“Link! You’ve defeated Calamity Ganon and saved the world from disaster! Thank you for your service. Feel free to retire to Tarry Town and live out your days in peace.” In the Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom.
It’s a few years since the events of Breath of the Wild, and apparently you haven’t saved the world at all—you’ve just postponed its downfall. So much has happened since you got rid of Mr Purple Smoke and saved Zelda from eternal boredom—I mean, from being sealed away in Hyrule Castle—and it’s up to you to figure out what and to defeat the new, more solid iteration of Ganon.
Whilst it’s not entirely necessary to have played the original to enjoy skydiving around Hyrule and smacking Bokoblins in the face, as these games are extraneously linked (heh), it would be hard to avoid comparing The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom to its predecessor. So, I’ll try to balance this review on TotK’s merits as a standalone game as well as a sequel, but I’m not making any promises.
What’s the verdict? Is it as good as BotW, or does it fall flatter than a member of the Korok Space Programme divebombing from a failed rocket?
Spoilers abound for gameplay. Minor plot spoilers.
The Blood Moon Rises Once Again
Link, the Hero of Hyrule, is back after saving his homeland from ruin at the hands of Calamity Ganon. Perhaps more importantly, you’ve saved Princess Zelda from her self-imposed imprisonment at Hyrule Castle and are now free to accompany her as you attempt to build Hyrule back to its former glory.
Apparently, that requires a trip underground to investigate the Gloom that is making everyone sick—without a gas mask or anything. Hm, yes, okay, sounds like a great and good and not stupid idea.
Weirdly enough, it does end up being a bad idea. You find a mummified Ganon bound by a disembodied arm, and somehow release him into Hyrule once again. You are weakened as the Gloom touches you—have fun with your 3 measly hearts!—and Zelda falls into a chasm and disappears.
When you arrive back to the surface, Hyrule has changed. And it’s up to you to find out how and why, and to dispel the Gloom that threatens to spread across the land.
It's a concept as old as The Legend of Zelda itself. Destroy the baddie, save the princess, and make friends along the way. TotK is both new and old: it feels like going right back to BotW again, but the same map has almost uncanny-valley differences that makes veteran players both nostalgic and excited for the new status quo.
Some may feel cheated out of a new map, areas and a fresh feel, particularly as it took a whole 6 years for the sequel to BotW to be released. Additionally, the crux of the story is similar. Once again, you must venture to the four corners of Hyrule and recruit capable warriors from the main non-Hyrulian species: the proud bird-like Rito; the peaceful aquatic Zora (best boy Prince Sidon is back and as fun as ever); the all-female, battle-ready, desert-dwelling Gerudo; and the jolly, mighty rock Gorons. This has the potential to be repetitive, and could be taken as an easy way for the developers to build character and story without too much effort.
In my opinion, it actually makes Hyrule seem real. These are real people, with homelands and a tie to this world that cannot be disputed. It wouldn’t make sense for the Gerudo to be absent any more than it would for Sidon to abandon his fishy fiancée and beg Link to be his new queen (sigh). And it’s incredibly fun to see old faces as well as explore how the different corners of Hyrule have changed since smoky Calamity Ganon threatened to give everyone asthma.
One thing I would suggest would be to mix up the main quest towns a little. Why couldn’t the Zora have relocated to Lurelin Village, for example, whilst the troubles in their domain were taken care of? Lurelin was one of the places in BotW that was easily skippable if you didn’t have a thorough sense of wanderlust. This remains the same in TotK, other than a swash-buckling (optional!) side quest. I get that the Zelda series thrives off epic, multi-layered side quests, but for the sake of the sequel, it would have freshened things up a bit more.
Same Hyrule, New Treats
Hyrule is vivid and beautiful. The sunset-tinted vistas appreciated whilst standing on the top of the Hebra Mountains or Mount Lanayru are screenshot-worthy every time. Rivers and oceans sparkle in the moonlight, and areas like the Forgotten Temple and the Seven Heroine Statues are daunting in their immensity. All of the incredible things you see in the distance make you want to travel into the horizon and get lost in the very best way.
The main “criticism” of the graphics is that they’re not much different from BotW.
