Leave it to Nintendo to consistently prove their expertise in game design. Not only with the decades-classic Zelda formula, but in iterating upon that success time and again. In The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, one of the biggest successes is seen right away in the Great Sky Island.
After the classic video game sequel trope of being reduced back to “level 1” due to a catastrophic intro (see also: Mass Effect 2), Link awakens floating on an island high above Hyrule. After a cinematic leap that would put any Assassins’ Creed protagonist to shame, Link arrives on the Great Sky Island (still floating above Hyrule!).
The Great Sky Island is the large area that acts as an “enclosed” tutorial zone for Tears of the Kingdom, much like the Great Plateau in Breath of the Wild. Tears of the Kingdom isn’t the first open-world adventure to use a smaller area to teach you the basics, but it’s easily one of the best.
The floating island is filled with snowy mountains, big lakes, secret underground tunnels, and intriguing ruins. Breath of the Wild already proved that Nintendo knew how to create an enticing open-world, with just the right amount of density.
Early on Link meets friendly Zonai constructs. These constructs are littered through the Great Sky Island, ready to impart their helpful advice and tools. The constructs teach about weapon decay and fusion, the importance of staying warm in cold weather, how to light fires and cook food, and how to build rafts and other simplistic vehicles.
Once Link reaches the Temple of Time, he meets Rauru, a ghostly sage whose arm empowers Link to grab and manipulate objects in the world.
To progress further, Link must seek out several shrines, a familiar chorus to veterans of Breath of the Wild. Naturally, the three shrines are perfectly placed around the island to encourage and maximize the player’s exploration, without forcing them on any particular path.
I end up traveling west, to try out my skills at building hanging platforms that travel along rails, like runaway ski lifts. After completing my first shrine I head south to cross a huge lake with a raft, and explore a vast underground tunnel, where I learn about collecting Zonai charges and refining crystals to increase my power capacity.
At some point, I ride in a rail car, and learn about lighting dark paths with Brightbloom seeds, one of seemingly dozens of kinds of flowers that all do different things.
At the southern end of the map, I climb to a platform with a rotating turret. I was ready for a fight, but still unprepared for a surprise boss battle against a large Flux Construct. When it rolls into a cube and squashes me, I experience my first death. I try again, and this time it attacks using a completely different set of moves, and I manage to win.
That represents a little over half of the newbie island. Despite the lack of linear direction and hand-holding, I rarely got lost, and I was never frustrated. The shrines (most of which are easily seen from a decent vantage point) remain excellent motivation to explore in any given direction, just as they were in Breath of the Wild.
I particularly enjoyed the surprise fourth shrine, which includes traveling back to the first room and unlocking a unique path that was hidden in plain sight.
After completing the shrines and exploring the island, I had an excellent grasp of the gameplay basics. I spent five hours on Great Sky Island, and hadn’t even stepped foot on Hyrule yet. That’s right — the final step is to leap once again, this time finally landing on the surface of Hyrule. It’s another awesome introduction into the even wider-world.
Armed with important knowledge, interested in the beginnings of the story, and excited about exploring the world — all the marks of a perfect tutorial.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available exclusively on Nintendo Switch. It’s rated E10+.