I usually like to keep my Switch reviews inside my little sandbox, but every once in a while a game is big enough that I need to give it more room to play around in. More than any other release in my four years of tending the SwitchArcade gardens, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom merits such a distinction. It had a seemingly insurmountable task ahead of it: follow-up on the Switch’s incredible launch title Breath of the Wild without dropping the ball. What at first seemed like it might be a quick sequel soon turned into a development period that has essentially spanned the life of the console itself. And here we are, with the game in hand. There’s no need to tease the question of if it’s good or not; I’m unconvinced the Zelda team could actually make a game that isn’t at least very good. Just where in that wide realm of ‘good’ is it, though?
Look, I’m not naïve. Checking my calendar, it’s now a good eleven days past the release date of Tears of the Kingdom. Most of the people interested enough to read this review have probably already picked the game up or at least read or watched a lot about it. Perhaps you’re looking for the iconoclast who will dare to break away from the common sentiment about this game. The person who will stand up and declare it to be a noon-thirty emperor with no clothes. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m sorry. This game is brilliant. At first, I thought it was just very good. But the more I played it, the more I liked it. At a certain point I even decided it was better than Breath of the Wild and not just in an incremental way. By the time I reached an ending (not the ending of all endings, as there are still many things I need to do outside of the main story), I found myself sitting there in sheer awe of the journey that had just come to a close.
There are some people who don’t care for Breath of the Wild. No game is for everyone, after all. I wish I could tell you that Tears of the Kingdom will bring you around, but I doubt it will. This is very much the sequel to that game, in story, mechanics, setting, and just about everything else. It adds a great deal, but all of that is building on what made Breath of the Wild what it is. That game delivered on the promise of putting the player in an incredibly detailed and interactive Hyrule, uncorking the bottle of wonder that the Zelda series manages to do every decade and change or so. That interactive Hyrule offered a lot of fascinating, well, interactions, and players have been exploring those for the last six years in detail. Tears of the Kingdom is aware of the fun people had messing around in the world of Breath of the Wild, and gives players even more ways to wreak personalized havoc.
When I was making my way through the first several hours of the game, I wondered about those added elements. I had some concerns that the Looney Tunes-style antics they opened up would hurt the verisimilitude that made Breath of the Wild so achingly beautiful at times. And you know what? They can. There are some very clever beavers out there making giant robots and drones and all kinds of wacky things that can break immersion. You have all kinds of tools at your disposal to do all kinds of silly and cool things. But it takes a fair bit of effort and smart thinking to conjure up those TikTok-able juggernauts, and if you’re anything like me you’ll probably tap out somewhere between rock-plus-stick-equals-smashy-washy and rocket-plus-Korok-equals-comedy on the ol’ inventor scale. But you can do it if you want. You can also not do it, if you don’t want.
Ultimately, what those new interaction options amount to is more flexibility in solving the many problems that the game throws your way. For everything else Breath of the Wild had going for it, I think its key selling point was that it answered the player’s question “I wonder if I can do this” with “Yes, you can” at a surprisingly high frequency. And Tears of the Kingdom adds even more ways to answer the player’s wild flights of imagination in the affirmative, which I think makes for an even better experience. Particularly once you’re out of the early areas of the game, you’ll often find yourself solving problems and trying to figure out if you did it the “right” way.
That springs from how unique your solutions can feel when there are so many options in front of you. Was your way the intended way? The real question is, was there ever meant to only be one intended way? And in this game, I think that’s clearly not the case. It feels like designers made sure there was at least one way to solve any given puzzle, but then threw in a few extra bits and bobs that could potentially generate further solutions. Link’s core set of abilities that you’re given access to after completing the tutorial area combined with the Zonai devices and the already existing Breath of the Wild mechanics create a vast sea of possibilities, and that’s half of the magic of Tears of the Kingdom‘s gameplay. The other half is that those possbilities almost never break the game in a negative way. I can’t even fathom how much testing this all took, but the pay-off is considerable.
What can I talk about? What should I talk about? Yes, Hyrule is back and the map shares a great deal with that of the previous game in broad strokes. It finds a lot of ways to change things up, and there are tons of new secrets to find via caves, wells, and so on. There are the much-publicized sky islands, and that map covers almost as much space as Hyrule itself, albeit with less turf to plant your feet on. That’s not all there is to the game, but I’m going to leave that for you to find. Suffice it to say, you don’t have to worry about there not being enough new about the game world. There’s a lot. A lot, a lot. And the more familiar you are with Breath‘s Hyrule, the more fun you’re going to have with the world of Tears of the Kingdom.
As with Breath of the Wild, the overall plot is decent but really just there to act as some glue to fit everything together. There are lots of well-made vignettes and the world itself has a lot of character and narrative elements that help it feel like it’s rich in story even while the main plot is moving along one tiny cookie at a time. There’s a lot of optional characters and story bits to find, so many that most players will probably miss a not inconsiderable number of them. It just feels like another world you’re escaping into to chill for a while, and the capacity for creating your own little misadventures in this space adds a lot of texture. Well, no different from Breath of the Wild there, I suppose.
As for the presentation, Tears of the Kingdom sometimes pushes itself past the places Breath of the Wild went, and it pays the price for it at times. While the game generally runs really well while also looking great for a Switch title, you can run into places where things get too busy and the framerate staggers. It didn’t particularly bother me, but I’m throwing it out there so that it is known. The art design is still great, and I really loved the distinctive feel of the new areas. The sound design similarly remains stellar, and it’s amazing just how well the soundtrack is able to set a variety of moods. I like the tunes in this game a lot better than those of Breath of the Wild.
At any rate, I love this game. It has everything I want in a game like this. It had me thinking about it when I went to sleep, and as soon as I woke up I thought about when I could play it during the day. I’d start my sessions with a particular goal and end up going way off course on some side quest or just to check out a point of interest, and I’d have a great time every time. Sometimes I’d be the cat that curiosity killed, but that too was fun. It made me feel like a genius. It made me feel like an idiot. It made me feel like a superhero. It made me feel like an absolute clod. It made me feel the whole spectrum of things that games can make me feel.
I don’t know, how do you even review The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom? It’s top shelf. Handily among the very best of the generation, and a decent case could be made for putting it pretty high in the list of all-timers. Unless you really didn’t care for Breath of the Wild, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t buy this. It’s dozens of hours of high-quality entertainment for most, and hundreds of hours of fun for some. An outstanding toy. A fantastic piece of art. Great in all the ways the previous game was, but somehow pushes the boat out even further in immensely satisfying ways. A genuine must-have for Switch owners, and a great reason to pick up a Switch if you somehow haven’t already.