| Tags: Reviews
| Author Timo Reinecke
Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Review – A Journey Worth the Wait?
Here is ESTNNs Zelda Tears of the Kingdom Review. Was the long wait really worth it? Or is it just Breath of the Wild³? We've spent a casual 50+ hours in Hyrule to bring you this review.
After spending a week day in and day out traveling Hyrule, I still find it hard to put the experience into words. While it is easy to get swept up in all the excitement around Nintendo's new Zelda game, I'm still on edge with many things.
It is the sequel to Breath of the Wild, with all its magical moments and more. A sandbox that has now been squared in scale, scope, and function while also inheriting most of its shortcomings.
Many of the things I'm feeling now settled in after most of the exciting discoveries have been made and I kinda fell into the post-game cleanup trance that starts to feel more and more like a chore.
So what was this journey about? Has it been good? Let's try and figure that out in this review.
Zelda Tears of the Kingdom is set a few years after the events of Breath of the Wild. After the victory over Calamity Ganon, Hyrule has started to recover from its wounds and its people are trying to rebuild.
Admists those reconstruction efforts, several people fall ill thanks to an ominous gloom that slowly saps peoples life's away. Princess Zelda and Link are sent to investigate its cause, only to find out that their quest of fighting Ganon is far from over.
I want to talk about the intro section specifically, without spoiling much but Zelda Tears of the Kingdom makes such a strong first showing in its opening act that it deserves special praise.
And it's so simple, our heroes descend down decrepit ruins with little hints of things to come. An evil miasma swirls around them and the music builds while you slowly realize what evil had been sleeping underneath Hyrule Castle.
Link and Zelda are then separated after both are overwhelmed by the ancient evil they awakened from its long slumber and suddenly the stakes are sky-high… and then the story takes a backseat so you can learn how to make a raft and hilariously long bridges.
I wanted to illustrate this specifically because it is a microcosm of my biggest gripe with Tears of the Kingdom, it gets in its own way a lot.
The game is almost obsessed with making sure that you're always in control and that the adventure is what you make of it. Breath of the Wild suffered from a similar issue, only it didn't put as much of a focus on the story as Zelda Tears of the Kingdom does.
But we're gonna reel back to this in a bit, instead, let's talk Gameplay.
Links New Bag of Tricks
If Breath of the Wild's Sheikah Slate was an attempt to turn your classic Zelda items for puzzle solving into smartphone apps, the new Ultrahand and its new abilities are a straight upgrade to that.
I don't know why Nintendo thought that the natural evolution of physics puzzles was to create the Korok Space Program, but I appreciate them the more for it.
The Ultrahand allows you to combine objects with each other. Not just conveniently placed pieces of wood, rocks, and weird ancient sci-fi inventions. You can combine every object with each other.
Fuse a few planks of wood together, and you have a bridge, add some wheels you have a car and add some rockets and you can claim the sky. Just be aware that what goes up usually comes down.
Normal games would just make this their standout feature, the amount of stuff you can combine and then mechanize with your little battery pack is already overwhelming. But it doesn't stop there.
You have three more abilities.
Ascend allows you to swim through solid matter as long as there is a surface Link can stand on top of it. This works on everything. Even impossibly long, floating tree trunks.
Recall allows you to rewind the physics of any object by 30ish seconds. This means you can rewind rocks that have fallen out of the sky to make a skylift or throw projectiles back at enemies. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Then there is Fuse, the ability to attach objects to your weapons and shields. At first, it also seems very basic, put something sharp on the end of your stick to hit harder or attach a bomb to your arrow to get bomb arrows.
This becomes more involved when you attach a cart to your shield to create a skateboard or put a mushroom on the end of your spear to send enemies flying. And suddenly attaching something with a high attack value becomes less of a priority.
On their own, all these tools work well for combat or puzzle solving and in general to give the gameplay of Breath of the Wild established a new spin. But the way those things combine with each other is really a sight to behold.
If Breath of the Wild was a survival game set in a huge explorable open world, Tears of the Kingdom turns that open-world into your playground. The way it just lets you do things and find your own solutions to puzzles is one of its biggest strengths.
