The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Review: Is it worth playing now?

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was one of the most anticipated titles of the decade, following up one of the all-time great adventure games in Breath of the Wild.

After a 6-year development cycle fans were ready for another huge installment of Nintendo’s most prestigious franchise, with it promising to build upon the foundations laid by its predeccessor and serve up something great.

But did it deliver? And is Tears of the Kingdom worth playing today? Is it better if you’ve never played Breath of the Wild, or is it required reading before you delve in? Let’s find out…

The Good

Let’s just go anywhere: Hands-down the best aspect of TotK, for me, is that same ability and encouragement to just wander off in any direction, into a boundless magical world. As soon as you land down on Hyrule from the tutorial Sky Island, the game gently suggests you might want to check out Hyrule Castle, but there’s absolutely no real need to do so. As I was eager to see what changes had happened in the world since BotW, my first point of destination was Kakariko Village, which laid in the opposite direction to the castle. Travelling there I encountered new enemies, NPCs and secrets, and my own uniquely-tailored adventure began. It’s brilliant.

Seamlessness: To add to the above, there’s nothing more jarring than a loading screen, particularly in an open-world. Recently replaying Twilight Princess, when cantering around its own Hyrule Field, it’s just annoying when you go between sections and you’re interruped by a loading pause. How TotK manages to make its entire world completely seamless and free of such interruptions is a marvel, particularly now we have essentially 2.5x the size of the world with the depths and the sky islands. Plummeting from a high island, through a hole in the ground and down into the depths all in one movement is breathtaking.

Towers: I have to mention the new towers. Replacing the scaleable towers of BotW, this time you unlock parts of the map via the Skyview towers, which brilliantly catapult you high into the sky, at which point you scan the world below with your slate. Why does Link need to re-map the world having already mapped it in BotW? Honestly, who cares – getting shot up into the sky is a thrill that never gets old. Each tower has it’s own little puzzle to be solved before you can access the spring mechanism too, which is a nice touch.

Water: One of the few big problems I had with BotW was that, for a game with so many bodies of water in the form of rivers, lakes, ponds and swamps – was that water traversal was so poorly implemented. Navigating rivers and the sea was a chore, having to slowly blow a flimsy raft along at a snail’s pace with a Korok leaf. TotK thankfully gives the player many more effective ways to traverse the liquids of Hyrule thanks to the Ultrahand buiding capabilities, and makes sailing around much more enjoyable.

Ganondorf: Conspicuously absent in BotW, the big man himself is back for TotK, and serves as a much more compelling villain than the character-less Ganon we were given previously. An excellent character design – something of a mish-mash between Demise in Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess’ Ganondorf and Wind Waker’s expressive incarnation. He’s very well done here, and serves up an excellent final battle.

Scale of Hyrule: Even though it’s the same Hyrule we had previousy, there’s still just something breathtaking about the size of it all, even after six years. With the addition of the sky islands and the depths, the grandeur and scope of TotK is seriously impressive.

Clouds uncovering as exploring: A beautiful touch with the sky islands is how the clouds part as you uncover more of the island. It’s most noticeable on the main island, but a good represntaiton of the innumerous little touches that show the attention to detail Nintendo has spent the six years sprinkling all over this game.

Caves: perhaps the best new feature to Hyrule. I felt BotW could really have used more indoor areas, and TotK brings real depth to the original map with lots of indoor caverns scattered across the land – and even better, they’re all unique. Full of puzzles and treasure, they left more of an effect on me than the entirety of the depths.

Music: BotW’s music was a real grower on me. Initially I wasn’t all that impressed, being used to the bold tunes of former games of the series that constantly played in the background. BotW’s much more reserved use of music, though, proved to be a fantastic choice, with moments of quiet punctuating the songs, which only served ot make them more memorable. Thankfully TotK continues this trend, and whilst the game itself is definitely ‘louder’ in every other sense, I’m pleased it kept the same approach to the score.

Ultrahand: You’ll acquire several new powers in TotK, and they all have their merits, but the clear headliner is the Ultrahand – the ability to move and fuse items together. It’s a really impressive addition to your arsenal, and opens the game up to theoretically infinite possibilities. Eventually you’ll gain access to Zonai (ancient aliens) technology, which gives the game an excuse to provide you with things like engines and propellers, allowing you to build ground and air vehicles. It can be a little clunky, but considering its ambition the implementation is done very well, and it’s a techincal miracle they could achieve this on the Switch.