Whilst this may very well be a benefit (especially considering the lag and rendering issues that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet suffered from just a few months ago), it means there’s not much new ground to tread. So, let’s chat about the world that TotK expands upon.
I travelled to Satori Mountain quite early on in my playthrough. This is because I recalled the awe that washed over me the first time I visited its cherry blossom tree at night in BotW and laid eyes on the elusive God of the Mountain. I was immediately rewarded for my return in TotK, as this magical hidden glade now holds more to its mystery. Solve a puzzle, and beams of light will erupt across the area.
My curiosity spiked. I had to glide over and see exactly what they were marking.
Caves and wells have emerged all over the place, giving more depth to the world. But this is just a tiny taste of the new content added to Hyrule. Now you can look to the skies and find floating archipelagos to explore, with advanced technology, ancient tablets, and a host of new puzzles and enemies.
That’s not all. Fissures with Gloom spiralling out of them like shadowy tentacles have erupted out of the ground, meaning you can now explore the Depths. This almost pitch-black expanse has you fighting bioluminescent enemies, gathering glowing Poe, and slowly lighting the map by finding Lightroots—much like Skyview Towers, but more numerous. You’ll also find some old foes lurking in temples ready to take you out. Most incredibly, the Depths span the same surface area as that of the Hyrule we all know and love. Suddenly, the world is a whole lot bigger than it seemed.
Some players may find it repetitive, but once you notice that the parts of the underworld mirror the surface, you may find surveying both a little easier…
Top tip: bring plenty of Brightbloom Seeds or Bright Elixirs to help guide your way, or you might bump into some angry new enemies.
These new areas at the surface, below ground, and in the sky bring new characters and enemies. Rauru, the first King of Hyrule, is a charming goat man who has kept Ganon trapped for thousands of years. You can now fight families of Bokoblins, led by big boy Bosses who command their troops with war trumpets. Giant three-headed elemental dragons, Gleeoks, now roam the land and the sky, challenging even the most experienced players.
And, my god, the Gloom Hands. If you haven’t yet watched the sky turn red and known for sure that it’s too early for a Blood Moon, you don’t know true fear.
TotK manages to make the landscapes, areas, and people and monsters feel beautiful, fresh and exciting without having to change up the graphics. That’s a win in my book.
Shrines. Temples. Bosses. If you’ve played a Zelda game, you’ll know ‘em well.
But have you ever crucified a Korok?
The biggest change from BotW is the new abilities Link receives as a perk of having Rauru’s perfectly manicured arm strapped to his torso. Recall stops time so you can control a moving object, sending it back to its original position—a great way to solve puzzles or hurl a thrown rock back in a grumpy Moblin’s face. Ascend allows you to fly up and through solid objects, sometimes to incredible heights. This means that the removal of Revali’s Gale (which created a wind tunnel to allow Link to soar into the sky) is justified. Fuse is also useful, as you can attach monster parts, Zonai devices, and even other weapons to your weapons and shields, helping them pack more of a punch.
However, the most innovative plays are a result of Ultrahand and Autobuild. Ultrahand allows you to attach building materials like planks, wheels, fans, rockets, cannons, and steering devices together to invent vehicles, helping you cross oceans, fields, and the sky faster. You can erect supportive structures, make barriers, or even construct nightmarish weapons to take out your enemies. Autobuild then saves your useful and/or twisted creations for rapid reconstruction.
Thus, you can create a crucifix and stick a backpacked Korok (or six) onto it and set it alight. If you want to be more entrepreneurial, you can create an autonomous weapon by affixing a Flame Emitter to a Construct Head. Link, the Committer of War Crimes.
Speaking of Koroks, you’ll be excited (or dismayed) to know that Hestu and his poop-giving pals are back. When you’re not tormenting them, you once again have to find 900 across Hyrule to incrementally expand your inventory. Some puzzles are similar, such as lifting suspiciously-placed stones or shooting at balloons. Others involve more creativity, such as helping the backpacking Koroks who have been separated from their buddy. This usually involves strapping a wiggly little wood boy onto a crudely made vehicle and launching them off a hill or across a lake in the hopes they won’t fall into a ravine. These are more of a challenge, but at least you get 2 Korok seeds instead of 1 for your troubles.
