Is Tears of the Kingdom the best game of all time?

Is Tears of the Kingdom the best game of all time?

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the sort of rare game that you can call your all-time favourite game without anyone batting an eyelid. Its qualities are, at this point, extremely well-documented – its open-ended design, deep exploration, and extremely intricate interlocking gameplay systems led to a title that made other major releases of that year feel mealy in comparison. The release of Tears of the Kingdom poses an obvious question: how do you make a follow-up to the best game of all time?

The answer is both simple and complicated. Simple: you take the world from the last game, move it forward in time, and throw a bunch of new mechanics and locations, and continue the story you started. Complicated: you fundamentally rethink the world of Hyrule, the game’s setting, and introduce a crafting mechanic that allows players to literally craft solutions to problems, cobbling together inventions like MacGuyver. Tears of the Kingdom might be the most open of all the open-world games I’ve played, without ever feeling as confusing or intimidating as many other games do..

The story opens with Link (our playable hero) and  Zelda investigating a mysterious situation unfolding in the recently discovered catacombs under Hyrule Castle following the events of Breath of the Wild. In the opening hour an ancient evil is inadvertently released, and through a mysterious chain of events Link finds himself awakening on an island in the sky, one of his arms now replaced and his health and stamina dramatically reduced. After completing the (large and extremely enjoyable) tutorial spread across this island, players are free to explore the game world – and complete the “main” quests – at their own leisure, and in any order they choose.

Tears of the Kingdom is all about exploration and experimentation. The world is littered with tools and devices, and thanks to new abilities you can stick them together or fuse them with your weapons. Say you find a motor fan, for instance: stick that onto a chunk of concrete with four wheels attached, and you can use the fan to propel your vehicle forward. Or you can glue it to your shield and blow enemies away while you block their attacks, or fuse it to a sword and add the power of wind to your attacks.

The game world is absolutely littered with objects to interact and experiment with, which can be used to create vehicles and tools or to augment your weapons. The level of granular choice in the game is incredible – cut down a tree and you can stick the log to a sword to make a more durable weapon, or stick it to another log to make a raft, or catch it on fire to warm yourself up, or simply pick it up and drop it on an enemy.

There are, without exaggeration, hundreds of other examples I could list out. I am yet to have an idea for an interaction between different items that didn’t eventually prove viable – if you can imagine it, you can do it. Tears of the Kingdom really demands that you rethink everything you remember from Breath of the Wild – fusing is the key to making good weapons, and there’s no longer such a thing as a “bad” weapon, with even a humble tree branch suddenly becoming very powerful if you fuse it to an explosive barrel and then hurl it at an enemy.

Hyrule has expanded for this sequel. Not only is the sky now full of islands and temples to find and complete, but – incredibly – there’s an entire extra world underground now, which, while not as complex or exciting as what’s above ground, still feels like an entire extra game stapled on. There’s never a shortage of things to do in Tears of the Kingdom: there are side quests to investigate, new recipes to find and make, enemy outposts to clear, puzzle shrines to find and complete. After 50 hours, with so much of the underground still left to uncover, it feels like I’ve literally barely scratched the surface. Sometimes I’ll simply load the game up and start running in a direction I’m unfamiliar with, knowing with some confidence that I will definitely find something that will make the journey worthwhile.

The Nintendo Switch is not at the same level of technical complexity as the Sony PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S, but Tears of the Kingdom is a solid reminder of just how much Nintendo’s handheld is capable of. Not only is the game visually delightful, with long draw distances and many stunning tableaus scattered throughout the game world, but its performance is rock solid. The game’s internal physics systems are deeply impressive, with every element acting exactly as it should no matter how you fuse things together or devise complex systems of interconnected parts. This is the sort of game that you’ll probably get even more out of if you have an engineering degree while the rest of us are making rudimentary air balloons and covering all of our vehicles in spikes.

Is Tears of the Kingdom the new best game of all time, then? It’s too soon to say definitively, but it could well be. It’s an immediate entry into the pantheon of all-time greats, and a strong reminder that no other company makes games quite like Nintendo does.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom  is available now exclusively on Nintendo Switch. A personal copy was purchased for this review.

James O’Connor has been reviewing and writing about games since 2008.


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