First Gameplay Impressions of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (No Story Spoilers!)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, you’ve probably either been playing The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on Nintendo Switch or hearing a lot about it from those who are. I actually took a couple days off from work specifically to give myself more time to play it – but even 20-ish hours in, this game has such scale that I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.

However, I certainly have some early impressions of the game I’d like to share. I’m highly aware that most people (including myself) are still at the stage of avoiding spoilers, so for this post I’m going to focus solely on the gameplay of Tears of the Kingdom and the changes that differentiate it as a sequel to Breath of the Wild.

I’m not going to talk about any story specifics here – those thoughts will come in a later post, once more of us have spent a substantial amount of time with the game. Of course, if you either haven’t started Tears of the Kingdom or would like to avoid absolutely all information about it, then I’d advise to stop reading here.

One final thing before we get into the meat of the article; below is a quick photo of my gorgeous Collector’s Edition! A big thanks to Ash Harrison, who’s appeared on this site before in Let’s Chat and other posts. He helped me acquire one of these beauties, after I thought I’d missed out.

Look to the Skies

As we were shown in the trailers for Tears of the Kingdom, the game takes place shortly after Breath of the Wild. Direct sequels are a rare occurence in the Zelda series, and seeing these beloved Breath of the Wild characters again is highly rewarding, whether it be Zelda, Link, or the many quirky side characters. For example, we get to revisit Tarrey Town, which Link helped to build in Breath of the Wild and has now expanded even further.

Tears of the Kingdom takes place in the same Hyrule, but as we saw in the trailers, an event called the “Upheaval” has significantly changed the landscape in several ways. Not only is the topography altered on the ground, but it’s also been separated, most visibly with the many floating islands suspended above Hyrule. Think of it like those exploded-view technical drawings for pieces of technology or engineering; Hyrule has been blown out into different layers. Such a monumental landscape change sets Tears of the Kingdom apart both visually and literally from Breath of the Wild, despite using many of the same base assets and designs.

Furthermore, this essentially means that Tears of the Kingdom has multiple open-worlds to explore, resulting in an astonishing level of scale that few (if any) games have accomplished before. Unsurprisingly, the earliest portions of Tears of the Kingdom immediately put the player in the sky to show this off. Both this area and the rest of the game create incredible vistas out of the expansive sky, especially when the sun is cresting the horizon.

Just like the Great Plateau served as a way of acclimatising players to the gameplay mechanics of Breath of the Wild before setting us free, here the player has to navigate an expansive floating island before being allowed to dive into Hyrule below. With open skies and cliff edges all around, it’s a clever way to give us an immediately-new environment to play around in, whilst also whetting our appetites for the rest of the game we know resides directly below.

Give Me a Hand

This starting island gives us glimpses of story set-up, but mostly, it gives the player a confined space to learn about Link’s new tools. In Breath of the Wild, many of the puzzles were built around abilities such as Stasis (for stopping things in their tracks) and Magnesis (for moving metallic items). In Tears of the Kingdom, these have been thrown out and replaced by powers that build upon those we got in Breath of the Wild. Once again, we learn and use these most frequently in Shrines, the mini-dungeons that made their debut in the previous game.

First up is Ultrahand, which acts much like Magnesis, except now you can select and move most non-metal items that aren’t secured to a surface. Not only that, but you can attach items to each other with a magical glue. The freedom this gives the player to assemble different structures is almost limitless, and this is – so far – the ability I’ve used the most. Whether you’re making a bridge out of multiple surfaces, creating scaffolding to support something, or making your own wood-panel-kaiju (there are some… interesting videos going around online!), Nintendo have really set our imaginations loose with Ultrahand.

Next up is Fuse, which adds a new layer to the weaponry Link can use. By taking a weapon such as a stick or sword and using Fuse, you can attach other objects to it to increase its durability, potency, or add extra features such as flamethrowers. Often this is useful for attaching boulders to weapons, making them able to knock down rocky surfaces that previously you’d need bombs for. What this won’t do is satisfy the not-insignificant crowd of people who didn’t enjoy weapon durability in Breath of the Wild, as you’ll still be going through weapons at a frequent rate.

I personally am impartial on weapon durability – I don’t love it, but it doesn’t bother me either. It’s just a part of the game I accept, and I do appreciate how it makes the player plan ahead and also experiment with different approaches. On the other hand, I won’t deny it can be grating in specific situations – for example, I got to a boss fight in a Temple and ran out of weapons entirely, and there was nothing in the vicinity to use. I had to back out entirely to go and gather weapons, which restarted the boss fight and destroyed the momentum of the fight. To me, that’s more an issue of the game not ensuring there are enough resources close enough to keep the fight going.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

The next power Link has is Ascend, which is the most straightforward of the new powers, but also potentially my favourite. Basically, it allows link to jump straight up and pass through any solid surface above him, appearing out the other side. That can even mean jumping from a cave out to the top of a mountain, and it’s such an efficient way to move around that looks incredibly cool at the same time. It’s often used in puzzles where the player is encouraged to intuitively keep a mental map of where everything is, and work out where you need to position yourself to come out in the place you need. It doesn’t allow the same intricacies as Ultrahand, but as someone who loves well-executed traversal in games, it appeals to me greatly.

Finally, the fourth of the new powers (that I’ve seen so far) is Recall, which lets you move objects back in time. It’s essentially an evolution of Stasis, like how Ultrahand is an evolution of Magnesis. Again, it allows many clever puzzles where you rewind and accelerate objects to bend physics to your will, or even launch projectiles back at your opponents. Especially when used in conjunction with other powers like Ultrahand, it opens up a whole sandbox of options for the player.