Ascend: As impressive as the Ultrahand is, my favourite of the power-ups is actually perhaps the most simple. The Ascend ability allows you to upwardly morph through any celing in the game, and pop out above it. It sounds almost overly simple, and even a bit silly, but I found I used it more than any other move I had. The seamlessness of TotK is one of its most impressive features – the sense of connectivity between the world, and indeed the sky and depths, and Ascend serves to enhance that sense. Being in a cavern and ascending up to the overworld, not knowing quite where you’ll pop out, is a thrill that doesn’t get old.

Bomb flowers: Much as I miss the versatility of Link’s on-demand bombs from BotW, there’s something charming about the return of bomb flowers. It makes bombs feel a bit more powerful in their scarcity, which is really the way they ought ot feel in a Zelda game.

Infinite drops: The designers of TotK were faced with a difficult task in terms of justifying the Ultrahand building capabilities. This is the headline feature of the game, but they’re applying it to a template where it was already possible to go anywhere and climb any surface. So how do they force the player into thinking about building something to get somewhere, without sacrificing that sense of freedom? Well, they’ve cleverly used features like infinite pits and un-climbable thorns in order to force you to think about it. One of the most memorable moments of the game for me was when I was faced with the need to enter a fortress, but it was high up on a hill surrounded by spikes. My solution was to build a ridiculously long bridge, and tilt it so it rested on the wall of the fort, and scamper up it over the thorns. It took a long time, but felt great once I’d managed it. There were probably lots of ways I could’ve got up there, but the game allowing me to solve the issue my own way is where Totk shines the brightest.

Variety: There’s a lot to do in TotK. You can barely walk ten feet across Hyrule without tripping over something to fight or someone to help, or a puzzle to solve. It’s almost daunting how much there is stuffed into the world, and most of it is engaging, particularly the first time you encounter a type of event. It’s impressive how much Nintendo have managed to cram in here, particularly on the Switch’s dated hardare.

Horses: Nintendo have iterated on most of BotW’s mechanics in TotK, making them deeper and more involved. Nothing exemplifies this more than the horse system, which was already well put-together in BotW. Now you become a member of a Pony Club, and get rewards for staying at Inns and registering horses, all of which are horse-related, like saddles and clothes for your steeds. As I tend to prefer to scour every inch of Hyrule as I wander rather than gallop past it, I usually don’t bother with horses, but the improvement shere had me thinking about them a lot more than I usually would.

Zelda Snap! One of my favourite features of BotW makes a welcome return – the camera with Hyrule Compendium. The completionist itch in my gets such a nice scratch as I gradually log absolutely everything I see and find, with a small dose of dopamine every time I zoom into an item and see the golden frame around it, indicating it’s a new item I’ve not yet come across . In a way it’s such a small thing, but from my perspective it gives me a game-within-a-game, a Pokémon Snap esque adventure.

Wet climbing: An annoyance with BotW was climbing in the rain. The slippery sopes made it basically impossible, so you were left with either abandoning the climb or just sitting there. In theory, I wouldn’t have minded this if there was a way you could circumvent it with an item or potion, a special climbing suit for example – and thankfully, in TotK there is!

Quick Menu: We’ve now got the ability to quickly sift through our items as well as our weapons in the quick pop-up scrollable menu above Link. It becomes essential when fusing items and weapons together, and whilst it’s not perfect, is a welcome improvement.

Treasure maps: A fun little feature that adds another layer to the world is the inclusion of treasure maps, which harken back to the vibes of Wind Waker. You’ll discover a map in a chest, which pinpoint a rough location in the world where treasure lies. I wish they had been more akin to the DLC treasure clues, where it just gave you a cryptic riddle as to where to locate the new items, but it’s still fun.

The Mixed

Visually similar: TotK is undoubtedly a technical improvement on BotW, with better draw distance and slightly more detail. But the improvement is just that- only slight – and if you gave me a random screenshot form either game I’d be hard pressed to tell which was which.

Koroks: Another element that they’ve iterated on is the Korok seeds, again with hundreds scattered across the world. I really enjoyed the meta game of hunting them down in BotW, as it gave a great excuse to explore every inch of the land. In TotK I’m glad they’re back, but because I already know the ins-and-outs of the land, I’m a bit less compelled to seek them out. What’s more, many of them are puzzles that involve reuniting one Korok with another via ultra-hand abilities. Like many of the game’s puzzzles, it’s fun the first couple fo times, but there are countless other times where it asks you to do this – and I just stopped because it was too much hassle.

