The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is 10/10
Published on , 2171 words, 8 minutes to read
2023 has been full of bangers in the video game department. There have been so many good games that have been released this year that it's difficult to actually rate any of them. Much less coming up with a game that is, "the game of the year". One of the most frustratingly difficult games to rate has been this year's release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
Don't get me wrong here. This is actually a really good game on its own rights. This game is S tier, generation defining, and probably one of the best games ever made. The main problem with trying to rate this game is that it's so easy to compare it to the previous release the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It is not fair to the developers or to the user experience to compare the two games, but they are so similar that it's almost impossible not to.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the fire that the industry needed in order to make open world games fun again. You can see such a stark difference in the types of open world games that have been developed and released before Breath of the Wild came out and after Breath of the Wild came out. The development team behind Breath of the Wild redefined open-world games so much that it's difficult to express how they used to be. Even though they were called "open world" games, they were really just a railroaded set of instructions on how to free different parts of the place from some nebulous oppressor.
Breath of the Wild changed this. It was a truly open world game. It is not open world as in you had freedom of movement between objectives. It is open world as in you are dumped into Hyrule with little to no context of what's going on and told to kill Ganon. If you wanted to, you could immediately get through the tutorial and then run to the castle to kill Ganon in thirty minutes. It takes a lot of restraint in order to give the player that much freedom.
It is a game that does not drown you in tutorials or "Mega Man, Mega Man, you have to shoot the enemy with your Mega Buster!" It simply dumps you into the world, gives you stuff, and shows you that you must figure it all out for yourself.
After several hundred hours in Breath of the Wild, I have really come to appreciate this game. It is going to be a special game in my heart for a long time. It is the defining game of the Switch generation.
This year, Nintendo finally released the sequel to Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom after a seven year wait. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, takes all of the basic systems from Breath of the Wild and then enhances them so much that it's almost a completely separate game.
In the process of developing this game, Nintendo fixed core aspects of interactive world physics like gear interaction. Most of the stuff that Nintendo casually does in this game is either impossible or almost unsolved problems in other facets of the gaming industry. You are able to assemble vehicles that you can ride around without the vehicles flying apart or turning into physics cannons.
They made the user experience of the game so good that it fades away to nothing and feels like it should have just been that way the entire time. This allows them to have a very subtle design that is very effective for the kind of game they are trying to make, but because it is so subtle it ends up looking shallow compared to its older brother.
In a difficulty sense, Tears of the Kingdom rests between Breath of the Wild's normal mode, and master mode from the DLC. When you step into the world of Hyrule for the first time, you feel utterly powerless. Relatively minor threats kill you instantly if you're not careful. Your early weapons are disposable and the game reminds you of that constantly by taking them away from you almost as soon as you get them. It is simultaneously all the best parts of open world games and Dark Souls put into one. In order to survive, you must be clever. You must take the systems that you are given and use them to your advantage in order to thrive.
And then they give you systems that allow you to break the game in amazing ways while still retaining balance. One of the main examples of this is the Fuse ability. Fuse lets you connect objects to your weapons, arrows, and shields.
This is a very subtle tool that allows you to get away with a lot of crazy things. One of the main weaknesses of Breath of the Wild was the lack of variety in weapons. There were a bunch of archetypes of weapons and some minor ways that they could be modified. But realistically there were only 40 weapons in the entire game. Some of those weapons were useful, others were situational, some were obviously joke weapons. But overall, everybody had the same build by the end of the game.
Tears of the Kingdom expands Link's arsenal through a method that can only be described as combinatorial explosion. If you have a wooden stick and a Korok leaf, you can combine them to create a weapon that allows you to blow away enemies; much like the Korok leaf from the first game, except you can make this one single-handed.
As an example, consider how the Korok leaf works in Breath of the Wild.
This weapon is a random drop from trees when you cut them down. It is a situational tool that led to you blow away enemies off of cliffs and kill them instantly, but when you hit enemies with it, it only does one damage. One of the main annoyances about pulling this thing out is that it's a two-handed weapon, so you can't have a shield active. This means that this weapon is simultaneously overpowered and balanced because you can use it to do amazing things situationally.
Now consider the same weapon in Tears of the Kingdom. In tears of the kingdom, the Korok leaf is not a bespoke weapon, it is a part that can be fused to other weapons. Including arrows.
This is a very subtle change that allows you to get away with a lot of fun. Before you could only use the Korok leaf to blow away enemies that were close to you. But now that you can attach them to arrows, you can use them to blow away enemies from anywhere. If you attach it to a wooden stick, you now have the ability to blow away enemies without giving up your shield.
Now consider this level of customization but for everything in the game. This means that everybody's endgame build is entirely different.
One of the other big things that they fixed in tears of the kingdom was Link's movement. Breath of the Wild has a fantastic movement system. A lot of the time when you're playing the game, you don't even notice that there's a movement system involved. However, when you get to the point where you beat the first dungeon, you unlock the ability called Revali's Gale. This allows you to create a jetstream that pushes you upward and makes a lot of the climbing irrelevant.
I'm not going to deny, this change does actually make the game a bit more fun in a lot of ways. It removes a lot of the boring parts of climbing. It means that it's easier to get up taller spaces. But you end up having to wait for it to recharge. This means that a lot of your time is spent running around and waiting so that you can fly upwards again and then run around some more.
Tears of the kingdom fixes this by removing Revali's Gale and instead giving you tools that you can use to craft a better climbing build. They added sticky lizards which let you build potions that increase your adherence to surfaces. They also buffed the climbing gear so that it gives you more speed than it used to. And movement speed potions still work as normal. This makes climbing more fun than Revali's gale, but it does require a lot of work to get there.
At the same time though, they did give you the ability to make climbing even more powerful through the use of Ultrahand. Ultrahand is a tool that lets you combine objects into vehicles and then ride them. This can let you turn a couple of fans and a control stick into a hover bike that lets you fly around wherever you want.
At some level, this bike is literally just two fans, a control stick, and some clever placement. It is fairly trivial to make, very cheap in terms of the Zonaite that it costs to create it, and it is the best tool to fly around Hyrule with. But when you are using it, you are both completely defenseless and you are limited by the battery that you have.
This is much better than Revali's Gale ever was because it is not just a cheap tool that removes all of the fun of movement. This lets you finesse your own way to creating a better way to move things. This is something that you can use to create your own fun.
Now that I'm going through the motion of writing all of this out, I wonder if a lot of the reasons why I don't want to call Tears of the Kingdom one of the best games of all time is because I have nostalgia for the first game in the series. Breath of the Wild was such an amazing and expansive game that it really changed what video games mean to me. Tears of the kingdom is a fantastic game, but because of all of this nostalgia for the first game, I don't know if it's really ever going to be able to compare.
The two games complement each other perfectly. One is a sonnet of possibilities. The other is a swan song of progress. They are both amazing games in completely different ways. I will be playing both of these games for years to come, and I can't wait to eventually 100% my Tears of the Kingdom file.
- Game of the year material
- Total mechanical freedom
- Flawless execution
- Too easy to compare to Breath of the Wild
- Aging Switch hardware could use a refresh
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is my open world game of the year for 2023. It is a 10 out of 10 experience. It's something that is well worth owning and worth the $70 price tag. If you have a Switch, you should definitely pick it up. If you don't have a switch already, you should buy one just to play Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom.
Facts and circumstances may have changed since publication. Please contact me before jumping to conclusions if something seems wrong or unclear.
Tags: totk, botw, NintendoSwitch, review