And that’s just it – these powers combined are such a powerful toolset, and Nintendo’s built a world to match it. Objects like gliders, flamethrowers, turbines, and hot air balloons are very accessible, and allow the player to dream up their own unique solutions to problems. That it all feels balanced is a huge credit to the developers – no wonder it took 6 years to develop this game! The free rein we’re given is so refreshing, with little in the way of hand-holding. Tears of the Kingdom trusts the player and their brain to work out the answers with what they’re given, and that trust is incredibly endearing.

Astonishingly, Tears of the Kingdom almost makes Breath of the Wild look simple in comparison. Only one level of open world? Only able to move metal objects? Pah, how basic, am I right? Of course, I’m being facetious. What remains true, though, is that Tears of the Kingdom is an undeniable step change from Breath of the Wild in many ways, narrative included – but as aforementioned, we won’t get into that right now.

Been Here Before

After that opening section, Link and the player are launched into Hyrule proper, and I’ve got to say, that first landing from the skies into Hyrule is an exhilarating moment. After more story beats, we’re once again encouraged to go out into the world, exploring both the lands and skies of Hyrule to save the kingdom from Ganondorf. In many ways, this moment is when Tears of the Kingdom is truly tested as a sequel to Breath of the Wild; the map is very different, but is it enough?

I’ll be honest, in my first moments, I wasn’t convinced. The first segments up in the sky felt incredibly fresh, but there’s an unmistakeable familiarity with the world below. After all, many players got to know this world during tens or hundreds of hours in Breath of the Wild. Whilst there is a lot of change from the upheaval, Tears of the Kingdom undeniably shares a lot of DNA with that previous game. For example, the horse stables and previously-mentioned Shrines dotted around Hyrule both operate much the same.

However, it’s when you start revisiting landmarks like the villages or towers that the differences really start to stand out, especially once you become comfortable with moving between the sky and land of Hyrule. I’ve enjoyed mastering the new tools for navigation and puzzle-solving, especially when it comes to the Koroks! Occasionally, you’ll find a stranded Korok that needs help getting to their friend, and it’s up to you to find a solution. You might lift them with Ultrahand, you might strap them to the back of a horse, or you might launch them on a rocket – whatever works for you! There are many hilarious stories going around online.

In my harshest moments, I could describe Tears of the Kingdom as feeling like the best DLC you’ll ever play in your lifetime, but that’s unfair to the amount of work that’s gone in here. Also, it’s a feeling that lessened as I put more hours into the game. The further you delve into Tears of the Kingdom, the more differences you find in both narrative and gameplay; the former being particularly impactful, and I’m excited to talk more about that in a future post, because it makes a huge impact on the tone of the game. In my opinion, Nintendo has justified the sequel to Breath of the Wild with the sheer level of creativity, scale, and freedom it offers.

Sum of its Parts

Before finishing this impressions post, I feel it’s important to go back to the Shrines. First, the positive: I generally preferred the puzzles in Tears of the Kingdom over the ones we got in Breath of the Wild. With powers like Ultrahand and Fuse, it has allowed Nintendo to craft engineering-style puzzles that feel markedly different. Often you’ll be tasked with creating a particular machine out of the parts you’re given, and part of that speaks to how my brain works. It’s a bit like the problem-solving I do in my daily design work!

Despite this, I continue to be disappointed about the absence of fully-fledged dungeons (so far). In the story sections I’ve played, I’ve come across one “Temple” that was a Temple in name only. The puzzles were straightforward and did not work together in that seamless, ingenious way that games such as Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword do so well, and the boss was disappointingly easy. However, I did like the individuality of the Temple compared to the Divine Beasts in Breath of the Wild, and the Temple linked into the narrative in unexpected ways I particularly liked. Yet, the dungeon design itself still felt like a compromise, and for such an intrinsic part of the Zelda formula, that’s a little disappointing.

I don’t know if dungeons are being omitted on purpose or because the developers can’t figure out a way to include them – I struggle to believe the latter, as there’s so much invention to be found elsewhere in Tears of the Kingdom. I have adored my time with Tears of the Kingdom so far, but the weakness of dungeons is what holds it back from being considered my favourite Zelda game.

Thanks for reading these early impressions of Tears of the Kingdom! As usual when it comes to Zelda, there’s plenty to talk about, and I look forward to discussing the story of Tears of the Kingdom in a later post. Despite the small criticisms I’ve brought up, I’ve been blown away by the game and the amount Nintendo has packed into it.

If you’ve been playing Tears of the Kingdom, I’d also love to know your own thoughts so far, and any Korok-related misadventures you might’ve had… !

Right then, I’m off to (surprise, surprise) play more Zelda. Have an amazing day, and I’ll see you next week!

2 thoughts on “First Gameplay Impressions of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (No Story Spoilers!)

  1. Not had much time to play Tears of the Kingdom yet, but I’ve been enjoying it so far. I like the new powers as well. The game is huge though and takes a bit of getting into. It’s the kind of game I like to chill out with.and will probably take me ages to play it all. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you’re enjoying it too! You’re very right about it being huge, it works best when you have a long amount of time to dive into the world.

      Like you say, it’s quite a relaxing game when you focus on the exploration (despite the darker story!). I don’t know about you, but I’m more compelled to do everything than I was in Breath of the Wild. For starters I prefer the puzzle design, but it’s also the story set-up; in BotW, I always felt a bit guilty because you’re told Zelda is desperately holding Ganon back whilst you mess around with Koroks, haha. In Tears of the Kingdom it’s more of a slow-paced mystery.

      Thanks for reading! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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