Tears of a Crown

The Nintendo Switch is an absolute joy of a console for me. Compact enough to fit in a bag and not dominate a living room. Powerful enough to run great looking games. Instant pause and pickup of games is an absolutely fantastic feature. 

Of course any new Nintendo console gets the big hitters like Zelda and this generation has had two: Breath of the Wild and the latest release Tears of the Kingdom. 

Both of these games left the traditional formula of Zelda games behind. Instead of areas locked off by items and a linear approach to progression, these games moved towards an open world style. Go anywhere. Do anything. In whatever order you want. Some loved it. Others hated it. I was somewhere in the middle. Well, I was towards the the loving end with some caveats. 

Tears of the Kingdom follows Breath of the Wild not only in terms of style, but also story. It’s the most direct sequel I think we have ever seen in the series (I am not an expert on Zelda history, I might be wrong). 

The game starts off with Zelda and Link investigating a mysterious area below the Hyrule Castle. A discovery down below sets the events of the game in motion. Zelda vanishes! Link loses his arm and wakes in a mysterious chamber! 

Making you way outside you realise that Hyrule has drastically changed from the land in Breath of the Wild. Parts of it have been raised up into the sky and you are on one of those islands! You are immediately encouraged to dive off. Its breathtaking, dramatic, and Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t let up from this beginning. 

The story is of course familiar, but with enough changes to make it a little unpredictable about how you are going to get to the end. Of course we are going to visit familiar places from Breath of the WIld. They are familiar, yet changed by the events of the introduction.  We will collect wockles to bring about the downfall of a great evil. This is a Zelda game after all. 

The designers have really been allowed to run riot this time round. The game feels easier to play, and everything is just a bit more delightful than it was in Breath of the Wild. 

Travel is a lot more fun right from the off. Once you are through the tutorial area you have a base of operations in the sky to teleport to at will. Diving off there you can float down to the ground, diving and gliding to get yourself to where you want to go. It never, ever gets boring. 

Link floating around
It’s a truly stunning looking game

Of course there are horses and shield surfing from the first game to get around. Very early on though you get the ability to move objects around and stick them together. Then you discover various devices that can be added to those objects. Suddenly you can build planes, cars, motorcycles, or whatever else you can imagine and have the patience to try. It was constantly surprising to me how much of the nonsense I cobbled together actually worked! These creations allow the exploration of the map in a smooth and fun manner, making navigation a delight. 

On top of this creative way of getting around you can also shoot yourself up through solid objects to the top of them with one of your new powers. This makes getting up to the high places more fun giving you even more options to jump off and fly to the next place you need to get to. There are all sorts of fun ways to use this I won’t spoil that will give you more tools for exploration. 

Exploration is the key to Tears of the Kingdom. It was there in Breath of the Wild but I always found getting around a little bit of a chore. With the greater ease of movement poking around the map is joyous. Not only that, it is rewarding. 

In lots of open world games the map gets filled early with quest markers, challenges, and the like. It is a riot of symbols and colour and I personally find it a bit overwhelming. Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t do that. It just gives you discoveries no matter which way you turn. Then they get marked on the map. It means the map becomes more of the story of your journey, rather than a list of missed opportunities. 

Round every corner, up every mountain, near every landmark there is something to be done. Koroks need to be taken to their friends because they are lazy and their backpacks are 5 times their size. They are idiots. Monsters appear to be fought and have their resources collected to upgrade your clothes. Shrines reveal themselves to be completed. 

A korok pleading for help
Look at that ridiculous backpack

Shrines are smaller dungeon style locations with a set of themed puzzles to solve. When you complete them you get a resource that can be spent to increase health or stamina. They were present in Breath of the Wild but I found them a little repetitive. In Tears of the Kingdom they range from fun to amazing. Due to the new set of powers you have you can really let your creativity shrine in approaching the challenges each one presents. 

It is not only shrines that have had improvements. One of the big criticisms levelled at Breath of the Wild was the lack of traditional Zelda temples. They had been replaced by Divine Beasts. These felt like larger shrines rather than full dungeons we had seen in previous games. 

Tears of the Kingdom brings back these bigger temples. When I say bigger, I mean jaw dropping in scale. I’m not going to spoil the surprises but I really enjoyed each one. Some more than others. Each felt interesting and evoked the area of the world they were in. Like the shrines, there was a great sense of creativity in the design of these temples. 

The other criticism levelled at Breath of the Wild was the way weapons worked. When you picked up any weapon and started using it, the weapon started to degrade. It eventually would break. That still happens. If you hated that, it still happens and I can’t tell you it doesn’t. However one of the other new powers you have is the ability to fuse things together. You can extend the life of weapons and augment their powers by investigating all sorts of weird and wonderful combinations. Experiment, you’ll love it. 

Creativity and experimentation is the core of the Tears of the Kingdom design. From the new set of powers springs the solution to any problem and an infinite tool bag of the weird and wonderful. The game will throw problems at you and your solution will be different to mine. It was constantly surprising and amazing to me how much my solutions worked every time, even if they were occasionally wonky. 

Tears of the Kingdom is Nintendo at its best. Bold, creative, innovative, and with a sense of joy and play running through its core. There are few games companies out there that approach their products with such a sense of wonder and discovery. When they get it right, it is a truly impressive experience. 

I bought Tears of the Kingdom with my own money.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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