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Hey gamers! Today I finally finished The Legend of Zelda – Tears of the Kingdom. It took literally months, though I haven’t been playing it much recently.
While my next move is to the internet to look into post-game content, wacky things players have done, and whatever the world record speedrun is, first I’m going to give it a good old review. Let’s go!
Note: this review contains spoilers.
A Familiar Story
A Darker Tone – While familiar, the game felt darker. More hostile. More combat oriented. I think there’s more than a little influence from Elden Ring.
History Repeats – Almost every Zelda game is Link vs. Ganon to save Zelda. That’s what we got here. While it’s not new, at least it’s a consistent formula of success. The story took a while to establish Ganon, and I was a little disappointed when I found out that was the big bad boss once again.
Fears of a Re-skin – One of my first reactions was apprehension. On my first day of playing, after I landed on the main map, I had this moment of fear that the game was going to be essentially a repeat of the first game, with some new stuff glued on for variety. It was the area around the castle. The central outpost seemed slapped on top of the same area from BOTW. This feeling never completely went away.
Continuity – The game rides a really fine line. Sure it’s sprawling, deep, and a huge improvement on the first in many ways, but it still manages to feel like DLC, or downloaded content, for Breath of the Wild. What it does do extremely well, however, is create the feeling of continuity. The game advances the world a few years, and most of the changes make sense. Lots of great characters recur, and have new arcs and quests. The world was definitely big and realized enough to handle a return.
The Little Touches – It was a huge moment when I checked into my first stable and found all my horses from my Breath of the Wild save file. Wow.
Weapons Still Break – This was a big issue for players in the first game. A couple of things make it better, but it’s a really frustrating system sometimes.
The Highest Highs
Great Sky Island – One of the best parts of the game was the tutorial area, the Great Sky Island. It felt like Breath of the Wild, but radically different. New. But also old, in how the areas felt. Ancient. Beautiful. The music was deep and slow and perfect. I accidentally did it backwards, and that made it even more amazing.
The Sky Archipelagos – There were a few highlights, but none of the rest of the sky matched the Great Sky Island in size, scope, or richness of the area. Some felt repetitive, which wasn’t great.
A New Dragon – I saw a new dragon in the sky during my Great Sky Island experience. The Light Dragon. I knew I’d have to chase that dragon, but I never realized it would be what the game’s story, and even title, were about. The geoglyphs were interesting enough, and the memory narrative was very cool when it was all together, but it got a little predictable pretty quickly that Zelda had become the Light Dragon.
The Master Sword – The Master Sword being stuck in the Light Dragon’s face was extremely cool. I found it by accident. I was at the end of a session and happened to swing Link’s gaze up to the sky. There she was, like I was supposed to see her. I teleported to a sky island above her to grab a scale, then after I did, remembered something a friend had said about riding a dragon around. I landed on her, made for her head, and there was the sword.
The Blizzard – The Rito village is plagued by a horrible blizzard, which you must climb. How does one climb a blizzard? In Zelda, it’s a harrowing, stressful, long, stressful, long, stressful platforming experience. And that’s before the platforms are moving sky boats, and you have to bounce on top of them to proceed. This was one of the most memorable, affecting and unique gaming experiences of my life.
The Final Final Battle – The final final battle takes place in mid-air, against Ganon who has turned himself into a giant gloom dragon, which is extremely cool. It’s not really hard, but it’s epic and satisfying enough to make up for it.
The Lowest Lows
The Depths – The Depths shocked me. I didn’t think they’d do it as large as they did, and make a second complete map the same size as the overworld. For a long time, my gaming experience was exploring the Depths. Going from lightroot to lightroot. Scary climbs and glides and one fall into unknown water, all in complete dark. It was amazing. Once I realized that the lightroots in the Depths and shrines in the overworld were in the same place, I was actually disappointed. The more time I spent in the Depths, the more empty it seemed. It almost feels like it was procedurally generated in places, and not curated like the overworld. It’s still very very cool, but not as cool as before all the lights were on.
