REVIEW: ‘The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’ Does Some Things Great, While Failing At Others (Switch)

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Tears of the Kingdom — But Why Tho

Caverns have been discovered beneath Hyrule Castle, prompting Link and Zelda to investigate. What they discover awakens an ancient evil and causes the Princess to disappear without a trace. Now, awakening on a strange floating island, Link must master new abilities, assemble allies, and prepare to face another threat to the vast land, as he challenges evil foes and searches for his lost princess in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Developed and published by Nintendo, you explore this epic adventure and choose your own path using the power of Link to traverse the sprawling landscapes of Hyrule and the vast skies too in this sequel to Breath of the Wild.

The latest iteration in this storied franchise presents players with many options: to explore Hyrule and the unique physics-based systems that govern it or plunge into a high-fantasy tale of ancient evil and daring heroics. But at the end of the day, I think which of these interests you the most will determine your experience with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. While the game does provide a huge open-world sandbox to run around in and have fun experimenting with its systems, it greatly underserves what could’ve been a great narrative journey.

Once players get past the opening cutscene, they are welcomed to the newest iteration of Hyrule, high among the clouds. Newly arrived sky islands now dot the vast skies of Hyrule, bringing new avenues for players to explore. This opening cluster of mysterious islands serves as the tutorial area for the adventure, as the player learns the ins and outs of controlling Link, as well as getting to gather his newest abilities across the landscape.

The suite of four abilities gained here forms the crux of the game’s play outside of combat. The new Ultrahand ability that allows players to not only pick up many objects scattered throughout the world but also combine these elements into new shapes and tools. This is easily the most used of Link’s abilities. Its implementation by the developers throughout his journey, especially where puzzles are concerned, is great. “Fuse” allows Link to bond objects to his weapons. This increases the weapon’s damage based on what is bonded and the durability of the weapon, largely negating the obnoxious weapon-breaking system from Breath of the Wild. Weapons still break, but you get way more uses out of them, and replacing powerful weapons feels easier, thanks to how frequently enemies drop good bonding materials, allowing you to keep Link’s current weapon longer.

“Recall” allows Link to rewind time for an object, causing it to move backward through whatever motions it has previously done. And lastly, “Ascend” allows players to pass through many ceilings to come out one level above where they previously were. All these abilities are simple to grasp, but each receives its moments to shine throughout Link’s monster-sized journey.

Tears of the Kingdom Combat — But Why Tho

Once the tutorials are complete, the player is ready to take the plunge into the larger game and the exploration it offer. Upon returning to Hyrule, Link learns that Zelda is missing, and along with the newly arrived sky islands, four of the regions of Hyrule are plagued with their own unique phenomenon. Link is tasked with journeying to each of these regions to help the locals and see if he can learn any new information on the whereabouts of Zelda, as well as the general danger that now threatens Hyrule.

It is the execution of this core quest where The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom falls apart for me. The game presents its world as a huge open sandbox the player is welcome to traverse however they see fit. And it is, kind of. Several key regions of the game are largely cordoned off with huge chasms or walls of mountains, making entry to them impossible early in the game. Only a single bridge or path permits access. This makes travel to specific places a huge hassle, as journeys are artificially lengthened by imposing landscapes. And that’s when the game is kind enough to give you a location to search for. These struggles are made all the more frustrating when you are given only vague indications of where to go next. And since the geography of regions is hidden until you access the region’s sky tower, finding these paths can be difficult without extra steps.

And speaking of extra steps, virtually every step along Link’s journey is filled with extra, superfluous elements that seem to have no reason to exist aside from making things take longer. While some of these moments land well, thanks to the implementation of fun puzzles to solve, more often than not they just feel frustrating. When I’m searching for a location and I need to activate a tower so I can find it on my map, I don’t need pointless busy work thrown up to make the process take even longer. I appreciate a game offering loads of side content to make me stay longer if I should choose, but throwing up pointless roadblocks to force that time to grow is just annoying.

And among further pointlessly annoying moments, let’s talk about how the story plays out. As Link arrives at each of the four regions he is tasked with helping, we see virtually the exact same sequence of events play out. There will be a problem, one that is oddly connected to unexplained sightings of Princess Zelda. So Link, along with a local personality, will pursue these sightings to a temple where puzzles will ensue, a boss fight will happen, and a discovery will be made that is joined by a cutscene that is designed to explain much of what is going on to the player. While the temples the player must traverse are all puzzle-solving gold, everything around them is repetitive and poorly executed. The cutscene that comes at the end of each temple is virtually the same exact scene. There are no major differences. The pursuit of Zelda through each area also feels ridiculous. By the third or fourth go, you know they will not find Zelda, as the events clearly mimic those that have already happened. It feels like Link should clue in the locals to how these things have played out in the past. But of course, he doesn’t. After all, for him to do that, Nintendo would have to take the muzzle off its star.

With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom diving deeper into the narrative well than its predecessor, it comes to suffer all the more from the fact that Link still doesn’t speak. There are several key dramatic moments where Link’s silence simply hurts the story to an extreme degree. I know the theory is that keeping him silent lets the player project themselves into the role, but I assure you, there have been tons of eloquently voiced characters I have had no trouble projecting myself into. If Nintendo is going to continue to push the narrative forward in these games, Link really needs to speak up.

Tears of the Kingdom Building — But Why Tho

While I’ve spent much of this review chiding on what frustrated me about this game, that is largely because it feels so close to being the great experience it wants to be. The puzzles that are scattered throughout Hyrule are creative and fun. The game never tires of finding unique ways for Link to utilize the world around him. From crafting make-shift planes and mining cars to reconstructing shapes through the use of abilities, the game always has a great grasp on how to make puzzles fun and challenging.

The combat in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is also fun, although, like its predecessor, the game lacks any incentive to fight most of the time. With no experience or other elements tied to combat, I found it usually better just to avoid unnecessary conflicts, especially as the game dragged on. Boulders and projectiles are more about building than actually engaging in any combat as you traverse the hillsides. With so many side-stops and detours strewn throughout the game, I found myself having less and less patience for battles. While the ability to bypass them worked out for me, it feels like a flaw when such a core element of the experience is often best left ignored.

One aspect of the world I will unabashedly praise though is the visual design. Despite the Switch effectively being two console generations behind the latest hardware of its competitors, Nintendo has managed to make a game that looks visually stunning. The mountains, rivers, and fields of Hyrule, as well as the sky islands that dot the massive horizon, are always gorgeous to behold. The many characters and monsters are also delivered with just as much visual skill. While many are carryovers from the Breath of the Wild game, there are plenty of new things to be found. The boss designs are particularly epic. The scale of these challenges melds the energy of boss battles from the old 2D Zelda games, with the 3D world and modern visuals of the current presentation masterfully.

So, what is my final verdict on The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom? I think for the right kind of player, someone who just wishes to explore and live in a gorgeously designed fantasy setting, this game will offer countless hours of enjoyment. However, if you are like me and when you are presented with a quest to undertake you simply wish to follow that quest in a way that feels fluid and rewarding, this game has some huge hurdles to overcome.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available now on Nintendo Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10


For the right kind of player, someone who just wishes to explore and live in a gorgeously designed fantasy setting, this game will offer countless hours of enjoyment. However, if you are like me and when you are presented with a quest to undertake you simply wish to follow that quest in a way that feels fluid and rewarding, this game has some huge hurdles to overcome.

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