The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom review – Sky’s the limit for high-flying sequel

James Busby
Link on a Sky Island in Tears of the Kingdom

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is the return of the highly acclaimed action-adventure series, and many will be hoping it lives up to the sky-high expectations.

Creating a worthy sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed titles of the 21st century is no easy task – but six years after the release of Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has done just that. Not only does Tears of the Kingdom live up to the voracious hype, but it also forges a new path, using the foundations laid out by its predecessor as a stepping stone and propelling the series to greater heights.

The initial marketing material left some fans questioning if Tears of the Kingdom would be able to craft an identity for itself due to the glaring similarities to Breath of the Wild. Fortunately, I can say that Tears of the Kingdom isn’t just an expansive update to an already great game – it goes above and beyond it.

Eiji Aonuma and his ace team of developers have pushed the boundaries here, inviting greater player creativity and freedom. It’s time to ready yourself for an unforgettable adventure, where the sky is truly the limit.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Key Details

  • Price: $69.99/£59.99
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Date: May 12, 2023
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom trailer

A simple story filled with charm

Taking place a number of years after Breath of the Wild and the slaying of Calamity Ganon, Tears of the Kingdom plunges Link back into his cyclical battle with the Demon King Ganondorf. This time around, a strange event known as the Upheaval has led to a number of odd occurrences manifesting throughout Hyrule.

Zonai Shrines and ruins have emerged, accompanied by the Sky Islands that float above Hyrule. Mysterious Chasms have ripped open the ground, and extreme weather changes have led to shifts in regional landscapes. Furthermore, the blight known as Gloom infests the world and Hylian weaponry.

Link looking at Hyrule from a Sky Island
The Sky Islands are filled with many mysteries.

Princess Zelda has disappeared once again, making matters even worse. This is the world Link finds himself in, as he’s left to piece everything together and save the day. I won’t say any more in order to preserve the experience, but I found myself compelled by the story, especially when it came to revisiting familiar faces and seeing how they had grown in the years since Calamity Ganon’s fall.

One of the biggest complaints surrounding Breath of the Wild was its minimal story. Nintendo has remedied this with its latest outing, creating one of the strongest narratives we’ve seen from a Zelda game since Skyward Sword. While Tears of the Kingdom’s story didn’t unveil a complex narrative with deep emotional themes, its timeless tale of good vs evil has enough meaty lore to sate even the most ravenous Zelda fan’s hunger.

A masterclass in creativity

Whenever I play Tears of the Kingdom, I’m constantly reminded of the hours I’d spend creating makeshift airships in BotW. Haphazardly fixing Octoballoons onto tree trunks and crates, only to be left disappointed when the fleshy spheres would inevitably pop, and my dream of soaring through the skies above would be met with the crushing reality of the Game Over screen.

Even back then, it was clear Nintendo had planted the seed for these innovative ideas but hadn’t yet truly nurtured them. Fast-forward six years, and Tears of the Kingdom not only puts player-made vehicles and devices at the forefront, but it cranks the dial all the way up.

This is thanks to the Ultrahand ability, which enables Link to use Hyrule like his own personal IKEA, effortlessly assembling items found in the overworld together. During my 90-hour playthrough, I created makeshift cars, hot air balloons, airships, hovercrafts, and even rudimentary mechs. The possibilities are almost endless, and while the game offers a handful of example builds, the limitations are only tied to your own creativity.

Link flying in Tears of the Kingdom.
Flying through the skies above Hyrule is as fun as it is freeing.

There were scenarios when I couldn’t stop myself from laughing over the monstrous creations I had built – especially when they actually worked! Whether it’s constructing Mad Max-style carts, kitted out with spikes, flamethrowers, and laser beams to eliminate an enemy Bokoblin camp, or simply hopping between Sky Islands in a fan-assisted glider, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

To make matters better, these creations directly tie into the game’s Shrines and Temples, which have been greatly improved upon. One Shrine had me playing with gravity to catapult a giant ball, deactivating low gravity at just the right moment to send it plummeting down onto the pressure pad below. Another utilized Ultrahand to make a waterwheel that could generate energy for a battery to power other devices.

This may sound complex, but Tears of the Kingdom does a great job of easing you into all the new mechanics. However, for those who would rather keep Ultrahand building to a minimum, the Autobuild ability takes a lot of the legwork out, letting Link quickly create premade builds or use ones you’ve made before.

