Image: Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Ollie wants to explain why Breath of the Wild will remain his go-to open-world Zelda, despite Tears of the Kingdom's improvements...

I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on and off for more than 40 hours since its launch. I know this is a pittance compared to some people, but for me, it’s a significant chunk of time. Around hour 35, however, a nagging thought was working its way into my mind and I couldn’t shake it. Now I’m at the point where I’m able to fully articulate what it was that I was feeling, though I suspect you probably won’t like it:

I’m not enjoying Tears of the Kingdom as much as Breath of the Wild.

Now, I want to clarify something before I go on. For me, Tears of the Kingdom is still undoubtedly a 10/10 experience, just like BOTW back in 2017. In many ways, it’s almost certainly a better game than its predecessor, boasting a vastly expanded world, new and improved gameplay mechanics, a more engaging plot… I could go on.

Hyrule BOTW
Hyrule, as nature intended — Image: Nintendo

The reason that I still hold Breath of the Wild in higher regard, however, is down to one thing: it’s simply a much purer experience than Tears of the Kingdom. Let me explain what I mean.

Despite the fact that newcomers can happily hop into Tears of the Kingdom with no prior knowledge, it definitely feels like this sequel — perhaps more than any other — was made specifically for those who spent the last six years roaming around the open-world Hyrule. It’s Nintendo saying “Right, you know this world from back to front, so now let’s have some fun breaking it”.

Indeed, Hyrule feels like it’s been bent and twisted even before you even set foot on the Surface. Impossibly deep Chasms puncture the landscape, Sky Islands draw your eye heavenwards, and even entire regions have been subtly — sometimes substantially — altered to subvert your expectations.

Nintendo went to great lengths to make Hyrule feel new again, and it does. Lightning doesn’t strike twice though, and for all the improvements, Tears of the Kingdom is unable — in my opinion — to match the sheer joy of traversing the much quieter, more natural Hyrule in Breath of the Wild.

This, of course, ultimately comes down to personal preference. I’ve already seen quite a few people state that they prefer Tears of the Kingdom's Hyrule specifically because it’s filled with more things to do, but for me, it honestly feels a bit overwhelming at times and ultimately detracts from my enjoyment. For every Bokoblin camp in Breath of the Wild, there’s now an additional side quest, a lost Korok, an angst-ridden Addison, a chasm, a gacha device dispenser, and more. Much more.

There’s just so much going on, and for someone who likes to sink into the experience and get completely lost, it’s almost too much. With Breath of the Wild, there were definitely distractions dotted throughout the land to pull you away from your intended destination, but they felt more natural and organic; a treasure chest hidden in the water, perhaps, or a group of statues awaiting your offering of an apple. A tempting trio of trees you notice just as you're about to glide somewhere else. The developer's masterful line-of-sight world design was dense enough to enrich your journey from A to B, but never quite dense enough to completely derail you from your task at hand.

When I’m jogging across Hyrule Field in Tears of the Kingdom, however, and happen to stumble across a bunch of Zonai devices that have been conveniently placed for me to build a hot air balloon, it fills me with anxiety. I’m clearly supposed to do something with all this, but what? I feel guilty if I bypass it because it’s obviously something that Nintendo wants me to engage with. But to me, it’s yet another distraction in a vast ocean of distractions.

All of this could simply be an effect of coming to terms with the fact that I’m getting old and somewhat set in my ways, and I’m okay with that. I have a one-year-old daughter, and that coupled with the fact that I work within such a fast-paced industry means that I relish titles that refrain from bombarding me with new ideas and distractions every two seconds. Breath of the Wild, with its calming nature and willingness to embrace a bit of peace and quiet, is still the perfect game with which to pass the time.

Quiet skies
Some peace and quiet — Image: Nintendo

Tears of the Kingdom, however, is constantly trying to win my attention, despite the fact that it had it from the moment I stepped out of the Room of Awakening. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying the individual elements — Tears of the Kingdom is a remarkable piece of software. But once the dust has settled in the weeks and months to come, it's Breath of the Wild that I'll be booting up again when I'm ready for my next adventure in Hyrule.

Do you prefer TOTK's busier Hyrule or BOTW's more tranquil take?