When we were all waiting on bated breath during the Nintendo Switch announcement in 2017 to see what games we would get alongside this new Nintendo system, enter The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They were changing up The Legend of Zelda’s tried and true formula drastically from a more linear dungeon-to-dungeon experience to a broader focus on exploration open world adventure. When it was released, fans of the series were pretty vocal about their love for the game and how it reintroduced this sense of rewarding the player for their exploration. It was a new way to play Zelda, and as a fan of the series since watching my older brothers play The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, it was a breath of fresh air and just the shake-up the series needed.
Now six years later, we have The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released, the gaming landscape as a whole has changed, and the Nintendo Switch has started to show its age quite roughly over the last few years. So my expectations, while sky high, also had a panging of “This might not run well” mixed with the claims that it’s just more Breath of the Wild. Yes, I was incredibly excited for this release, but in no way did I expect it to shake things up again or even really further evolve that magical experience of setting foot off the starting plateau.
Before I go any further, I want to say I won’t be spoiling any story elements here. It will be more my experience with the game, not through a critical lens but through the lens of a long-time fan of the series, talking mostly about the exploration and mechanics. That said, there will be a discussion of mechanics we haven’t seen in trailers before, so you have been warned. Turn back now if you want to go in blind.
Now, I knew almost immediately that this was something special when we started on a pretty dower note, that once over, we were set free into the first sky island, which acts as this games Great Plateau, teaching us all the new abilities, making us craft some vehicles and fix up some minecarts. It was great, but something felt off. Then it happened. We are given access to drop down from the sky to land in Hyrule. Let me tell you, there was a sense of rush coming over me just as quickly as the ground was coming up to Link.
As I landed, I took in my surroundings, and after putting in an ungodly amount of time into Breath of the Wild, I knew exactly where I was and to beat that point home as I stared forward, there it was, the Hyrule Castle, swarming with this red gloom. So instinctively, I went in the opposite direction. As I crested past some random hill in the middle of Hyrule Field, the sun was rising, and the way it was managing to capture all the beauty of Hyrule in a single glimpse hit me. This is not only outdoing the magical experience that Breath of the Wild unleashed onto the world but also raising that bar to a new level.
After having a moment of just staring at the sunset and watching the world around me, I noticed some building materials. There are these little platforms along the major roads of Hyrule littered with giant wooden planks, some smaller planks, and wheels. Basically, a station to build a car or buggy with if you need it. Thankfully this gave me an idea. I laid down this bird-looking wing item I picked up out of one of the gotcha machines, strapped some fans to it, and for good measure, a hot air balloon with a flame emitter to give me the life I was craving.
This is easily where Tears of the Kingdom excels in its goal to give the player all the control of navigating this world, and as I soared at breakneck speed over the lands, I started bawling my eyes out. Tears of the Kingdom is a beautiful game, but it lets you find the beauty in it and experience it at any level you want. It is the perfect game for Zelda fans, new and old, and as I built little cars or cobbled together bits and pieces to grind on rails and cross gaps, my children were there, letting their imaginations run wild as I tried to keep up with all the ideas they had for fusing one thing to another.
We ended up with some pretty zany creations and memories I won’t forget anytime soon. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom had my family gathered by the TV laughing hysterically at our creations and cheering when they would work and help us complete our goal. Tears of the Kingdom is an incredibly special game that I cried multiple times while playing. Not for the story but just for the sheer amount of fun, freedom, and exploration that are ever-present.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom launches on the Nintendo Switch on May 12th, 2023.