I was surprisingly nonplussed by The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom while going through the tutorial island. The first tutorial shrine was fine; it gave me a power that let me move stuff around, which seemed useful enough, and to stick things together, which sounded fine as long as I wasn’t constantly having to build large structures? I was more dubious about power I got in the second tutorial shrine, though: it let me fuse stuff to my weapons to make them stronger or to change their functionality. And I didn’t really see how having to fuse stuff to strengthen my weapons was an improvement over just having the weapon strength already balanced in a way that worked well to fight enemies; I wasn’t particularly in a mood to be experimenting with weapon powers to do weird stuff, either.

Traveling to the third tutorial shrine didn’t improve my mood: the environment wasn’t pleasant to travel through in the way that Breath of the Wild was, my encounter with some enemies didn’t do anything to allay my worries about the fuse power, and the ways in which I had to assemble stuff from the environment were okay I guess but not something that I wanted to be constantly encountering. Still, I made it through the rest of the tutorial island, and, after watching some narrative, reached the mainland.


I landed in Hyrule Field not too far from the central town, so I headed towards town. Which also wasn’t great, in a different way. The first problem was that Hyrule Field is actually one of the most boring parts of the map: there’s just not enough variance in terrain and height for the remarkable charms of the Breath of the Wild map to manifest themselves here. And the second problem was that I walked past this big hole that was surrounded by ground that would hurt me if I walked on it; the hole wasn’t particularly inviting, and I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of a Zelda map where ground that damages you was a key mechanic.

Not a big deal, though; and I made it to the central town, got some pointers as to what was going on and what I should be doing, got a map of my surroundings, and got my glider. Which is exactly what I want: improved navigation possibilities plus a bit of guidance as to where to go next.

If I’m remembering correctly, one of the initial nudges sent me back to that hole; I jumped down it, and it was fine but not great? The hole didn’t lead to a cave, this was a whole underground layer of the map that’s the same size as the ground layer. But it’s darker; you unlock the map (simultaneously lighting it up) in much smaller chunks; there’s dangerous ground all over the place; and there are these walls that are tall enough and/or covered enough with dangerous ground that I actually wasn’t sure if the underground area was all (or mostly) connected up or if it was a bunch of isolated separate areas that each had their own entrance hole.

So: not wonderful, though the flow of seeing a lightroot in the distance, traveling towards it and having to navigate the darkness as you get there, and then getting to the lightroot and lighting up / mapping a decent-sized chunk of your surroundings is a flow that has something to recommend it. But I missed the joys of traveling the land, and enemy encounters got on my nerves even more here than up above. (I’d decided that I’d deal with my annoyance with weapons fusion and how that affected combat by mostly avoiding enemies; a little harder down here, but still entirely workable.)


Once I got past that, though (and some more intro stuff, like the initial sync up with the team at the castle): wow, Breath of the Wild was a great great game, and basically all of that goodness is here too. I’d pick my next quest and start heading in that direction; but while doing that, I’d see something a off of the side of my track that caught my eye and I’d head over to it. And I’d do that over and over again, and, well, I’d make it to where I was going by the end of the evening, but in the meantime I’d probably have solved five shrines, turned on one sky tower, helped a wandering signpost person prop up his signs four times, found a stable, and three koroks.

And that is all so much fun. The shrine puzzles are really solid; I wasn’t necessarily super sold on gluing stuff together while wandering through the world, but put me in a shrine where I have to do that and I’m happy. So I was becoming a fan of that ability, and of the that lets you rise through the ceiling. (Not so much of the other two abilities, though; I’ve played through the whole game now and I’m still not a particular fan of either fusing or reversing objects in time, though I’m much more at peace with fusing than I was initially.) The signpost person was a pleasantly absurd addition to the puzzles the game throws at you, too.

It’s not just that traveling through Tears of the Kingdom is fun, though: it’s that it’s pleasant going through the world; life-affirming, even. I felt at home, at peace, like I was taking a walk through nature when playing Breath of the Wild, and that setting is powerful enough that it can easily support another game.


I could give more of a travelogue, but honestly, we’ve now arrived at the core of my feelings about Tears of the Kingdom. It’s Breath of the Wild with a different mix of special powers, and with a sky layer and an underground layer added to the map.

And that means that the core experience is still flat-out wonderful. I spend most of my time on the ground layer of the map; it absolutely had not grown old. The new powers were fine, even good; I liked some more than others, but honestly the powers in Breath of the Wild weren’t fabulous either, there’s nothing special about being able to conjure bombs out of think air!

If Tears of the Kingdom had leaned harder into having you constantly constructing stuff from items at hand, then I wouldn’t have liked that so much, because it’s simply not what I want out of a Zelda game. (No judgment there, if it is your thing then great, in other contexts it might even be my thing too, but not here.) But the game didn’t force me to go deeper with that than I wanted; and the powers worked very well for shrine puzzles. I actually appreciated the way the powers played out in shrines: even when the set of items is limited enough that there’s one clear path to a solution (which isn’t always the case), there’s enough roughness in how items glue together for the solutions to feel surprising and personal.

That’s all good; but there are also these two other layers to the map. And neither one has a tenth of the joy that the ground level has. Sky islands don’t even try to have an organic feel, and they’re way too small to give you room to explore and be surprised at what’s over the next hill. The underground area is too dark; and even when you have it lit up, it’s much less satisfying than the ground layer on a pure traversal mechanics level, on the metric of quantity of surprises that you find, and on the level of how organic it (doesn’t) feel.


So, to me, Tears of the Kingdom is no Breath of the Wild. I mean, that’s not true: a third of the map and probably eighty percent of my time spent was on something that literally is Breath of the Wild! But Tears of the Kingdom took two big swings beyond that: the new powers, and the new map layers. The new powers were a success (though not as wild a success for me as they were for some people); the new map layers were honestly just fine or even good compared to the standards of a regular video game, but compared to Breath of the Wild, they were a noticeable downgrade.

Still a wonderful game, though.

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