By Isaac Espinosa
She and you travel the gloomy depths, stepping down, down, down, the footfalls loud and echoing. But you’re not alone. As the Demon King emerges from his seal underneath Hyrule Castle, Zelda fans realize that their last line of defense will be Link. Tears of the Kingdom, the long awaited sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was initially shown off at E3, 2019. Fans would have to be patient before being able to indulge in the newest iteration. I watched gameplay reveals, extended trailers showing off brand new footage. But I wondered: would Tears of the Kingdom live up to the high expectations, or would it just be known as a $70 misfire?
The story of Tears of the Kingdom takes place a few years after Breath of the Wild, where Link had defeated Calamity Ganon and saved all of Hyrule from his malice. Princess Zelda, hearing about the substance known as Gloom afflicting citizens with illnesses, investigates the phenomenon with Link underneath Hyrule Castle. With Zelda holding a torch to cut through the darkness, the two discover strange glyphs that depict the founders of Hyrule, the Zonai, and the first king of Hyrule Rauru. The violent images on cave walls see them fighting against a great evil. Further investigation would lead Link and Zelda to a strange mummified corpse kept up by a glowing hand. Before they could even think, the demon comes to life, incapacitates Link’s arm, and shatters the Master Sword. The ground beneath them crumbles, and as Zelda is seen falling away from Link. Link wakes up in a strange location, with the hand that saved him fused to his incapacitated arm, and a voice that calls itself Rauru guiding him across an island in the sky. Trying to take in all this new information, Link stands ready to the task – to discover a way to defeat the Demon King and find Princess Zelda wherever she may be.
The beginning of Tears of the Kingdom feels much more dire than the original Breath of the Wild, where Link simply awakens in a cave. It seems as if, in an instant, the peace that Link and Zelda had worked towards was put into grave jeopardy.
That same feeling is exuded throughout the rest of the story. As you travel around the land of Hyrule, exploring and finding out more and more about the things happening to the regions of the Gerudo, Zora, Rito, and Goron, the tale becomes clearer.
While Breath of the Wild really tried to paint the picture of a world that had been silenced by the calamity, Tears of the Kingdom conveys a land that’s been put on the brink of disaster. Exploring the world in this lens feels less isolated and quiet, a feeling amplified by the sheer amount of things changed within the landscape of Hyrule: new caves to find, the Sky Islands consisting of huge archipelagos that float high above the ground, or how the Depths are a whole underground system with dangerous enemies lurking. Tears of the Kingdom is gigantic, and even after I’ve completed all of the main story quests I’m still nowhere near discovering everything the world has to offer. All the while, you get to view the incredible spectacle of this changed Hyrule in all of its glory. Even if it’s the same visual style as Breath of the Wild, the game not only has more color but the world just has so much more to see from a distance. You’ll find yourself stopping to gawk at the views for minutes on end before even trying to reach somewhere.
On that note, there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to gameplay. The loop of progression in Tears of the Kingdom is even better than Breath of the Wild in every capacity. Much like the original, there are new side quests and adventures, mini bosses to conquer like the Talus or Hinox, and shrines scattered all across Hyrule, each of which having their own unique puzzles to complete with your new abilities.
Both the Sky Islands and the Depths add two entirely different layers of exploration to the game. Both have their own treasures to find and side quests to take on, which means there’s always something to distract you from your current objective. Some of the new abilities add even more creativity to this loop of gameplay as well. The Ultrahand, Link’s new appendage, gives you the power to lift up all manner of objects! Need an aircraft? Attach two fans to a wooden plank and you’re good to go. Having trouble going across the sea? Attach a sail to some logs and let the wind take you! The ability to fuse allows you to mesh together weapons and shields with certain parts in order to make them more useful. Combine your weapons with monster parts like horns to make them even stronger, or attach a bomb to your shield and do a shield surf, a technique you can use to surf along the ground with your shield, in order to launch yourself high into the air! People are still discovering things you can create and fuse in Tears of the Kingdom. The only thing truly stopping you is your imagination.
Tears of the Kingdom is nearly flawless. But if I had to nitpick a very specific detail, it would pertain to the main story. As I mentioned, the darker tone of the story and its themes of upholding peace are all improvements from the original Breath of the Wild. But there’s an aspect of it that stood out to me, and that’s how the end of every temple feels like a repeat of one another. As you defeat the boss and recover one of the secret stones of the sages, you hear about its origin and the vow of said sage towards the swordsman that would defeat the Demon King. And the reasoning for this is so that, since you can go to any dungeon in any order, it’s the same first experience in terms of the story dump you receive. And while that is a solid reasoning, my issue could’ve been fixed by telling us more about the sages themselves for each tribe. That way, each ending to the regional phenomena felt less like a repeated lore dump and more like new information.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is easily one of the best games on the Switch, and triumphs over Breath of the Wild, which itself was a brilliant Game of the Year at our 2018 New York Game Awards. To me, this is true in terms of varied gameplay, and in its sheer size and almost cinematic scale. It’s a testament to how much Tears of the Kingdom had to live up to in terms of the standard for a sequel to Breath of the Wild, and in every single aspect it delivers tenfold. This game is easily one of the greatest games of all time, and I have no doubt in my mind it’ll stay that way for a very long time.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Along with being named the Circle’s first assistant mentor, Isaac also published his first story in The Verge.