The newest Zelda game, out for a week now, has me enthralled. Maybe you’ve heard a few accolades for Tears of the Kingdom already, like: masterpiece, game of the year, amazing. It’s for real. Somehow the wizards at Nintendo made an outstanding follow-up to Breath of the Wild. And I’ve barely scratched its surface. Mostly spoiler-free thoughts follow.
When TotK was yet to be released, I wondered how it could be better than BotW. Since Breath of the Wild was a title for the Wii U1 — on which I played the game — I speculated if Nintendo would make TotK look better or run smoother on the Switch. Then I asked myself which I would rather have, given the power of the Switch over the Wii U: a better looking BotW, or a bigger one?
I chose the latter, hoping that Nintendo would make Breath of the Wild, big as it was, even bigger, using the extra power of the Switch to create a more expansive world map with more areas to explore. Since open-world exploration in BotW is one of its defining features, why not have much more?
To my astonishment, that’s exactly what Nintendo did. It made the TotK world bigger than ever before. Compared to BotW, my guess: it’s at least double in size and scope! Now I know why Nintendo took about 6 years to develop the game.
Better still, not only is the world vastly larger, it’s surprisingly rich, robust, and detailed. What I say next might be, at worst, a minor spoiler: there are, um, caves in TotK, not just an overworld. And these caves aren’t just holes or voids in the side of a hill, with nothing more than boring stone walls that lead to dead ends. I won’t spoil things, so let me just say they’re much much much more than that. Yes, three much’s is accurate.
That’s one reason why I’m so immersed in the game. There’s so much to explore and discover, so much mystery to solve, and simply so much more to do, especially with Link’s new special abilities. For example, Ultrahand by itself is a ton of fun. Manipulating various objects to assemble working contraptions involves creativity and imagination. So cool!
Moreover, the devices you make, while fun by themselves, are means to ends. Some help you traverse the world. Some help you defeat enemies. And others are tools to solve mind-engaging puzzles. Because of the creativity, I don’t know if this will ever get old. It’s like a pile of Lego where you can endlessly build and rebuild just about anything your brain thinks of. Of course, part of the attraction is the challenge of some inherent limitations, or what I call design constraints. Seeing what you can invent with few given objects amidst the in-game physics engine tests your ingenuity. Even failure is sometimes funny because you’re never quite sure how something you build will turn out. Results are typically surprising.
Also, I die a lot. The “Game Over” screen is a familiar feature. TotK is more difficult than BotW. Yet that’s a good thing.
Overall, sometimes I’m running and scurrying from one point to the next, trying to absorb all the game world offers along the way. Other times I’m strolling through a forest, taking in the environmental sights and sounds. Whatever I’m doing in the game, I’m always enjoying it. I have to make myself stop playing most times; it’s so easy to just keep going, with one more thing to do, one more travel point to see.
So yeah, Nintendo nailed it with Tears of the Kingdom. It exceeds my expectations. And I’ve yet to follow much of the story, which I hear is also better than BotW. This game keeps on giving; I’m trying to take it all in.
What do you think?