There’s something magical about the first time you dive from the Sky to the Surface in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. That one moment feels like a complete distillation of what made Breath of the Wild feel so special to so many – the freedom, the thrill, and the scope are all captured perfectly as you careen to the surface of Hyrule. You can see just how big the world is even before you land, reminding you of just how massive the previous game was.
Somehow, Tears of the Kingdom does the impossible and makes Breath of the Wild feel like a proof of concept; it takes everything its predecessor does, improves upon every single aspect, and gives you even more freedom, an even bigger world, and tons more secrets to uncover. It’s frankly staggering and makes for an absolutely incredible experience.
Tears of the Kingdom is a sequel to Breath of the Wild in every sense of the word. The core of the game hasn’t changed. The combat is largely the same, the Surface map is (at first glance) identical, and even the structure starts off the same. But even though Hyrule might seem familiar at first, as you take your first steps across the grassy fields, you’ll notice lots of little differences. There’s a new town, new ruins, rock faces and cliffs look different, and there are dangers around every corner. There’s just enough here to make looking around Hyrule a second time feel fresh. But it’s also clear Nintendo has listened to some of the minor criticisms many had of the first game.
For one, there’s a more prevalent story this time around. We’re not going to go into any detail here, but each domain feels much more involved in the overarching narrative, and new and returning characters all get moments to shine. Not every single objective follows the exact same pattern, either. Sometimes you’ll have to solve some riddles, while others you just need to follow a friend. But every single thread leads to something new and exciting – and sometimes, to greater heights and depths than ever before.
From the sidequests to the NPCs and right down to the world itself, Tears of the Kingdom’s Hyrule, despite being the same as Breath of the Wild’s, feels much more lived in. The sidequests are a lot more interesting with even more memorable characters, events, and rewards, and there are long quest chains that also help point you in the right direction for the story, such as hinting at where to find a missing item. We’d be remiss to spoil any, but rest assured that Tarrey Town is again home to one of the most rewarding of the bunch.
The Sky, where you start your adventure, feels completely different from the sprawling exploration-encouraging world of the Surface. Made up of small collections of islands that are spread across a huge space, these house little puzzles and challenges. There’s a real thrill to discovering a new island, whether it’s just a treasure chest or a challenging miniboss.
But there’s something the developer has been keeping close to its chest – a sprawling, dark underbelly hidden beneath Hyrule. While much more sparse than the Surface, the Depths challenges your navigation skills and survivability as you weave your way around extremely dangerous enemies and puddles of black and red sludge that inflicts Gloom, a new status effect that temporarily reduces your maximum hearts. We’re going to avoid the obvious FromSoftware comparison, but it’s a nerve-wracking experience and feels entirely unlike anything else in either this game or its predecessor.
Visually, Tears of the Kingdom builds on Breath of the Wild’s lovely art style but, with this sequel being built for the Switch alone, you can spot all of the extra detail that’s been painted onto the world. Mountains are much more detailed, and there’s a wider variety of environments across the whole game, leading to some truly beautiful shots, particularly in the skies above Hyrule. Some music returns from Breath of the Wild, but we’re delighted that there are tons of new songs and arrangements in this sequel, some of which are utterly gorgeous and brought a tear to our eyes. It made coming to this new, bigger version of “home” that much more special.
Exploring any of these three maps is like opening multiple giant toy chests and figuring out what to do with your new tools to get there. Your four new abilities – Ultrahand, Fuse, Ascend, and Recall – crack open a world of possibilities in terms of combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving. Accidentally dropped a platform you’re trying to set in the air? Recall it. Can’t climb up a cliff overhang? Ascend through it. Can’t get over lava? Use Ultrahand to make the most audacious Zelda-style monster truck ever. Or just stick together some slate and wheels and settle for that.
In some ways, Hyrule is easier to get around than ever before, but those small changes that we hinted at above mean there are often new problems to circumnavigate using your new toys. We found nothing more liberating than seeing something on the ground and knowing we can just fuse it to any of our unfused weapons, shields, or arrows. Lizalfos tails look ridiculous but they increase your weapon’s range like a whip, and yes, you can hit enemies with a beehive sword and it’s hilarious. Chuchu jelly is actually useful now, adding elemental properties to arrows, while the plethora of monster parts can increase your attack power tenfold. The possibilities are bursting at the seams at all times, but in a way that feels manageable.
Of all of the new abilities, Ultrahand is the one you’ll be using the most, and while it feels a little clunky for the first few hours, the game encourages you to practice enough that it soon becomes second nature. If you’re not the most creative person, you don’t need to worry, as you’ll always find items lying around that hint at what you can build, or use the unlockable Autobuild skill which logs your previous creations and allows you to recreate them by using the necessary materials in front of you. You can go for simple solutions or the most elaborate builds to solve pretty much everything. Did we use Ultrahand to stick a rocket (a Zonai Device, a one-time item that you can use to aid your Ultrahand building) to a Korok’s backpack? Of course we did. But you could also make the world’s biggest slide and a little kart for your Korok friend to ride. Probably.