And in concept, all of it is flawlessly executed.
The only gripe here is just how all of it controls. If you want to fire a barrage of fire arrows by attaching a fruit to your arrows, you need to do so for every single one. It wouldn't be so annoying to use if the game wouldn't freeze every time you bring up that menu.
A similar thing occurs when you switch between the abilities of your Ultrahand. It makes trying to react in the heat of a moment very cumbersome, even if it only takes seconds. And I wish there was some kind of quick-select option or shortcut for it.
This brings us also to combat!
The Fight for Hyrule
Combat is still largely unchanged from Breath of the Wild, you still smack enemies around with an assortment of melee weapons. The only difference now is the array of weapon effects you can make use of.
Just like in Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom's combat shines when you get to combine all its tools with a variety of weapons and items. And those are the clips you'll see pop up on twitter and youtube.
And who doesn't want to rocket surf over a group of enemies, only to quickly headshot each of them and go in for the kill with the throw of a bomb?
It's moments like those when the combat shines. When it feels like you're coming up with something amazing on the spot that only you could pull off at that moment.
But knowing myself and other gamers and their bad habits, I reckon most of us will probably hoard all our resources for that one time we'll actually need it, even if that moment will never come.
So you'll resort to cheesing the AI which just goes straight for the attack and tries to swarm you or will snipe you from off-screen with an elemental arrow that takes off most of your health.
Credit where credit is due, the enemy variety this time around is far better than Breath of the Wilds even if most of it still boils down to “humanoid but-” territory.
But the Like Likes are a great addition whenever they aren't dangling from the ceiling and you're not out of arrows.
The odd thing about the combat system is that the more involved you get in building your instant-kill death machines, the less you'll have to do it.
Yes I know, building a machine to do combat with is still combat. But they also negate most of the “fighting the enemy”part. You can quickly build indestructible death lasers and there is nothing they can do about it. The biggest risk here is occasionally running out of battery.
This goes mostly of overworld encounters mind you, which is most of the fighting you will be doing. In caves or the occasional set piece, this becomes a bit more interesting.
The game shines here when you have to adapt on the fly and don't have access to all your usual tools. It's just that those moments are far and wide between once you put the hours in.
At some point, combat becomes an obligation outside of the occasional boss fight. Even if those also eventually turn into glorified loot dispensers.
But there is the occasional Shrine that seems to take a note from Eventide Isle's book. You get stripped of all your equipment and you have to use the stuff available to you to clear out a set number of enemies.
Not sure if this take will make sense to people, but this game that is so obsessed with giving you all the options at times is usually at its best when it limits those options.
And at some point in the mid to late game choice paralysis will set in as well and naturally, you'll just B-Line for the most effective option possible, which is usually that indestructible death laser.
But luckily, there is more to Zelda Tears of the Kingdom than combat. So what about that big open world and all the exploration?
Hyrule Between Calamities
Revisiting Hyrule after Breath of the Wild is probably one of the game's biggest strengths. It probably depends on how much you've grown attached to Hyrule and its people in the last game but seeing how everyone moved on was kinda nice.
The Hyrule of Tears of the Kingdom feels also more alive than ever. Merchants roam on roads, familiar NPCs will pop up here and there while being on their own adventure.
I always love it when games let you check in with characters after a while and with a bit of snooping around in their personal belongings, you can learn what was going on in their lives.
In some moments the game gets really close to being a transcendent experience.. it's just that those character-driven moments never last long.
Is it too much to ask that there is some extended cutscene or sequence that lets you just exist in this world with those characters? The game has charisma for days but never really capitalizes on it.
It's almost as if it expects you to get bored and run off at any moment.
Outside that, there is a huge, layered open world for you to explore. The Ubisoft towers that unveil the map are still here, but this time they at least come with fun little puzzles of their own.
There are caves to explore that basically beg you to moonlight as a gem miner with the occasional goodie to find and monster camps that mostly serve as a quick way to stock up on weapons and materials.