I found this particularly useful when I wanted to quickly rush out a vehicle during a boss fight or set up a sequence of builds, hopping from one to the other. Combine Ultrahand with the ability to scale structures with Ascend and the ever-useful time rewind feature of Recall, and you have a highly versatile toolkit that’s perfect for exploration and combat.

Whacky weapons spruce up combat

While the controversial weapon durability is still present, Tears of the Kingdom alleviates this system with the Fuse ability. Now Link can utilize his entire inventory of weapons and monster parts to create a truly astronomical arsenal. Not only does Fusing increase durability, it actively enhances the strength, defense, and playstyle of weapons and shields.

Things can get downright ridiculous if you’re willing to experiment. Whether it’s gluing a Flamethrower to a shield, attaching two Halberds together for extended range, or melding powerful monster parts onto your favorite sword to increase its attack, there’s a plethora of exciting combinations.

Link using the Fuse ability in Tears of the Kingdom.
The Fuse ability is an absolute game-changer.

You can also tether items to arrows, giving them new effects. For example, I used Keese Eyeballs to hone in on moving targets, before throwing Yellow Chuchu Jelly to provide an AoE shock. That said, this can be a little unwieldy. Selecting these items can prove a little frustrating, particularly given that there are so many, but it’s a small price to pay for the sheer amount of choice on offer.

Link can also be joined by fan-favorite characters like Prince Sidon – who can be summoned to assist you during overworld exploration, combat, and in Temples. Another companion Tulin, the young Rito Sage, blew gusts that enabled me to reach far-off pillars and islands. Meanwhile, Yunobo smashed his way through rocks and struck gigantic gongs that opened doors. While you can choose to deactivate these computer-controlled allies, it does help keep combat fresh, particularly when you blend all their abilities and Link’s mechanics together.

An expansive world filled with new locations & enemies

While this may look like the Hyrule you know and love, a lot has changed. Many iconic locations have undergone rapid transformations since it was last seen in 2017. In my travels, I found that Kakariko Village had become a major excavation site, Zora’s Domain was covered in a thick sludgy ooze, and Rito Village had been blanketed in snow.

There were also hundreds of smaller alterations, which made revisiting areas less of a chore and more of a fascinating rediscovery. It’s these differences that help keep the game’s well-trodden world looking familiar, while also holding an immense potential for discovery.

It’s not just Hyrule that’s undergone a drastic shift either; new enemies like the terrifying dragon Gleeok, who appeared in the first Zelda, make an appearance. Other mini-bosses like Flux Constructs and deadly variants of existing monsters also roam freely. Even the ever-lovable Bokoblins and Moblins have received a well-earned makeover.

Link fighting a Flame Gleeok in Tears of the Kingdom
Tears of the Kingdom features plenty of new and returning monsters.

While the sky sports new islands, there’s also the addition of the Depths – a vast, dark world beneath Hyrule. It’s here where Gloom-infested enemies lurk and deadly mini-bosses wait in the shadows. Not only are the Depths huge, but navigating them comes with its own unique perils. Unlike the sun-soaked fields of Hyrule and those graceful Sky Islands, the eerie underworld of the Depths is pitch black – save for the few Lightroots and the distant flickering of enemy torches.

If you were worried that Tears of the Kingdom wouldn’t lean into the creepier side of things, then the Depths will certainly have you clinging to your Master Sword.

The fact that the Sky Islands, Hyrule, and the Depths can all be seamlessly explored without encountering loading screens is a huge achievement. That’s particularly impressive when it comes to the Nintendo Switch – a console that has historically struggled during action-heavy sequences. While the console did drop a few frames in some instances, such as when I dove from the sky directly into the Depths, it never got in the way of my enjoyment. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s performance overall.

Verdict – 5/5

Overcoming Breath of the Wild’s exceptional quality was never going to be an easy feat, but The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has achieved a small miracle. There is more creativity and choice than ever before, which will undoubtedly have a long-lasting influence on both the series and the wider gaming industry.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is not so much a tearful goodbye from its historic past, but a fresh new beginning – one that embraces the building blocks set down by its predecessor, and transforms them to further push this beloved action-adventure series ever forward.

Reviewed on Switch