Silly fuse: The fuse technique allows you to combine two types of weapon or item together, allowing for a staggering amount of possibilities and combinations. It’s seemingly the game’s answer to the weapon-durability controversy of BotW, that fans still argue about today. For me, whilst it can be fun combining weapons, it doesn’t solve the issues with durability – rather, it seems that non-fused weapons are even less durable than before, and combining weapons just feels a bit…silly. Seeing a rock fused with a sword just looks a bit odd, and a far cry from anyhting resembling heroic, epic or cool. Fuse ultimately feels like a poorer version of the Ultrahand.

Shrines and Stamina: I was a little surprised to find that I spent most of my time in TotK doing the same gameplay loop as BotW – namely discovering shrines and increasing my stamina and health bars. For everything new in the game, it would have been nice if they’d mixed this loop up a little. Do shrines have to still give me a maguffin which I then turn into health or stamina? Why has Link’s health and stamina depleted since BotW anyway, if this is a direct sequel? Searching for shrines is still brilliant fun, and a great excuse to explore every nook and cranny of the world, but it just felt a bit stale, paticularly as it’s the same world map. Also, the shrines themselves look quite out of place in the world, whereas BotW’s seemed to merge into the landscape more effectively, evoking the sense they’d been buried there for years.

Cluttered, lack of beauty: As mentioned, there is so much to do here, and you’ll be tripping over things every few meters. An unintentional consequence of this, though, is that Hyrule loses some of that ‘less is more’ quiet beauty that it possessed in BotW. Some of the first game’s best moments for me came when I’d find a quiet secluded spot, and just observed the natural wild beauty around me. In TotK, these moments and areas are harder to come across, as there’s be a Korok or a sign that needs fixing, or a bundle of equipment that needs assembling where there was once nothing. These things feel articifially placed over BotW’s carefully crafted natural world, and serve to take away more than they give.

Same Hyrule: I’m really torn on the use of the same Hyrule map. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see every area remixed – to see what’s changed, what new characters are now found in these familiar old locations. But on the other hand… possibly the best thing about BotW was the sense of discovery. What’s up that mountain? What happens if I try to walk the whole of the coastline? Is that a forest? What’s the smoke? Discovering what was around every corner was the key thrill, but because TotK re-uses the entire map, that thrill is diminished. I already know where the Lost Woods are. I know Lurien Village lies around the next bend. I know where the temple is in the rainforest. It’s fun seeing how these things have changed, but that’s nowehre near as enjoyable as discovering somewhere new for the first time.

Building stuff just isnt worth it? As good as the Ultrahand building it – and it is really impressive – most of the time I found myself just bypassing it. Every few hundred yards you’ll find a bundle of equipment – planks, wheels, logs, which represent the game encouraging you to build a vehicle of some sort. But I found there was never really a good reason to do so. For starters, you need the right Zonai devices to power whatever you build, and once you’ve spent 15 minutes crefully aligning all the wheels and whatever other parts you want… at that point you may as well have just walked to your destination. Or rode a horse. In short, oftentimes the effort required to build something excellent, isn’t worth it.

Temples: They really got so close with the temples. After significant backlash from the divine beasts in BotW, they’ve made an effort here to provide us with fully fleshed out temples, harkening back to the classic Zelda games of yore. Sadly, these things just don’t cut it. Whilst they’re an improvement on the Divine Beasts, they lack any real challenge or complexity when compared to the games they’re trying to replicate, with only the fire temple’s mine cart antics giving us anything truly memorable. The nature of the game’s ‘go anywehre’ mantra really sits juxtaposed to the carefully crafted linear nature of classic Zelda dungeons. I think there is a good balance ot be struck, but Nintendo have failed here.

I miss old powers: As good as the new powers are, I do miss the bombs, and I do miss the ice blocks. It’s odd they didn’t include these, even as an end-game bonus, on top of the newer powers.

Non-linearity: Whilst the gameplay itself shines because of the non-linear nature, the narrative itself really suffers from it. In BotW, the plot was so thin that this didn’t really matter. It coud essentially be summarised as ‘Defeat Ganon when ready’. TotK however attempts to provide more complexity in its narrative, but in doing so finds itself clashing with the non-linearity. For instance, whenever you defeat a temple, you’re treated to a cut-scene of all the ancient heroes going up against Ganondorf back in the day. Fine. But this cutscene is essentially the same for every Temple, with no new informaiton provided to the player, because the game doesn’t know which temple you’ll tackle first and last. It’s odd to me that they didn’t build in something that just gave you more information each time, regardless of which temple you did. Similarly, big plot points can be simply missed becuase of the freedom you have to do whatever you want. I still love this freedom, but the plot suffers because of it.