The Caves – The caves excited me. More than anything, they felt like Elden Ring’s many mini-dungeons, something I felt Breath of Wild could have used. The caves are some of the best parts of the game. They can be hard to find, completely unpredictable in size, and full of all sorts of amazing things. Finding all the caves (and wells) is the thing I’ll keep playing for.
The Final Sequence – Finding and fighting Ganon involves dropping down far, far below Hyrule Castle. The journey there is epic. It’s scary. It just keeps going further and further down. The music is really unnerving. One of the best ‘boss-levels’ I’ve ever played.
Ganondorf – While I had built up significantly, the final fights with Ganondorf were way too easy. I blasted him with arrows, and barely bothered with hand-to-hand combat. The 5x Lynel bow, with Gibdo Bone arrows, took him down very fast.
The New Stuff
Ultrahand Power – If you want it to be, this game can be Minecraft. I barely scratched the surface, and didn’t build much more than a lot of fanplanes. I don’t think I’m that interested in seeing what wacky stuff I can build, but I am really interested in what the internet did with it. Overall, the power raises the bar for gaming. It’s a sandbox almost as large in scope as TotK itself.
Ascend Power – This was a neat way to get around that made a lot of sense with the caves, and some of the sky islands. Not that interesting, but super-useful.
Recall Power – Other than a few specific instances, this power wasn’t used for much. I think it has potential, but it’s hard to see what it could do that’s more interesting than building with Ultrahand.
Fuse Power – This power was another game-changer. Again, I don’t think I did more than scratch the surface. I enjoyed making unique weapons, which made the weapons breaking a bit better, because then I could try something else. It was still frustrating to lose cool things I’d made, though. I barely used shields at all, so I can’t really comment on how Fuse changes your shield game. Arrows, on the other hand, were where Fuse shone most. It made things so much easier to just attach the best item for the situation, and the options were almost endless.
Autobuild Power – I barely used this. I’m sure plenty of hard-core builder think this is the best thing going, though.
The Sages – I got the Goron first, the Fire Sage. He was so useful in so many situations, I couldn’t believe it. His contributions to mining, ranged combat, and even travel – burning grass to create an updraft to glide on – seemed endless. I got the Rito next, the Wind Sage, and while the blast of air become indispensable for getting around in the air, it wasn’t as much of a difference maker as the Fire Sage. Both of the Sages had their uses in combat as a bonus. And then came the Water Sage and the Lightning Sage. Both kind of get underfoot and sometimes help out in combat. That’s about it. Finally, the robot! The Spirit Sage is a big old robot, which is kinda cool, but only so customizable and kinda cumbersome. It has some uses, like smashing ore deposits, and riding it across gloom and lava, but it didn’t make a lot of difference.
Bosses – Breath of the Wild suffered for bosses. It was several shades of Ganon, and a cringe-worthy fight with the Yiga clan leader, Kohga. Tears of the Kingdom does much better, with a half dozen different boss fights, some of which are legitimately cool. Kohga is also redeemed, with several encounters that aren’t joke battles.
New Monsters – The new small monsters, like Horriblins and Link-sized Constructs, are good additions. They have unique attack patterns, and make the caves and sky feel really new and different. The big monsters, like the Gleeoks, Constructs and Froxes are all initially threatening, but devolve into an easy pattern after a while. The Gleeoks are the most interesting, but really get owned by eyeball arrows.
The Obvious Comparisons
Returning Monsters – Plenty of monsters return. Some are the same, like Moblins, but look a little different. It’s fine, those are the canon Zelda creatures. Some are adjusted, like gloom-affected creatures in the Depths, and those with armor. It makes for some variety, but not that much. The new variety of Stone Talus, the Battle Talus, is okay, but Ascend makes it too easy. Hinoxes and Moldugas are pushovers. Lynels are still the most dangerous thing out there, though Puffshroom arrows make them a breeze.
