I Wasn’t Impressed by Tears of the Kingdom.


This game is impossible to finish. The long-awaited sequel to 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is designed in such a way that you can complete the main quest line and still have dozens of hours worth of content to experience–which is the exact situation I find myself in. 

So, while I can’t offer any final judgment in good conscience, I know what this game is. I know what the rest of it is going to be. It’s entirely possible that some big twist will change my opinion on it drastically, but I’m not going to hold my breath. So, consider this a strong impression. Spoilers ahead. 

Like most games in this franchise, Tears of the Kingdom follows the legendary trio in their eternal conflict. You play as Link, who traverses the massive open world in an attempt to solve the mystery of Zelda’s disappearance, and ultimately face the Demon King Ganondorf. 

The easiest thing to talk about is the story, as its importance is dwarfed by other elements. It’s as poorly told as Breath of the Wild’s, consisting of normal dialogue and cutscenes, as well as memory fragments you’ll find scattered throughout the open world. I don’t understand why these don’t play in a predetermined order; instead, each fragment location is linked to a specific cutscene. Finding them in a random order was a huge mistake on my part, because the game spoils itself. There’s a really cool (and extremely sad) moment that happened ten hours after I found out it was going to. 

The writing is inconsequential, the actual words coming from the NPCs’ mouths are pretty basic, probably owing to translation–I’ve yet to encounter a single memorable line or character. The voice actors are forced to over-deliver the elementary dialogue, which leads to sub-par performances. A lot of them default to the British Fantasy Voice, but the ones that don’t just sound off in ways that are hard to explain. 

You can talk to a giant ancient tree man fairly early on, and he just has, like, a kind of deep voice. There’s a mystical sky alien that guides you through the tutorial, and he talks like a normal guy. These choices give the characters an uncanny quality to them that you can’t explain without hearing it yourself.

The casting of Matthew Mercer as Ganondorf got a lot of buzz pre-release, but I was disappointed by his performance. He’s a talented man, and can do much better than the grunty “I’m evil” baritone that you can do a decent impression of right now. 

Thankfully, the actual plot of the game is pretty good. There’s an interesting mystery at the center of it that gets solved pretty quickly, but when it does, it actually adds to the intrigue rather than dampening it. 

I’ve never been a Zelda guy. I think the mechanics of its various timelines and reincarnations are amusingly complex, but the actual fantasy setting is far too simplistic and cutesy for my taste. Having said that, this game makes a pretty huge adjustment to the lore of Hyrule, that made this detractor lean forward and go “whoa.” 


Rauru, First King of Hyrule



There’s a lot of gameplay to go over, so I’ll go in reverse order of disappointment: 

For one, the open world traversal is practically unchanged. A part of me doesn’t want to call this a proper sequel because it uses the exact same base map as Breath of the Wild, but there are plenty of new and updated areas to justify it. A lot of places felt familiar, but most of it felt new after a years-long absence. I think the best thing about this game is just how dense it is. A lot of Breath of the Wild’s map felt empty and sparsely populated, but you can barely go fifty feet in this game without stumbling across something interesting. 

This is supplemented by two entire new “layers” of world to explore–the Sky Archipelagos and the underground Depths. The Depths are really cool and feel like an endgame area that’s actually challenging to navigate, but nothing particularly interesting happens down there. The entire area shares the same visual motif, which makes exploring it tiring after a while. For whatever reason, the Depths are where the graphics take the biggest nosedive in quality, this game has clearly pushed the limits of the console to the max, and now that I think about it, this would be the perfect swan song for the Switch. 


The Imposing Natural Architecture of The Depths


Tears of the Kingdom probably has the worst combat system I’ve ever experienced in a video game, because it’s functionally identical to Breath of the Wild’s. Every part of it is lacking. 

And by “system,” I mean the scaffolding of it, the actual swinging of swords and shooting of arrows isn’t satisfying at all, but it does the job. 

There are still only three weapon types with unchanged move sets, and there’s basically never any reason to use the larger two-handed ones. I’m bewildered to see that you can still pause in the middle of fights and access your practically infinite supply of healing. I’ve never come close to running out of materials and I’ve been actively stopping myself from using them in order to make fighting an actual challenge. Enemy variety is still strangely low; there are some notable additions but 70% of the time you’ll be fighting the same three enemies over and over again. The power balancing of the enemies is way off, pretty much all of them can kill you in two or three hits, regardless of level. 

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the decision to add weapon durability to this franchise. It’s supposed to force you to use a bunch of different items, but I refuse to use things that are too rare or powerful because I feel the need to save them, so I end up using garbage most of the time. This is partially augmented by the “Fuse” mechanic that lets you stick things to equipment to boost their stats, but this is a band aid solution. You can turn any random stick into a decent weapon, but you’ll be lucky to kill three goblins with it before it shatters. Fusion is an early example of this game’s fatal flaw: it’s just so goddamn gimmicky. It’s one of many things that feels like it’s there for meme value. It’s sort of funny to stick a banana to the end of a legendary sword, I suppose, but I’m not sure it needed to be a central mechanic. 

None of these things perplexed me as much as Ultrahand, the big headline mechanic of the game, and what I imagine the developers spent most of their time on. Basically, it lets you fuse objects to build anything you want. 

I have seen more than a few reviewers laud this as a technological marvel, and I’m just going to have to take their word for it, I guess, because I sincerely do not see what’s so impressive about sticking assets together. As soon as the game released, gamers showed off their imaginations on social media, sharing clips of flying death machines and Korok torture devices– as a bit of dark humor, one person even recreated the makeshift firearm used to assassinate Shinzo Abe. And, I mean, yeah, that stuff is kind of funny! But you never, ever need to build anything close to that in-game. 90% of the time you’re going to be building extremely simple vehicles like cars, boats, and gliders. 




Korok Crucifixion


I just want you to think about that. Cars, boats, and gliders. To be clear: this mechanic is the game. I’d say about half of the available tasks I’ve completed involved building something. I really don’t like thinking about games like this, but I seriously question how Nintendo thought this was worth seventy American dollars and six years of waiting.

The whole thing reads to me as an exercise in misplaced priorities. I think Nintendo outright chose the wrong creative direction, opting for more freedom instead of refinement. It’s kind of fun to stack a bunch of springs on top of each other to let Link jump super high up in the air, but I seriously wonder if giving him the ability to fly wouldn’t have accomplished the same thing. Combat is a much bigger part of this game than the first one, there are enemies everywhere and you can pick from many different approaches to beating them, but every time I got creative, I lamented the absence of a more advanced, contemporary action experience. Take God of War’s combat and Zelda-fy it or something. 

I’ve almost exclusively focused on the negatives, so I want to pull my punch a little bit and say that Tears of the Kingdom is not a bad game. Far from it, in fact. Many aspects of it are very good, and I enjoyed my time with it. It is a sprawling, seemingly endless adventure, and yet I see compromises and half-measures everywhere. Plenty of things were added to the framework the previous game provided, but not enough things were changed. It is well worth your time, but not worth the price, and certainly was not worth the wait. 


You can play The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom only on Nintendo Swit