When I played Breath of the Wild back in 2017, I adored most things about it, but wouldn’t have scored it a 10. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on the other hand, goes above and beyond whatever I could imagine to not only get my highest possible recommendation, but shatter all my expectations and then some. I absolutely was not going to rush and ruin my experience here to have a review of Tears of the Kingdom soon after launch. I’ve actually been approaching it like I did when I wrote my Elden Ring review a month after release.
When I was chipping away at Breath of the Wild back in April 2017 after buying my launch Switch, I remember discussing the progress I made daily with friends who were going off on different paths to approach the massive world Nintendo created. There were so many things I loved about that game, but I still think Super Mario Odyssey was the star of the Nintendo Switch launch year with a special mention for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for its superlative story, art, and music. With Tears of the Kingdom, I was quite skeptical of how Nintendo could potentially top Breath of the Wild. I even thought we might just see an Assassin’s Creed Origins to Odyssey situation. The end result is not only one of the most impressive console games I’ve played, but Nintendo’s best despite the few issues I have with it.
What I loved about Breath of the Wild barring the open world and freedom you had, was in the abilities. I kept trying to think of the ways Nintendo would build on those for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Would they just keep those and give us more abilities? Would Nintendo do away with those completely, and how would they keep things fresh for another 100 or so hours that I’d want to spend with what seemed like it might be the same map. The answer is Nintendo didn’t stop at just adding new game-changing abilities, but basically gave us nearly two full game’s worth of maps to explore in addition to Hyrule that itself saw tons of changes in the time since Breath of the Wild.
Before getting to the breathtaking world, the depths, and the sky, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s tutorial in the Great Sky Island is superb. I know some are down on this compared to the Great Plateau from Breath of the Wild, but I was shocked at the quality of the game in just the tutorial. I spent over a dozen hours here replaying it on different profiles just to see how much I could push things for reaching the various destinations to unlock the basic powers. You know how the Skyrim joke about seeing that mountain and being able to go there goes? The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is all about thinking if you can do something, and it actually being possible. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s systemic gameplay is unbelievable.
The thing about games like Tears of the Kingdom, is that each person’s experience can vary so much, and I purposely ignored just about everything I could since launch day. I remember discovering so many amazing things while playing Breath of the Wild, and I’m glad I managed playing through Tears of the Kingdom mostly unspoiled and without knowing what to expect. In a world where everything is a Google search away, experiencing Tears of the Kingdom without looking things up (for the most part) definitely helped. I did check in what Nintendo added or fixed when updates were released to write about patches though.
Muscle memory has been quite the annoyance in Tears of the Kingdom. It took me a good dozen or so hours before I stopped treating this like Breath of the Wild, and moved into thinking about traversal and puzzles through the lens of someone with Recall, Ascend, and Ultrahand. The new abilities are a joy to use, but it is beyond mind-blowing just what is possible with the Ultrahand building ability. You even unlock another ability later on that improves your building abilities further. I can’t get over just how many systems are in play here, and also how Nintendo clearly thought things through to allow players to finish the game without interacting with a lot of said systems. This must have been a QA nightmare of a game.
Barring Hyrule itself, you can now go up into the sky through Recall on blocks that have fallen from the sky, and also dive into the depths from different parts of the map. The former was a joy to explore, but I’m actually surprised at how much fun I had exploring the depths. There is too much down there, and I really think Nintendo shipped two and a half games with Tears of the Kingdom instead of one full game. This game is incredible and insanely packed with quality content.
In addition to improving on the systems and mechanics of Breath of the Wild while also bringing in new areas to explore, the side quests surprised me. Hyrule feels like a living and breathing world that reacts to Link changing and evolving over the story. NPCs you interact with feel like they are part of the world rather than just being a means to an end for a dumb reward. They react to you as the story progresses, and I can’t recall a world that has felt this lively since The Witcher 3.
