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The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Game review

Game review 19 May 2023, 16:52

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review - Defying Gravity

Defying expectations, Zelda: TotK manages to outdo Breath of the Wild in nearly all aspects. It’s the kind of game you need to play if you say like video games.

The review is based on the Switch version.

The Legend of Zelda is a series that keeps getting bigger with each game, both thematically but also with what it offers in gameplay. Parallel worlds were introduced in A Link to the Past, horse riding became a thing in Ocarina of Time, the origin story of Hyrule was introduced in Skyward Sword, and Breath of the Wild gave the series an emphasis on resource management and survival. Ultimately, each game gives us something new and familiar to play with set in a world that is just as fun to explore as it is to master.

There is so much to gush over when you play Tears of the Kingdom for the first time, but even if you have never had a soft spot for Zelda games, it’s the game that will make you an instant fan. Mixing fantasy, series references, and gameplay elements that reshape what it means to play an open-world game, the game truly hits it out of the park with what it does right. It’s more than just Breath of the Wild 2.0. Tears of the Kingdom is the culmination of everything the series has introduced thus far and is the pinnacle of video game excellence.

Exploration Reimagined

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, published by Nintendo

The events in Tears of the Kingdom happen a few years after Breath of the Wild ends and reintroduce you to some familiar faces while taking place in a world you may have already spent hours exploring. It’s still a game that encourages exploration, but it won’t give you the same sense of discovery and awe you felt before, but it still manages to feel magical in its own way. Think about it: BotW was the first open-world Zelda title that had various biomes for you to explore, towers that revealed the map as you ventured to unfamiliar territory, and countless shrines and side quests for you to complete in addition to the main story. TotK is a different kind of adventure.

  1. An amazing open-world experience that builds on what Breath of the Wild started;
  2. More traditional Zelda elements combined with new gameplay mechanics make for an unforgettable experience;
  3. A soundtrack that holds your hand and pulls you along through every twist and turn.
  1. Frame rate issues when too many enemies are on the screen.

Exploring the Hyrule of TotK is a bit like exploring Hyrule Kingdom after you travel to the future in Ocarina of Time. It’s a world that is in peril where monsters and regional phenomena are causing pain and suffering to those you first met in your previous adventure. The familiar map of Hyrule may look similar but it also holds many differences and updates for you to explore as areas that were abandoned before are now settlements filled with things to do. Time has passed since BotW ended, so characters have also changed, gotten wiser, or simply grown up. It’s a world that welcomes you with open arms but asks you to save it from demise.

Before, your exploration was limited to just the ground level of Hyrule. As I write this the word “limited” sounds like an amusing choice because the map of BotW was huge compared to what previous Zelda titles had offered us in the past. That map was actually quite sprawling so realizing TotK’s map is just as big but also includes two other zones goes to show you how ambitious this game truly is.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, published by Nintendo

Beyond just Hyrule proper, the game includes sky islands that you can explore. Some of these are just small floating ruins that offer some treasure here and there while others are massive archipelagos that provide you with hidden shrines and countless other things to play with. Plus, the game’s main quest takes you to the skies quite often on your journey to save Zelda and heal Hyrule’s various regions. These sky areas and the entire sky motif gives the game a mesmerizing vibe that is reminiscent of a Miyazaki film where you can feel the breeze running through your hair as you watch Link jump off a floating island and paraglide below. Even the act of unlocking regional towers involves Link being hurled hundreds of feet into the sky to get a bird’s eye view of the land below him. These incredible cutscenes never get old.


Breath of the Wild laid the groundwork for what is possible in a Zelda game, and then Tears of the Kingdom took all of that, broke the rules, and added more to that equation. It’s a game that can be experienced at any pace and is the magnum opus, if not the swan song, of an aging console that proves it can still make masterpieces.

Conversely, there is also a dark world underneath Hyrule that is pitch black and requires you to turn the lights on, so to speak, as you explore this dangerous environment. Sometimes you really can’t see anything unless you use an item to illuminate your surroundings so not only is it lethal to Link, but it also piqued my curiosity making me wonder how far I could go before running into something new. These areas also contain a substance called gloom that saps away at your health and limits how much health you can recover until you go back to the surface. There is a layer of challenge and danger when visiting these depths, but there is a whole world down there for you to explore for which the game surely rewards you for risking your life each time.

Experimental Adventures

BotW gave Link unique abilities that let him control materials in his surroundings to not just solve the various puzzles in the shrines you could discover, but they were the basis of how you explored your world. In TotK, your abilities are entirely new and give you more freedom to do what you want with your environment and truly make the game feel like a sandbox adventure. You are encouraged to make mistakes, tinker with ways to solve certain puzzles, and try your luck creating things you never thought could work.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, published by Nintendo

Take the game’s first new ability: Ultrahand. This simply lets you pick up any item, rotate it any way you want, and attach it to other objects. This lets you glue together logs to make boats, bind platforms to make bridges over chasms, or lift dynamite barrels and drop them over unsuspecting sleeping enemies. It’s similar to the Magnesis ability in BotW but gives you so much more freedom to create things you never thought you could in a Zelda game.