Cooking: As with the other systems, cooking has been improved in that you can actually save your recipes now, and there are many more types of ingredient that have different effects. The issue I have, though, is that it still doesn’t feel worth my time. During a battle I find I’m better off spam-eating 50 applies to gain my health bar back than cooking a meal that gives, say, 7 hearts back that I can only eat once. Faffing around with ingredients around a cooking bowl is fun the first time, but just isn’t worth it in the grand scheme.

The Bad

Zelda voice: It was bad in BotW and it’s still bad now. She just doesn’t sound right. Frankly, none of the voice acting is very good, and I still feel it takes more away form the Zelda experience than it adds. There was a quiet charm to the text-plus-grunting speaking in the old games, which is something BotW and TotK lack. What’s more, most of the speech doesn’t have voice acting, which makes it all the more jarring when the characters do pipe up. Either go all-in, or preferably, remove it entirely.

Intro: TotK does not get off to a good start, particularly when compared to the brilliant gentle beauty of BotW’s Great Plateau. You’re stuck with Zelda walking slowly through some dingy caverns, looking at wall paintings, leanring about fairly basic backstory. You then come across Ganondorf’s Zombie corpse, and get treated to a cutscene. It’s not at all engaging.

More intro: After the cumbersome cavern intro, you’re plonked down on a large sky island that serves to introduce you to Link’s new powers and special cursed arm. The initial ambience of the sky island is lovely, but everything else about it feels like a downgrade from the Great Plateau. For it’s size, its strictly linear, unlike the Plateau that also introducted you to the concept that you could go explore anywhere you like. The sky island instead guides you from point to point, broken up with fairly tedious scuffles with the Zonai robots. It’s broken up with too many cutscenes, and takes too long. A disappointment.

Copy paste sky islands: While we’re on the sky islands, another issue is their lack of variety. It seems odd that arguably the game’s biggest marketing point has seemingly had relatively little attention put into it. The islands are all over the advertising and previews for the game, essentially promising another floating world above the land of Hyrule. What we end up with is an array of four or five ‘types’ of island, duplicated across the sky. When you encounter a type for the first time, it is a thrill, but then this gets diminshed when you realise there are multiple duplicates across the sky. Most of them have a few chests on that are fun to find, and a few have shrines, but really that’s about it. The key thing is that they don’t evoke the same sense of wonder that Wind Waker’s islands did, which is what they should’ve gone for. Every island in Wind Waker was unique and had some secret, large or small, to be uncovered on it. We don’t get either of those things with the sky islands here. The copy-paste issue is such a problem for me because the land of Hyrule below it completely avoids this issue, despite being far wider in scope – it all feels hand-crafted. Why they couldn’t apply the same care for the sky islands is a bit of a mystery, particularly as the game was 6 years in the making and already re-using the previous game’s main Hyrule map.

Zonai confusion: This game goes a bit overboard when it comes to the trinkets. For the Zonai collectibles alone, you get Zonaite – which is an unrefined ore of sorts, which you then need to reifne into either Crystalised Charges or Zonai Charges, which both do different things to your battery power when using vehicles. Oh, and the charges can also be used for vending machines, which give you little orbs representing Zonai equipment that can be used with your machine building. Sound a bit boring and convoluted? That’s because it definitely is. Why do we need to bother with the refining stuff at all? It feels like needless busywork.

Durability: It’s back again, and as mentioned in the fuse section above, it still takes away more than it adds to the gameplay. Yes, it encourages you to use more than one weapon and try things out, but that could’ve been achieved without making every weapon break after five or six hits. The enemies are already strong and/or vulnerable to different types of weapon, so this alone would encourage you to keep a varied arsenal. Running into battle and having to plough through your entire weapon cache just feels annoying and ‘off’. The dial is swung way too far the other way in terms of how brittle everything is, and it just serves to make you counter-intuitively avoid using your more precious weapons through fear of losing them. It feels like there are a bunch of ways Nintendo could keep encouraigng variety but not have items disappear so often. How about when a weapon breaks, it just becomes half as strong, and you have to go to a forge to fix it? Or weapons don’t break, but they blunt over time, and need refining to get to their full strength, like a weird Pokémon Center mechanic?