The Same Old Map – It’s different in places, but the sense of discovering the landscape is absent if you’ve played BotW. Things are where you’d expect them to be. There are some surprises, but stumbling across a new town or stable or something was one of the best parts of BotW, and the map is too familiar for that.
The Same Old Shrines – They’re new challenges, new puzzles, etc., and some are fantastic, but the shrine system is too similar.
Small World – Even with the Depths, the caves, and the sky providing something like 3x the explorable area as BotW, it felt… smaller. Partly because the map is the same, and partly because you can see it from the air. You can see a long, long way. All the way to the edges sometimes.
From Above – There’s a major shift from BotW, where any high mountain had to be climbed to access what was up there (korok). In Tears of the Kingdom, every mountain can be accessed from above. Once you get the hang of it, only a few niche areas of the sky are tough to get to. Getting around doesn’t feel like an achievement, except in the Depths. Landmarks don’t feel quite as special because you can just drop on top of them.
Horses – I’m not a horse guy. In game, in life. Not against them in any way, but not inclined to ride them. I also didn’t do a lot of Ultrahand-built cars. There’s a reason to stop every ten feet in the overworld, and teleporting is the best way to get around. Horses, cars, etc. don’t teleport so well.
The Unturned Stones
Shrines and Lightroots – I found all the shrines. There are 152. The game tells you when you’ve found the last one. There’s even a special reward, which is totally worth getting. I found 119 lightroots. There’s one left in a seemingly inaccessible area that I’m desperately trying to get to. It’s near the castle, just to the east.
Koroks – I have found 277. There’s probably upwards of 900. I haven’t even unlocked all of my bow or shield slots yet. I’ve actually found more than 277, because there are plenty I haven’t taken to meet their friend or whatever. It’s too much, and a repeat from BotW.
Missing Equipment – Based on what should be complete sets of three, I’m missing 4 pieces of equipment from those sets. I’m also missing 2 kinds of boots, the snow and sand speed-up boots. Not priority. There is too much equipment. Too much doesn’t matter. Upgrading it all is too big a job, costs too much and relies too heavily on weird random stuff I’ve never even seen, dragon parts, fire-breath lizfalos tails, insane amounts of precious gems, and even more insane amounts of star fragments. For a while it was fun, and made for cool looting and questing, but it became a chore.
Caves and Wells – I have 23 caves left to find, and 18 wells. I think they’re worth finding, and can be put on sensor. I really hope something happens if Bubbulfrog guy gets his final gems.
Big and Unique Monsters – Remaining: 51 Stone Taluses, 32 Hinox, 0 Molduga, 5 Flux Constructs, 4 Gleeoks, and 18 Froxes. The big issue is finding them, and having to refight, or at least check each one you see to see if you’ve already fought it. Ugh.
Misc. Misc. Misc. – I have 5 Sage’s Wills left to find. I have all my energy cells filled. I have 12 Schema Stones, 15 Yiga Schematics (I know there are a lot more), and 23 Old Maps. Getting the rest of these looks pretty tedious.
So, after all that, what’s the verdict?
Tears of the Kingdom is a must-play if you can. If you can handle the difficulty, the controls, etc.
The story is broad, accessible, and somewhat interesting, but it doesn’t matter because how you experience the landscape and whatnot makes all the difference.
The gameplay is tremendous, and groundbreaking. It’s also smooth and intuitive, and really fun.
While a lot is repeated and imported from Breath of the Wild, enough has been done to make it feel organic and justified. And a lot of the repetitive stuff is still extremely fun to play again.
I’m at a stage of endgame now where completion feels like a chore, but that’s not a bad thing, really. I’ve been playing this for months. There’s still a crazy long grind if I want it, or if I just want to hang around in Hyrule.
Despite its flaws, Tears of the Kingdom is one of the great gaming experiences of my life, and totally worth playing.
Thanks for reading!