Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom sticks the landing in a triumphant return to Hyrule
This is a very familiar sequel to 2017's Breath of the Wild. That’s (usually) not a bad thing
Is it bad when a new game feels like a rehash of one of the best games of all time?
Six years ago, Nintendo launched its new Switch console alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That entry in the decades-old action-adventure series gave players a sublime sandbox of mystery, puzzles and combat that set a new standard of open-world games.
It's little surprise that the direct sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, out this Friday, doesn't reinvent the wheel — certainly not after Breath of the Wild's sales (north of 30 million copies) blew previous series' entries out of the water.
For months, gamers have obsessively combed over a handful of trailers, like forensic scientists, for hints of secret lore or new mechanics not yet revealed.
WATCH | Fans came out in droves to get a copy of the new game:
The reality is a lot simpler: Tears of the Kingdom brilliantly builds on the foundation set by its predecessor in the best ways a good sequel can do. Yet with it comes a nagging sense of déjà vu there's a whole lot of stuff you've done before.
Tears begins a short-yet-undefined amount of time after the end of Breath of the Wild. Princess Zelda and her sword-wielding bodyguard, Link, have defeated Calamity Ganon, a demon that held the ruins of the kingdom of Hyrule in its grasp for 100 years. As the citizens rebuild, Zelda and Link stumble upon mysterious caves deep beneath the royal castle.
WATCH | Tears of the Kingdom trailer:
Bad things follow, naturally.
Another ancient evil is revived, Zelda goes missing and the castle is lifted into the air by some unseen force. At the same time, chunks of heretofore unknown floating land masses suspended high above Hyrule, called Sky Islands, begin crashing into the ground, causing all sorts of havoc.
The player, as Link, must once again find out what happened to Zelda — and maybe save the rest of the kingdom along the way.
Breadth of the Wild
The opening hours of Tears of the Kingdom make for a fine introduction. You're given a suite of powerful new abilities and let loose on a large Sky Island, inviting you to explore its unfamiliar geography and battle strange new robotic enemies.
Before long, you'll make it back to solid ground on Hyrule. Things have changed, certainly — the Upheaval, as residents call it, has left lasting scars across the continent's topography.
But you'll probably be surprised at how much remains the same as in Breath of the Wild.
You're still tasked with investigating strange happenings in Hyrule's four major regions. Your weapons still break after a dozen or so swings. You still increase your maximum health and stamina by completing devious challenges in shrines dotted across the world. The blood moon still rises at midnight, resurrecting slain monsters.
That doesn't mean the moment-to-moment action is any less thrilling. Think of it like diving into a new book of sudoku or crossword puzzles: you know the rules of the game, but each page can bring new and surprising configurations of the tried-and-true formula.
One major feature that previews haven't yet shown off is the Sky Islands' funhouse mirror equivalent: an underground map as expansive as Hyrule itself called the Depths.
It's filled with mutated flora and fauna, like something you'd see in an Aliens movie, illuminated with an unnatural, milky glow. At times, its sights and sounds are as foreboding as something in a zombie-infested Resident Evil game.
Master Sword to master builder
Link's new powers in Tears open up dizzying new possibilities that I could not even begin to fully utilize in the couple of weeks I've had to play the game, before general release.
The Fuse power allows you to attach items to your weapons, strengthening them or giving them new abilities. Stick a goblin's hard, bony horn onto a wooden stick to make it tougher and more durable. Attach a bat's eye to an arrow to give it homing ability.
Players might be disappointed that the dozens of monster parts and salvageable items don't all have unique properties — sorry, folks, there's not a lot you can do with a meat arrow — but it still affords you a ton of flexibility in and out of combat.
The Ultrahand ability allows you to build vehicles using simple items like planks of wood and wagon wheels. You can also attach components like electric fans and miniature cannons to make battery-powered motorboats, rocket-powered gliders and more.
For the most part, I haven't strayed far from typical blueprints: sticking a fan on a wooden raft to cross a river, or gluing flame-emitting sculptures resembling a dragon's head to a hot-air balloon to reach the tops of small mountains.
But it's clear that mad scientists with a degree in freestyle Lego will dream up mind-bending contraptions in no time. And save an awkward few minutes learning how to manipulate, swing and rotate the parts before sticking them together with a wholly unexplained magic green glue, it quickly becomes second nature.
Discoveries, large and small
Amidst all the old and new, Tears of the Kingdom retains the joy of exploration and sense of discovery that Breath of the Wild perfected in 2017. Every time I sat down with the game, I ran into something new that surprised or shocked me.
Sometimes, it's humble: a new ingredient to make new dishes and record in my cookbook. Other times, I'm gasping in awe as I'm launched high into the atmosphere by ghostly Viking ships' sails that act as super-powered trampolines, before discovering a giant floating temple hidden inside the eye of a cyclonic storm.
One notable disappointment that carries over from nearly the entire series, though: Despite her starring role in the game's cutscenes, in a time-travel epic with implications that rival a modern Marvel movie, we still get precious little of Princess Zelda herself, voiced in English by Patricia Summersett.
And in my playtime — 55 hours and counting, and nowhere near approaching the finale — gamers only control Link, despite repeated calls over the years for Zelda to take a more active role in the series that bears her name.
Fundamentally, Tears of the Kingdom is more of what millions of players loved about Breath of the Wild. That's usually not a bad thing, and the title will surely be in the conversation of best games of this year — and beyond.
Just don't be too surprised if that feeling of déjà vu sticks with you as you run, jump, gallop and fly across Hyrule once again.