Dull Depths: Another big surprise when playing was an entire underworld the size of the main map beneath Hyrule, fully explorable and accessible from the get-go. Sounds like double the game! Amazing. However it doesn’t take long to realise that, once again, the care and due-dilligence that they took to craft mainland Hyrule has not been applied here. The whole place is dark, dingy, uninteresting and same-y, with no variety whatsoever. Worse, the landscape feels random, almost AI-generated in its bizarre jaggedness in places, and evokes a generally off-putting vibe. The bottom line is that the depths are not fun to explore, which, like the sky islands, feels like a wasted oppirtunity.

Swimming? Again, Hyrule is full of water, and although we now have better ways of traversing the surface, link still can’t dive under. Instead of the depths, I’d have welcomed a diverse world under the waves. Considering one of the main races in Hyrule is extremely water-based, it’s strange to me that they’ve omitted this seemingly obvious addition, particularly as older games in the series have provided it.

Cant eat an apple on quick menu: The quick menu is a good addition in concept, but whilst I can access my consumables for fusion purposes, I can’t just quickly eat an apple mid-battle. Why?

Robotics: A general rule of videogames for me is: it’s not as fun fighting robots/droids as it is living, organic enemies. Why? I don’t know. But it just isn’t. The Zonai are all robots, and whilst they do have some cool variety, it just doesn’t feel as fun fighitng them as it does the mokoblins or stalfos.

Amiibo: One of the slots on your ‘quick menu’ wheel is for Amiibo use. Firstly, that’s a slot that could’ve been for my beloved icicle power. Secondly, as far as Im concerned, locking content behind Amiibo use is still a pretty scummy practice, so I’m disappointed to see it here again.

Still not worth fighting: Even with all the new trinkets and collectibles on offer from the spoils of war, sadly I found that it’s still not actually worth engaging in fights in the overworld. Mainly due to the durability factor – most of the time, the rewards for winning a battle aren’t as valuable as the weapons you’ve expended in order to win the fight.

Too much chatter: I really felt this one almost immediately. The amount of bloated text in TotK, epsecially compared to BotW, is stark. Characters will spend reams of words to explain the simplest of things. It would be paletable if the writing had anything noteworthy about it, but no, every character seems to have more-or-less the same personality, with nothing to say but banal exposition. Really disappointing, again particularly when compared with Zelda game sof yore, which could be charming and witty.

Companions: Possibly the biggest downgrade from BotW is the use of companions and their powers. As with BotW, when you beat a temple, you acquire the new power from the hero of that Temple. However where in BotW the power acted as an enhacement of an action you already did (holding your shield up becomes a protective aura all around you, jumping now allows you to boost up, etc), now in TotK you instead have a ghost-like companion follow you around, and in order to utilise their power you have to go up to them and press A. This is a poor mechanic for a number of reasons: In the flurry of battle it can be hard to find the hero and align yourself correctly in order to press the aciton. Secondly, it just looks strange exploring the world with four big ghosts running alongside you. And finally, they sometimes just choose to disappear, conspicuously at times when you want to use their power, adding to the frustration. How this didn’t come out in testing is anyone’s guess.

Sequel but not a sequel: The exact time the events of this game is happening never really becomes clear, which is odd considering it’s a rare direct-dequel in the Zelda universe. Happening directly after BotW, you’d think that everyone would know Link – and many seem to, however many do not… And where is all of Link’s Stamina/Hearts he built up during the last outing? Why do we need to re-draw the map? Where is the old Sheikah slate? Where are my old powers? Things just don’t quite slot together in a way that feels like it’s a nice follow-on from BotW. Yes people seem to be rebuilding Hyrule, but not to the extent that I’d have expected – the towns and villages are basically still the same size. It creates a sense that things haven’t really been well thought-out narriatively.


In the grand scheme of things, Tears of the Kingdom is unfortunately quite a disappointment. By no means a bad game at all in its own right, but in the context of having 6 years’ development and being a direct dequel to the masterpiece that was Breath of the Wild, I feel let down by what Nintendo have delivered here. It’s not clear what they’ve spent the past 6 years doing exactly – barebones sky islands and an AI-esque sludge of an underworld aside surely didn’t take that long to cook up. So should you play it now? I say play it if you haven’t touched Breath of the Wild, but if you have, I’d leave a large gap so you can allow yourself to discover Hyrule all over again.


You can buy Tears of the Kingdom from Amazon here.

More game reviews here.