It often feels like the sky’s the limit in Tears of the Kingdom, although there are restrictions in place to stop things from feeling overwhelming. One thing that especially helps is that the game is generally a lot more challenging than Breath of the Wild. There are lots more enemies on the map, often found in groups – and they’re not shy about ganging up on you, either. Many new enemies require brand-new strategies to take down, and returning ones have stronger variations. And while weapon durability is back, monsters drop equipment so frequently that it felt even less of an issue here.
We died a lot, especially at the beginning of the game, but we love that we had to think about our approach more carefully with each encounter. Fuse comes in handy to deal more damage or freeze other opponents as we try and take out the more dangerous ones. And sometimes, when an archer was sniping us, we’d sneak up on them by using Ascend to get to the top of a tower at the snap of a finger. So even though the world is at our fingertips thanks to our new skills, the challenge tempers them and prevents them from becoming overpowered.
Going back to the story, some places make use of these abilities – along with a regional ally who you’ll need to utilise to progress – more than others. More traditional-style dungeons make a return in Tears of the Kingdom. All of them are visually distinct, with unique bosses and puzzles to solve, and they manage to blend the open nature of BOTW nicely with those classic multi-floor dungeons of the past. They’re not quite the enclosed, linear style of Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess’ own, per se, but they are a marked improvement over the Divine Beasts and a lot of fun to get through.
For those more bite-sized puzzles, Shrines make a return too, but there’s a lot more variety this time around. Combat shrines are largely gone and replaced with either tutorial-style ones that teach you how to utilise throwing items effectively or sneak attacks or challenges which strip you of all of your armour and weapons and force you to start from the basics and use your new skills to defeat some Constructs. Some of the solutions had us scratching our heads for a while, but if there’s one thing Zelda nails for us, it’s the satisfaction of progressing and understanding. Even if sometimes our solution was just to build a giant bridge.
The puzzles feel more organically integrated into the world as well. There are tons of cave systems in Tears of the Kingdom that house some rather unsettling enemies and/or goodies, and these little networks can often feel like miniature dungeons. The Sky is really one big puzzle because it makes you think about how to progress or get around, but there are also little challenges that unlock more Shrines or that encourage you to create solutions to defeating some of the new overworld bosses.
Honestly, we couldn’t get enough of travelling between all three maps. Our curiosity felled us in the underground multiple times as we tried to take on harder enemies, but as we got stronger and accustomed to the harsh world below, that satisfaction of finally taking down a monster was thrilling. The contrast between the Sky, Surface, and Depth is refreshing, with all three bringing different styles of gameplay, visuals, and music to the table, but they never feel detached from one another. And all three maps are seamless – there are no load times as you jump from the Surface to the Depths, or as you shoot yourself from the Surface to the Sky.
Given this, it’s evident that Tears of the Kingdom is pushing the system to its limits. The frame rate is capped at 30FPS both handheld and docked, and for the most part, the game stays around or just below that. During elaborate Ultrahand builds or busy fights and locations, performance can dip to the low 20s (or even lower) fairly frequently. It’s not hugely disruptive, and it didn’t feel any worse than Breath of the Wild – particularly after Nintendo released a pre-launch patch during the review period – but it serves as a staunch reminder of the now-six-year-old console's limitations.
Still, it’s pretty amazing that this entire world has been squeezed onto a little Switch cartridge, and those performance issues didn't affect our enjoyment at all. Whether we were standing on an island high in the sky, gazing down through the clouds as the sun set across Hyrule, or plummeting through those skies as the blood moon rose, we fell in love with the open world of Hyrule all over again.
So, is Tears of the Kingdom better than Breath of the Wild? That'll be down to personal preference, but we can guarantee that you'll adore this if you loved its predecessor. Tears of the Kingdom recaptures that magic in new and exciting ways while improving upon and polishing almost every facet. This is an enormous, breathtaking sequel, and a very special video game.
It’s impossible to talk about everything that makes The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom so incredible, and making many of those discoveries yourselves is part of the magic. It’s also impossible to overstate just how much there is to do in Hyrule this time around. Much like its predecessor, this is your playground for the next however many years to come, with a little sprinkling of that older Zelda fairy dust mixed into Breath of the Wild’s formula. It’s a glorious, triumphant sequel to one of the best video games of all time; absolute unfiltered bliss to lose yourself in for hundreds of hours. We can’t wait to see what the world will do with the game.