The next ability, Fusion, lets you combine these same materials with your weapons or shields to make them stronger. Add a spring to your shield and when enemies hit you, they’ll get pushed back. Add white chuchu jelly to your arrows to make ice arrows in a snap. Or you can simply fuse a ruby to your sword and equip it to keep you warm in a blizzard letting you forego having to cook spicy food or put on cold-resistant armor. Playing around with different combinations is half the fun as it is actually seeing what happens when you mix things together to come up with unique variations. They are not all winners, but they make for a game that encourages you to experiment and explore.

In fact, you will be making so many things as you play TotK because the game encourages you to do so. It’s how you will make your weapons stronger, how you will solve puzzles, and how you will explore all the new areas of Hyrule more efficiently and in a whole new way. You can add special items like rockets, fans, and flamethrowers to your creations to make new weapons or create flying aircrafts, boats, and even hot air balloons that let you get to a higher surface faster than spending so much time climbing and getting Link out of breath.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, published by Nintendo

Your other abilities also make your exploration so much easier. Ascend lets you phase through surfaces from below cutting the time in half it takes to climb something if you’re in a cave or right below a ledge. Recall lets you rewind an object’s movement, so you can combine this with Ultrahand and move an object up and then down, stand on it, and use recall to lift the item up allowing you to get higher without much effort. Sure, you can still mix elixirs to increase your stamina or wear special clothing to improve your climbing speed, but these new ways to traverse Hyrule give you so many options that let you think outside the box. And it’s when the game lets you get away with a sneaky solution that you realize how much free range you truly have.

New Traditions

Beyond just exploring new areas and getting into fights, TotK reestablishes some traditional elements featured in previous Zelda titles, that give this game more varied gameplay while still expanding on what BotW introduced. Shrines, for example, are still present but they offer new challenges that correspond to the new abilities you have so each one will force you to think all over again. Some solutions are easier than others, but you can also “cheat” some of them with unconventional ways of getting to the answer. I spent over 30 minutes on one shrine, for example, because I thought the way to hit a switch involved some complicated creation when it really was much simpler than I had thought. Overthinking can sometimes become your biggest obstacle in these shrines considering how many have more than one solution.

TotK also features a story that, as I mentioned before, is reminiscent to that of Ocarina of Time and tasks you to purify certain areas of your map. This, of course, means exploring special temples, gaining new abilities, and fighting a tough boss at the end. The temples you find here are the kinds of dungeons you want a Zelda game to have and surpass the Divine Beasts of BotW. They are on theme, feature enough depth and challenges that still force you to think like shrines do, but they also give these points in the game a sense of grandeur and importance.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, published by Nintendo

Conversely, the game somehow manages to look even better than BotW despite using similar models and color palettes. Falling from the sky just as the sun is setting looks incredible as do the many new enemies, characters, and detailed interiors you can discover. In the same vain that Majora’s Mask was a darker sequel that used Ocarina of Time’s framework, TotK reuses previous assets but positions them alongside a new narrative, altered settings, and a slew of new content to support and showcase its more mature themes.

The Switch does suffer with frame rate issues from time to time, however, because it really is being pushed to its limit. When you enter jungle areas filled with trees and foliage, for example, the game will sometimes slow down when enemies pop on the screen. It doesn’t destroy the experience, but you can tell this is perhaps one of the last games (if not the last one) on the Switch to perform this well and look this good.

A Work of Art

Its powerful soundtrack is also a cherry on top of a game where storytelling is done both visually and through its music. Exploration has a calming feel to it, but head down into the depths of Hyrule and that atmosphere changes instantly as does the tune you hear. Like in BotW, dungeons build up the emotion and urgency as you solve their puzzles, climbing into a crescendo that sounds too good to only listen once. Even boss battles feature some remixes that fans of the series are sure to enjoy. Its music, like everything you see in the game, is meant to be admired at a pace that is unique to each player.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, published by Nintendo

And that ability to connect with someone in different ways is the holding power TotK has with its audience. The main quest can be completed in any initial order as can the many shrines you explore. The sandbox nature of exploration also lets you enjoy the new abilities the game offers you and play the game the way you want with each experience becoming special and so much more powerful because of how unique it is to each person.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review - Defying Gravity - picture #7

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

Breath of the Wild laid the groundwork for what is possible in a Zelda game, and then Tears of the Kingdom took all of that, broke the rules, and added more to that equation. More dungeons, more bosses, more armor, more abilities, more shrines, more substance. More isn’t always better, but it sure makes for an adventure game that continues to surprise you 40 hours after you start playing. It’s a game that can be experienced at any pace and is the magnum opus, if not the swan song, of an aging console that proves it can still make masterpieces. Do yourself a favor and play Tears of the Kingdom because it is not just an excellent Zelda game, but it’s a colossal work of art that will stick with you forever.

Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo grew up playing video games and finally started writing about them on a blog after college. He soon began to write for small gaming websites as a hobby and then as a freelance writer for sites like 1UP, GamesRadar, MacLife, and TechRadar. Giancarlo also was an editor for Blast Magazine, an online gaming magazine based in Boston where he covered various video game topics from the city's indie scene to E3 and PAX. Now he writes reviews and occasional previews for Gamepressure covering a broad range of genres from puzzle games to JRPGs to open-world adventures. His favorite series include Pokémon, Assassin's Creed, and The Legend of Zelda, but he also has a soft spot for fighting and music games like Super Smash Bros and Rock Band. When not playing Overwatch after a long day at work, he enjoys spending time working out, meal prepping, and discovering new international films and TV shows.


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