Breath of the Wild was essentially a Wii U game also released on Switch. I was curious about what we’d see with Tears of the Kingdom when it comes to its visuals and performance. Having played Breath of the Wild on the launch Switch, Tears of the Kingdom on the OLED model looks incredible. The aesthetic is superb, but the new character designs and the animation work in the game are the real highlights aside from the gorgeous new locations. I remember thinking I’d spend some time on building Link up a bit before exploring, but Tears of the Kingdom’s open world(s) made sure I spent dozens of hours before even attempting to progress the main quests. It is just unbelievably fun to explore and try to break the in-game systems only to be rewarded with finding a new solution for future use.
I’ve never tried to hide my disappointment with the music of Breath of the Wild, but I’m glad Tears of the Kingdom’s execution of that style worked out better. Zelda music is a very big part of my enjoyment with the games, with games like A Link Between Worlds having top tier music, so Breath of the Wild’s more atmospheric and subtle music didn’t stick with me outside the game. Tears of the Kingdom’s additions to that style, new compositions, and arrangements on older songs make it a much more cohesive soundtrack that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit outside the game.
If you enjoyed the sandbox in Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom is a generational leap and one that will keep you busy for years to come. I feel like we’ve already reached the point we were three years after Breath of the Wild launched where I saw people post crazy clips on Twitter, only now they are crazy contraptions and inventions that work in-game and show how much Nintendo planned ahead with the systems in Tears of the Kingdom.
Tears of the Kingdom isn’t a story-driven game. I didn’t expect it to be one either after Breath of the Wild, but I love whatever story bits were added here, especially towards the end. The ending sequence in Tears of the Kingdom might just be one of the best in any recent game, and a truly magnificent conclusion to a superlative game. One thing I want to highlight is I never ran into anything that annoyed me like the Yiga Clan hideout segment in Breath of the Wild. Nintendo really seems to have just gone into my head and addressed whatever problems I had with Breath of the Wild to deliver a generation-defining experience with Tears of the Kingdom.
Given the scale and systems in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I wasn’t surprised at all to encounter some performance issues. The fact that a game like this runs and looks as good as it does right now on Switch hardware, is unbelievable. My main complaints with it right now have to do with the inconsistent voice acting. That was also one of my two complaints in Breath of the Wild, but I feel like this was the chance for Nintendo to rectify that given everything else being a massive upgrade over the first game.
If you didn’t enjoy Breath of the Wild, there’s a good chance Tears of the Kingdom isn’t for you. There is a chance Tears of the Kingdom will click though, thanks to its temples, massively improved exploration, and new abilities. If you, like me, were disappointed in the music of Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom is a lot better in that department as well. If the shrines and durability in Breath of the Wild turned you off, you still have to deal with them. I never had a problem with durability, but I like the fuse ability being a good compromise. Shrines are still very important, but I enjoyed them here more than I did in Breath of the Wild.
As someone who owns four different versions of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I still don’t consider it a perfect game or one that I would score a 10 despite loving it. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on the other hand, is an easy 10 and Nintendo’s best game yet. It is a masterpiece in just about every aspect.
I don’t really comment on a game’s price point unless something feels dramatically overpriced or underpriced. A lot has been said about the price increase to $70 from $60 for a lot of games, and while I’ve bought many $70 games since 2020, only The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Final Fantasy 16 have managed to actually feel like they are worth that price in spades for me. Both also ended up releasing within a month of each other which makes it even funnier. I’ve also been playing a lot of Zelda since launch, and it overlapped with my review playthroughs of Final Fantasy 16. It has been interesting seeing the different focus for both games, which have ended up being personal Game of the Year contenders.
If you own a Nintendo Switch, you need to buy this. While my experience with Breath of the Wild definitely affected how much I enjoyed seeing things change in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, hopefully my review also helped you decide if this is for you as a newcomer to the franchise. It may not be the best standalone game, but it is Nintendo’s best game yet. Back in 2017, a lot of folks thought Nintendo would never be able to outdo itself after launching Zelda, Xenoblade, Super Mario Odyssey, and more. I think the publisher is having its best year yet with 2023 delivering Fire Emblem Engage, Metroid Prime Remastered, Bayonetta Origins, Advance Wars, and Tears of the Kingdom.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is out now worldwide on Nintendo Switch.