The Legend of Zelda series has a long and storied history, but rarely does Nintendo follow up even its most beloved games with iterative sequels. While making a follow up to one of the most beloved Zelda games seems like an obvious, and safe decision, Nintendo did risk treading familiar territory with a direct sequel. Fortunately, Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of the most innovative and creative games in the series to date, while also being one of the best games released under the Zelda name. Every area that Breath of the Wild succeeded in, Tears of the Kingdom not only excels, but improves multifold, to the point that going back to replay Breath of the Wild may be challenging considering the substantial additions here that will surely be missed if not carried over to other Zelda titles.
The most substantial change in Tears of the Kingdom is the addition of the new Zonai abilities, which grant the player enormous new opportunities to engage with the world in new ways. There are four new abilities, Ascend, Recall, Fuse, and Ultrahand.
Ultrahand can be used to create all sorts of useful vehicles
Ascend is the most basic, it allows Link to travel upwards, through solid material, emerging out the other side. Instead of wasting time climbing up a cliffside, simply ascend underneath a ledge and travel up instantly. Instead of wasting time backtracking from out of a cave, one can just use ascend, and escape instantly. Ascend is a massive timesaver and a quality of life improvement, and has interesting applications in puzzle solving as well.
Recall gives Link the ability to rewind time on objects, which comes in handy during the numerous shrine puzzles scattered about Hyrule. I treated Recall as an “undo” button. Accidentally dropped some loot off a ledge? Recall painlessly allows one to reverse the action.
Fuse grants the power to attach nearly any object to Link’s weapon of choice, granting players an immense degree of creative power at their fingertips. While you can fuse weapons together, players will find that fusing valuable monster parts to weapons is the most effective method for creating powerful weapons with interesting abilities. There are so many combinations that I cannot begin to list them all here, but some of my favorites that I had created were a spear that launched a cannonball at enemies with every thrust, a shield with a flamethrower attached, and a TNT barrel fused with a long stick, which effectively could be used as an explosive javelin spear. There's so many great combinations for serious combat, but Fuse can also lead to some hilarious possibilities, like attaching mushrooms to a weapon that sends enemies bouncing off into the distance, or a beehive that launches bees upon use.
Players can attach practically anything to their weapons using Fuse
Ultrahand is the game’s most ambitious ability and by far the most used. Ultrahand grants the ability to move objects, similar to telekinesis, and connect these objects together. The possibilities of this new ability are truly incredible. Through using Ultrahand, I was able to construct a fan powered glider, a hovercraft, hot air balloons, rafts, and much more. Ultrahand isn’t just for creating interesting traversal vehicles either. The ability plays such a central role in both solving puzzles and interacting with the world, that it feels as natural as having Link run, climb or jump. I can’t imagine playing another Zelda title without Ultrahand, as it is one of the series’ most innovative and interesting additions to date.
While there were abilities similar in concept to these within Breath of the Wild, the new ones found here make those previous abilities pale in comparison, to the point that each felt like I had enabled some sort of cheat code. Yet, the game is balanced cleverly around having this massive toolset at your disposal. The way the Zonai abilities weave together within combat, puzzle solving and traversal is a masterwork and one of Nintendo’s most impressive achievements in game design to date.
The new abilities are not the only major additions within this behemoth of a sequel. While the land of Hyrule is very much similar to the open world explored in Breath of the Wild (in fact, it's practically the same), two new major areas, the sky and the depths, give players even more to explore. Sky islands host a variety of puzzles, while the depths cater more towards exploration, with some of the game’s best loot hidden in its nooks and crannies. Discovering how to reach the dozens of floating islands that litter the sky is an enjoyable challenge in itself, and the depths provided even more to discover in an already massive world. The materials found in the depths tend to be the ingredients needed to make Zonai construction, while the sky materials help light the way in the cavernous, dark depths, and this loop of going from the sky, to the ground, to the depths and back again kept me engaged for hours on end. And while Hyrule geographically the same as in the previous game, Tears of the Kingdom introduces a much more fleshed out open world, with expansive new caves to explore, hundreds of new sidequests that eclipse anything in Breath of the Wild, and new gear and customization not present in any previous Zelda game.
Story is sparse, and told nonlinearly, similar to the approach in Breath of the Wild. While Tears of the Kingdom is still true to many of the established tropes from previous games, narratively it stands tall as one of the best in the series. The tried and tested formula of exploring dungeons, solving puzzles, and defeating a boss at the end is present, but like Breath of the Wild are smaller in scope than more traditional entries in the series. Compared to its predecessor, however, Tears of the Kingdom’s dungeons were more creatively designed both stylistically and with more challenging puzzles than Breath of the Wild.
Following up Breath of the Wild was a goliath task, yet Tears of the Kingdom not only meets, but exceeds expectations. The scale, innovation and creativity at play from a moment to moment basis is some of the greatest I’ve seen in gaming’s modern era. Making a sequel better than the first is hard, but this game far surpasses the heights of its predecessor. Tears of the Kingdom is not only one of the greatest sequels in gaming history, but also one of the greatest games of all time.