, how every shrine, tower and fairy fountain is in a different place compared to the last game.
That’s fine in some cases, where it ends extra conveniences (Kara Kara Bazaar and the Eldin Great Skeleton actually have shrines nearby now!), but in a few cases it feels a bit awkward, and makes navigation a little more annoying than it used to be.
Like in Rito Village and Zora’s Domain. In the last game, the shrines were in the middle of town, and you could just walk in to do stuff there. In this one? They’re both underneath it, and require either ascend or a climb to get to where you need to be.
And this is a bit of an issue with shrines in caves too. They’re neat rewards for exploration, but they’re practically useless as warp points, since you have to hunt for a way out of said cave (read, a ceiling low enough to ascend through) just to get anywhere close to where you need to be.
So perhaps sometimes they should have stuck with the old locations for shrines and landmarks. Move some where it made sense to do so (like with Kara Kara Bazaar and Tarrey Town) and add new ones near interesting new landmarks (like dungeons), but leave the ones that were convenient enough in the old game so they could be convenient warp points in this one too.
Either way, these are minor issues, and pale in comparison to the many, many improvements made everywhere else. By and large, Tears of the Kingdom is the better game compared to Breath of the Wild, and it’s not even a close comparison. The world is better, the story is better, the dungeons and bosses are better, the UI is more user friendly and the abilities are more interesting in just about every way. It’s an incredible game, and one that every Zelda fan has to experience as soon as possible.
Buy it right now, you won’t regret it.