Available On: Switch
Played On: Switch

Nintendo had a lot of pressure for Tears of the Kingdom, a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the best video games, let alone Zelda games, of the modern generation.

The rare and long-anticipated sequel in the beloved Nintendo franchise is an unsurprising masterclass of open-world game design, literally adding new heights and depths to the world, along with a welcome new ability brimming with creativity.

A Zelda to the Past

No one expects Link to begin another open world adventure with all his hard-earned loot, hearts, and stamina from Breath of the Wild. Sure enough, the opening moments of the story steals all of Link’s equipment and vitality, throwing him into another danger-ridden Hyrule crawling with monsters, from a catastrophic event called the Upheaval.

Princess Zelda is shunted into the past, an interesting story conceit that keeps her a constant presence, despite her literal absence. Her story is primarily told by seeking out geoglyphs, large crop-circle-like patterns that are clearly visible from the air. Discovering geoglyphs and learning more pieces of her story is a rewarding blend of exploration and story.

The regions, towers, shrines, korok seeds, factions, and fauna return, with plenty of new faces, puzzles, quests, enemies, and secrets.

The most startling change to the world, is that instead of growing wide, it grew up — and down!

Hyrule is now home to a region of floating landmasses high above the sky, called Sky Islands. Link actually begins his adventure in the largest of these islands. They’re cleverly sprinkled throughout each region, accessible via towers and aerial vehicles. The added verticality adds a thrilling layer rarely seen in open world games, and a frequent chance to observe Hyrule in all its densely-packed glory.

At the other end are the cavernous region beneath Hyrule known as the Depths, accessible by infrequent, daunting pits that bore through the earth.

The Depths are literally dark and full of terrors. Light and health become critical resources, as a dangerous substance called the Gloom can sap Link’s hearts. The Depths often hold the best treasures, but exploring is suitably challenging and anxiety-inducing, like one big dungeon to return to again and again.


Thankfully, Link has some important new powers this time around, in the form of a bionic arm called Ultra-Hand. By using Ultra-Hand, Link can pick up most objects in the world, including logs, panels, barrels, and chests, and fuse them together to make bigger objects, such as bridges, ramps, or walls.

The new Fuse ability can upgrade all of Link’s equipment with other objects. This could range from silly (attach a fish to a club) to awesome (put two swords together, or add a flame-dispenser to a shield to a create a flame-thrower).

New ancient-tech Zonai devices work in perfect harmony with these new skills. Zonai Devices come in over a dozen different types, from shooting water and fire, to wind fans, cooking pots, wheels, gliders, and rockets. Devices can be attached to each other, objects, or Link’s equipment. They’re often found in useful areas where they’re most needed, as well as acquired at dispensaries in the Sky Islands, so you can manage your own LEGO-like creations of mad science and physics wherever you like.

The Ultra-Hand stuff is fun to play around with — most of the time. Every once in awhile I get frustrated trying to work around rudimentary physics and get my Frankenstein-cobbled vehicle to do what I want. The game rarely demands I be an expert, and much of the time I can get away with making some simple but strong Fused weapons and play a “normal” Zelda game, albeit with some nifty cars and hot-air balloons.

One unfortunate side effect of this vertically-expanded world of vehicular sandbox: the poor horse is left in the dust. The horse taming and stables are leftover from Breath of the Wild, but I almost never found myself engaging with it. Hyrule is often too rugged and too interesting to warrant long horseback rides, not to mention the many fast-travel shrines. And unlike other games (Red Dead Redemption!) the horse doesn’t magically spawn when you whistle. But why need a horse at all when I can quickly fashion a hot-air balloon or rocket-car?

The Rating

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is rated E10+, with Fantasy Violence, and Mild Suggestive Themes. The sequel is a little darker in tone and more challenging than Breath of the Wild, but nothing that would bump it close to a Teen rating. Defeating enemies is a major part of gameplay, but there’s no blood or gore, and enemies disappear when slain.

I really wish the Zelda series would embrace modern gaming with more voicework, however. Reading skills are definitely required!

The Takeaway

Tears of the Kingdom proves you actually can go home again. Provided you show up with an extra-powerful bionic arm, and expect “home” to be a heck of a lot different than how you left it. With the new Ultra-Hand abilities and increased verticality on top of Breath of the Wild’s already expansive and excellently-paced open world, exploring Hyrule has never been better.

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.