Shrines and Korok Seeds are also back and.. they serve the exact same purpose as they did before. Looked at it on their own, serviceable and neat little challenges. But if you go for completion.. the good grace towards them kinda burns out.
I'm not gonna spoil any of the major dungeons but the fact that all of them are just 4 shrines duct-taped together with a boss fight at the end, really rubbed me the wrong way. Visually some of them are astonishing.
But they lack the flair of the divine beasts. Often the path of getting to the dungeon is more exciting, here you get some story and unique set pieces until you fall into the same old rut.
The dungeons themselves aren't bad by any means, but they are in a game full of challenges like them they quickly fade into the primal soup that is the shrine challenges.
Wasted potential Above and Below
When first announced, the big thing about Zelda Tears of the Kingdom was supposed to be the sky island above. And while they are cool visually, they kinda just fall flat. It's just more of what you've already seen.
It gets worse when you go into one of the chasms that lead you to The Depths, an impossible huge underground map left in complete darkness.
Going through here for the first time is exciting, it is the first time since Dragons Dogma that a game managed to make being in the dark feel dangerous and part of its gameplay.
You slowly make your way towards glowing points of interest in the background, while you can barely make out what terrors wait for you in the shadows, it's amazing!
So.. why does activating the light roots down there illuminate the area map around them and take away its unique gameplay gimmick? Feels again like the game gets in its own way for some nebulous reason.
It gets even worse when you realize the only thing you find down there is upgrade materials for your battery, weapons that don't break imminently, and one side venture that actually feels like worth doing.
Both the Sky Islands and the Depths feel more like an afterthought. I'm okay with the former being a few open-world challenges that have you toy around with your tools but the latter feels grossly unutilized.
Man of the People
Breath of the Wild's biggest problem was the lack of good stories it had to tell. Sure there was the occasional quest that stood out, but most of them were pretty bland.
Tears of the Kingdom doubles down on this aspect. While sidequests are still either very localized affairs or ask you to get X, occasionally Y times. But they generally come in the shape of a good story that makes use of the Zelda franchise's timeless charm and energy.
The main story is a bit of a mixed bag however after a strong start the mystery it tries to set up falls flat. Largely due to the way the story is told. Since you can do everything in any order it feels very disjointed.
And while the self-contained stories of those regions are charming, they still left me wanting more interaction with those characters.
More often than not I was just frustrated that the game didn't utilize these characters more as it feels like there is still so much untapped potential here.
While I wasn't into Breath of the Wild's story until the DLC arrived, Tears of the Kingdom starts out strong. And it continued to deliver some great story beats but once you start putting them all together it's all over the place.
Another victim of the game's non-linear structure. Is it too much to ask for at least one of two more linear quest chains?
Zelda Tears of the Kingdom: 8.5/10
I have very conflicted emotions about Zelda Tears of the Kingdom. Those are the same feelings I had about Breath of the Wild when I first played it, it is undoubtedly the sequel to that game. Just bigger and better.
Somehow Tears of the Kingdom manages to upstage its predecessor by miles and then some but also inherits many of its flaws. And all of those can be traced back to its nonlinear structure.
The obsession with being able to do everything on your own terms this game tries to hammer home ultimately hurts the experience as a greater whole. But that doesn't mean it's all bad.
In the moment-to-moment gameplay, Zelda Tears of the Kingdom is an exciting adventure that takes you through a familiar yet different Hyrule and has the greatest mix gameplay systems of any game out there.
As a pure sandbox, it can't be beat, even if the controls can be a little clunky at times.
Sadly, the fantasy it is trying so hard to evoke ultimately falls short of its potential. If you're looking for a huge, polished adventure game that'll keep you busy for a casual 100+ hours, Zelda Tears of the Kingdom is for you.
Looking back at my adventure I'm still left somewhat unsatisfied. But now the only thing left to sate my hunger is grinding out upgrade materials for equipment and mopping up all the side quests.
But I still had a good time. And that's all that matters right?
For more Zelda Tears of the Kingdom check us out here on ESTNN