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Opinions 31 May 2023, 15:49

author: Karol Laska

New Zelda is My Game of the Year Because It's Really 3 Games in One

Breath of the Wild 1.5? Breath of the Wild Squared? There are various ways to describe Tears of the Kingdom, but above all, it's a game with a distinctive and clear structure. And it's one that demands playing the new Zelda in three different ways.

It would be really hard for me to go back to Breath of the Wild right now. Although the vastness of the Hyrule Kingdom would still be waiting for me to explore it, all I would have to do is look at the sky to come to the sad realization that there's nothing on it besides the stars, which I will never be able to reach anyway. I would like to sink into the ground in sorrow, but even this would simply be impossible in BotW; I would hence feel welded to the ground, condemned to wandering on foot with a few climbing or horse riding exercises.

Meanwhile, in Tears of the Kingdom, I really have everything. The sky is within arm's reach, and if the urge only takes me, I can leap from the clouds straight into the tarnished depths below, where impure forces beckon me into the mysterious subterranean realm. For purposes of relaxation, I can always return to the surface to traverse it in a thousand different ways – my brave steed can stay in the stable a little longer, because I can use makeshift off-road vehicles and rocket-powered rafts. And so freedom takes on a completely different meaning here.

This broadly understood freedom, however, operates within a specific structural framework. The new Zelda has a very clear open-world structure, which, as you can see from the little traveler's diary above, is easy to understand – the base is the huge Hyrule, just like in the previous installment (though in a completely different form). Above it, there are floating ancient islands, and underneath await catacombs shrouded in complete darkness. And each of these three areas not only imposes a different type of exploration but also requires a completely different playing style. Because if you look at this division of locations from a slightly different angle, it's hard not to get the impression that we're dealing with three games seamlessly made into a single production.

Sky Islands – a logic game

The Legend of Zelda, before the series began experimenting with the concept of a vast, open world, focused on a slightly more linear experience embellished with cherries on top such as dungeons serving as elaborate logical puzzles. In Breath of the Wild, shrines performed this function, testing the player's familiarity with the mechanics and their creativity. These shrines (although they look different) return in Tears of the Kingdom, but in my opinion, they are (ekhm) overshadowed by the floating islands.

There are not that many islands and even the largest ones never constitute an equivalent exploratory adventure to Hyrule – you will find just a few flowers, cultural relics and robotic spare parts. These floating fragments of the kingdom, however, form complexes – they are somehow interconnected with each other. While on one island, you immediately notice others and the game more or less suggests the possibility of getting from point A to point B – despite nothing (besides clouds) existing between these points. Sometimes you have platforms, balloons, or rockets at your disposal to build something useful, while other times you need to gear up for parkour that would make even Michael Scott envious.

So what am I getting at? All these aerial acrobatics, riddles and adventures work within the framework of full-fledged puzzles. Only those are not performing the function of either side quests or separate logical-dexterity sequences, like in the case of the shrines, but rather they constitute an elementary part of the game world. You can get into the clouds without any loading screens – all you need is the right plan, and the same goes for moving between islands. These puzzles are so logical that they're natural. The player doesn't even pay attention to the fact that they're forced to adopt a completely different way of thinking and acting. This is no longer about walking for miles on end, characteristic of exploring Hyrule, but rather methodical jumping from one flower to another. From island to island.

Dark undergrounds – dungeon crawler

Unconventional things are also happening below the surface of planet Eluryh. When a player first dares to make a leap into the unknown, reeking abyss of danger, they are immediately greeted by the omnipresent darkness, full of annoying traps and enemies. The undergrounds offer a completely different kind of adversities, but also potential rewards. They serve as an excellent place to grind if you just wanted to improve the performance of our technological wonders on the surface.

The more time we spend in the catacombs, the more goods we can bring back with us, but also the greater the risk of getting into a tough situation, forcing us to load a save or restart the battle. Furthermore, for each expedition into the dark corners, we must be properly prepared – the most important thing is primarily the special seeds that can illuminate an area. This lets us discover the next parts of the underground step by step, while at the same time clearing them of everything within the reach of light and sight. And then we try to get to the checkpoints that illuminate the area even more.

This kind of game reminded some of us in the office of the roguelike formula. There sure is some truth to that, though I would rather call this game a cousin of that genre – i.e. a dungeon crawler. We have dungeons, with everything that should come with them, and there's fragmentary exploration of subsequent locations. Not in the form of moving from one corridor or room to another, but stepping on subsequent, brightly shimmering, areas. Although the gameplay is somewhat slower compared to roguelikes – you must think a few times before deciding on the direction or choosing to enter the darkness without being consumed by it (metaphorically speaking, because it will not literally consume you, don't worry).

Sandbox in an even purer form

I left Hyrule for the end because we're all most familiar with this model of exploration. Either from Zelda, Elden Ring, or any other open-world sandbox game. As I mentioned before, TotK clearly enriches traveling around the entire kingdom compared to BotW. Let's skip the world's verticality, as it's already clear with the presence of islands and dungeons. Besides, there's already plenty happening on the horizontal level here.

Sure, we still have summits to conquer, lands to discover, caves to plunder, and shrines to complete. So it all bears the seeming of the previous game – just on paper. In practice, however, every hike is completely different, and sometimes it's even difficult to call it a hike, because it may turn out to be a ride, a flight, a cruise, or something a bit more unusual – only imagination limits you. New mechanics, enabling crafting, combining items or rewinding objects in time, work excellently on their own, but they're even better if they're synergized. They make the core assumptions of exploration, and the way of thinking about reaching the mountain far in the distance, fundamentally different from those in place in Breath of the Wild. It's a great sandbox again, but redefined.

Play as you want

Let these pieces of analysis from a passionate enthusiast of the game not make you suddenly perceive Tears of the Kingdom as a strictly defined, black-and-white open-world game. Although the structure is clear as day to me, it doesn't change the fact that in the game you can do anything – including smoothly jumping from the skies to the ground or launching yourself like a slingshot towards the troposphere. We are talking about having fun at an amusement park with a whole handful of multifunctional pocket knives at hand and a self-writing adventure, the best moments of which we experience in seemingly trivial and random situations. So look at the new Zelda however you want – as an exploration game, a logic game, a dexterity game or a roguelite. The only important thing is that you guys experience it your own way and on your own terms.

Karol Laska | Gamepressure.com

Karol Laska

Karol Laska

His adventure with journalism began with a personal blog, the name of which is no longer worth quoting. Then he interpreted Iranian dramas and the Joker, writing for cinematography journal, which, sadly, no longer exists. His writing credentials include a degree in film studies, but his thesis was strictly devoted to video games. He has been writing for Gamepressure since March 2020, first writing a lot about movies, then in the newsroom, and eventually, he became a specialist in everything. He currently edits and writes articles and features. A long-time enthusiast of the most bizarre indie games and arthouse cinema. He idolizes surrealism and postmodernism. He appreciates the power of absurdity. Which is probably why he also tried soccer refereeing for 2 years (with so-so results). He tends to over-philosophize, so watch out.


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