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Back in 2017, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to critical acclaim and commercial success. The game was so influential that over the years, we’ve seen many games attempt to replicate its revolutionary open-world structure as well as its cel-shaded art style, from Genshin Impact to Immortals Fenyx Rising.

Features that made Breath of the Wild revolutionary, such as its presentation and exploration, are still present in its new sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, but with new additions that make the game so much more fun and exciting to play. Link’s new powers encourage more freedom to tackle puzzles in creative ways and the quality-of-life improvements in Tears of the Kingdom make the overall experience more streamlined. It’s one of the best games of 2023, if not the best game of the year so far.

Available now exclusively on Nintendo Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will take players at least 50 to 60 hours to complete the main quest with minimal side activities and well over 100 to experience everything the game has to offer. Wondering if it’s right for you? Here’s what we think after several weeks of exploring Hyrule.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a must-have for any Switch owner, building on its predecessor's open-ended gameplay with a staggering level of creativity and player freedom.

What we liked about it

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In Breath of the Wild, Link had several abilities where he could materialize items out of thin air, move metallic objects and create ice pillars out of water to travel on. This time around in Tears of the Kingdom, Nintendo really emphasized the exploration aspect of the game and gave Link brand-new powers.

Link starts off with Ultrahand, which lets him attach different objects to each other. When I thought Breath of the Wild’s exploration couldn’t get any better, imagine my surprise when I could take several wood planks to create a makeshift bridge to cross giant gaps. When exploring Hyrule, it was astonishing how much ground I could cover simply by just cutting down trees and building a bridge out of the wood — and this was only just the first of Link’s new powers. Ultrahand just by itself opened up even more possibilities to get around and ignited my excitement in finding new places around Hyrule.

Link also has a Fuse ability where he can fuse weapons to each other, which enhances their combat prowess. This allows Link to take on enemies in new and often entertaining ways. One time, I attached a fan to a simple stick, blew an enemy with a gust of wind and sent him tumbling to his doom off a cliff.

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The new Ascend ability is quite the game changer as well. Link can go underneath terrain and then swim upward to materialize on the other side. It can be used to cover vast vertical distances and is often overlooked. I can’t count how many times I tried to scale a large structure only for my stamina meter to run out when I could’ve just simply used Ascend to get to the very top in a matter of seconds.

Tears of the Kingdom’s map is almost three times as large as Breath of the Wild’s because of the newly added Sky Islands above and Depths below Hyrule, and these abilities make traversing through environments worthwhile and rewarding to find hidden secrets and treasures. These abilities also provide a lot more leeway in how to solve puzzles in shrines compared to the first game.

The story is engaging

Tears of the Kingdom’s story is just as engaging as Breath of the Wild’s. Taking place after the first game, the story starts off with Zelda and Link coming across a mummified corpse near Hyrule Castle. The corpse reawakens and with its chaotic energy and throws the castle into the sky, causing Zelda and Link to be separate, with the former disappearing.

Once Link makes it safely back to Hyrule, he learns that this event is called the Upheaval. He then sets off on an adventure to find Zelda and investigate some disturbances across Hyrule. During the story, he’ll see instances of what looks like Zelda’s past self whenever chaos ensues around particular events. Zelda seemingly has a connection to these events and she always has the back of her head facing Link, only to walk away and disappear. This gives the game’s story a mysterious tension as you question Zelda’s involvement with what’s going on.

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As Link investigates these disturbances, he’ll unlock new combat powers, such as being able to call down lightning strikes with his bow and arrow and conjure up a giant flaming boulder to crash into foes. This adds a lot more variety to the gameplay than just simply swinging a weapon.

Quality-of-life improvements are astounding

The quality-of-life changes in Tears of the Kingdom coming from Breath of the Wild are just the cherry on top of the whole experience. One of the most annoying aspects of Breath of the Wild was when Link opened a treasure chest and he didn’t have enough inventory space to carry what was inside, he would just close the chest.

Then you’d have to go into your inventory, drop the item and then open up the chest once again. In Tears of the Kingdom, when Link opens the chest and takes the item, the inventory screen pops up asking if you want to get rid of something to make room for the new item. It’s such a simple change that makes opening chests so much more convenient.

Another major issue in Breath of the Wild was that players were forced to memorize recipes for food and elixirs. This included the correct ingredients, the specific number of ingredients and the order they had to be prepared in. As a result, players often had to consult with outside resources like wikis and guides on the internet.

In Tears of the Kingdom, however, Link now has a recipe book that records everything. So if you want to create a specific dish you’ve previously made, you just have to select the recipe while at a cooking pot if you have all of the proper ingredients.

What we didn’t like about it

Some technical issues

The game’s frame rate sometimes slows down when there are too many actions going on at once, resulting in occasionally stuttery gameplay. This also happens whenever I build a very large structure using Ultrahand. The frame rate tanks whenever I try to move my completed structure to the area I need it to be. Outside of these instances, though, things stay relatively steady.

It’s honestly impressive that the game runs on the Switch’s aging hardware given how massive the game is. Although, the game’s loading times are a bit slower than I wanted.

Cumbersome controls

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The controls can be unwieldy and confusing at times, especially in hectic fights. There were numerous times where I meant to fire an arrow from my bow using the ZR button only to accidentally press the R button and throw my axe at the enemy instead.

The game also has very few accessibility features and doesn’t even offer the ability to customize button layouts. It has a small number of settings, such as inverting the horizontal and vertical camera and changing camera sensitivity, but those are bog standard ones that should be included in every game regardless.

In terms of specific hearing or vision settings, there aren’t any in Tears of the Kingdom. Nintendo is falling behind its peers in this area like PlayStation with The Last of Us Part 1’s extensive accessibility features and the Xbox with its adaptive controller and low-vision-friendly games.

Bottom line

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2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s gorgeous open world, immense exploration and creative solutions were going to be tough acts to follow. How could Nintendo surpass such a titanic game with a direct sequel that didn’t feel derivative? Somehow, Nintendo did just that — The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of the best Switch games yet, and makes the first game feel like a beta test.

Despite some of its issues, this is one of the most polished games I’ve ever played and Nintendo has perfected its formula for this kind of open-world experience. The sheer freedom and discovery in this game will keep you entertained for hours on end.

This is Nintendo’s first time charging $70 for a game. While some are justifiably upset about the price increase of new releases, Tears of the Kingdom is absolutely worth every single penny.