And, of course, you can bully to your heart’s content.
Getting To Grips With Gameplay
The abilities in the sequel are so much more flexible and can lead to even more mind-bending solutions and builds than anyone without an engineering degree could imagine—just open up TikTok for undeniable proof. Shrines are a clever way to encourage creativity in your builds by forcing you to solve the puzzles using the Zonai devices available throughout Hyrule.
I also vastly prefer the Temples in TotK to the Divine Beasts in BotW. Sure, the mechanical lizard, elephant, camel and bird were interesting concepts. But a huge part of solving these puzzles involved rotating the beast whilst you were inside it to find new paths and passageways. My brain sadly doesn’t work that way. It’s the same issue I have when erecting cardboard boxes IRL.
Whilst this review isn’t about BotW’s flaws, it’s necessary to highlight them here to show exactly why I prefer the Temples. Not only are they a stellar return to Zelda form, but they have more established themes, such as Water and Wind. They also don’t involve turning Link on his head. Result!
Finally, I must touch on combat. The Fuse ability makes retaining weapons much easier, which is fantastic, but the combat is very similar to that of BotW. Master the art of parrying, then you’re good to go…unless you’re surrounded by hordes of enemies at once. Then it’s probably safer to find a vantage point and chuck Bomb Flowers with wild abandon.
Or just create a massive Gundam out of Zonai devices and watch as every monster in Hyrule gets eviscerated by laserbeams.
Tears Of The…Side Characters
The joy of TotK isn’t necessarily in the story—though Link does need to have a reason to traverse the world, find shrines, and run away from Lynels for 100 hours. It’s aLl iN tHe JoUrnEy.
Side quests are an enormous part of the Zelda franchise. Just think back to the huge side quest chain in Majora’s Mask, where you have to reunite the anguished lovers, Anju and Kafei, with precise planning, mind-boggling time manipulation, and a huge amount of effort. Or, think about how much resources and people you had to gather together to build an entire village in BotW, or about saving the rich family from perpetual captivity in Skulltula bodies in Ocarina of Time. And they’re all completely skippable.
A fantastic side adventure to highlight in TotK (without spoilers!) is “Team Cece or Team Reede”. You are tasked with helping to resolve the mayoral election held in Hateno, where the current Mayor Reede is challenged by local mushroom fashionista Cece. By going down this rabbit hole, you must explore all the nooks and crannies fan favourite town Hateno has to offer—and you get a fantastic reward at the end for completing all the linked quests.
Well, maybe the reward is subjective.
It's a great example of yet another Zelda side quest that allows you to take a break from the main story and take in the quirky characters, unique areas, and the little intricacies that drive the communities throughout the land. Once again, Hyrule feels so alive.
All this isn’t to say that the main story of TotK is irrelevant. It’s just few and far between, with the story pushing forward as Link goes to the different towns and villages around Hyrule…and when he spies Geoglyphs emblazoned into the hillsides of Hyrule.
Instead of going to specific locations snapped in pictures in your Sheikah Slate like in BotW, this time you need to find these white renditions of important figures to flesh out the backstories of Rauru, his wife Sonia, Zelda, and Ganon. The Tears aren’t as hard to locate as the Memories in BotW—at least you know you’re in the right place once you find a Geoglyph. It’s a less frustrating system, and cleverly connects TotK’s emphasis on natural exploration with the main storyline.
Top tip #1: go to a Skyview Tower or jump off a sky island to make locating these Geoglyphs much easier. Paradoxically, they’re so big it’s surprisingly easy to miss them if you happen upon them at ground level.
Top tip #2: if you visit the Forgotten Temple in Tanagar Canyon, maybe finding these Geoglyphs could be made a bit easier…
TotK is a fantastic sequel to a beloved game that was formative for many players. The freedom that the developers gave to us in BotW has skyrocketed in TotK, as now we not only need to contend with the open world, but above and below it. They have also thoughtfully provided us with the opportunity to get our very own engineering degree—or simply play around with some fun gadgets and traverse the world, happy to ignore Zelda for just a few hours more.
It's a great game that many players will put hundreds of hours into. And hopefully, this time, Ganon might actually stay defeated. Stranger things have happened.