Zelda Tears of the Kingdom First Impressions

Tears of the Kingdom has landed, and it’s a huge game, full of puzzles, new story, new abilities, and a whole load of secrets. I’m about 45 hours in at the moment, and I think this is a good time to have a look at my first impressions of the game, and whether Tears of the Kingdom has lived up to my expectations.

Before we get going, a warning here there will be mild gameplay spoilers. I’m not going to get into story spoilers at all, but I will be talking about gameplay, abilities and parts of Hyrule. If you are at all sensitive to gameplay spoilers, then click away now.

First things first, we should start with the opening to the game. I loved the start, the confidence of Nintendo, with the “Nintendo presents” and then the understated “Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom” in a small font. It was a confident start, which then threw us into the first sequence with Link and Zelda exploring under Hyrule. The pair are underground, exploring Hyrule ruins, and looking at Zonai murals. The gameplay and cutscenes are mixed together where we are controlling Link, and helping out Princess Zelda in the ruins. As we saw from the trailers, we discover the mummified body of The Demon King. He attacks Link and Zelda with Malice, Link is scorched and wounded while Princess Zelda falls down into the depths and disappears. It’s a strong and cinematic opening.

Link then wakes up on The Great Sky Island, which acts as the tutorial zone for the game, albeit this felt a lot larger than the Great Plateau. Link wakes up in a cave, rescues the broken Master Sword from the ground, and then works through a network of caves, only to emerge on a platform where we dive off and fly through the sky, in one of the best openings to a game I have experienced in a long time. The visuals and the music working really hard here for an exhiliarating opening sequence. Link then dives into the water and meets various Zonai Contructs, which point Link in the direction of the Temple of Time, which traditionally has looked like a Western style church or Cathederal, however, now it looks more like it has Japanese architecture origins, which I appreciated.

At the Temple of Time we meet Rauru, who explains he saved Link from a near fatal attack, and had to replace Link’s arm with his own. Link then is sent out to 4 shrines on The Great Sky Island to recover various abilities. These include Ultrahand, Ascend, Fuse and Recall. Ultrahand is the star of the show, which allows Link to put together objects and make things. First of all these are platforms and structures, but later (combined with various Zonai devices) you can make complex machines and vehicles. Ultrahand is impressive in so many ways, but the fact it simply works, and works the way you expect it, is incredible.

Ascend is the ability to travel up and through ceilings, which makes getting out of caves and making use of the verticality of Tears of the Kingdom nice and easy. Apparently Ascend was a dev tool, which would help the dev team get out of areas quickly, and Eiji Anonuma and the team decided to put the ability in the game for players. Ascend is also the ability I forget about the most. When I started the game I would play it in a very similar manner to Breath of the Wild, I would be trying to climb everything, forgetting I have a magical ability to travel through ceilings.

Fuse is the ability to merge wepons, arrows and shields together. Given the attack on Hyrule by Ganondorf, all weapons in this world have been corroded, which promotes the use of Fuse. Enemies now have horns and blades attached to their bodies thanks to Ganondorf, which means when you kill an enemy you can harvest their monster parts for Fuse material. For example, fuse a Bokoblin horn to a sword and you’ll not only make it more durable, but you will increase the attack power too. Fusing weapons and items is key to making them last longer, as well as creating powerful weapons to take on enemies. You can create melee weapons, but also fuse things to your sheild. You can simply fuse two shields together to make a strong shield, or add a rocket to your sheild to travel upwards nice and quickly. The key to fuse is experimentation. Gone are elemetal arrows, now you have to fuse materials with arrows to create elemental arrows. For example, different coloured ChuChu jelly create different effects; red for fire, white for ice and so on. We have shock fruit for electric arrows, fire fruit for fire arrows, and muddlebuds for confusion arrows… the combinations feel limitless and interesting.

Recall is another new ability, which gives Link the ability to rewind objects through time, opening up a whole load of potential when it comes to solving puzzles. This is another one that took a little bit of getting used to, but when you get in the swing of things it’s very useful, especially when it comes to traversing the environment. There are aerial gliders you can pick up with ultrahand, mimic throwing them like a paper plane and then let go at the right time to use the momentum to fly the glider. I also love Link’s casual snap of the fingers when dismissing recall, it’s one of my favourite animations in the game.

Once you get these abilities then it’s down to Hyrule proper, having spent a bunch of time in the sky islands. Hyrule has changed, big pieces of sky island have fallen onto the ground, creating destruction in some cases. The Hryule we know and love from Breath of the Wild is here, but characters have moved on and story arcs have progressed. Hyrule is also in a state of reconstruction, given it’s recovery from Calamity Ganon, so there is building material all over the place, which is handy given you have abilities to stick things together and create all kinds of vehicles and structures with Ultrahand. Tarry Town is a particular delight, you’ll discover later on your journey.

Memories return in Tears of the Kingdom, although Nintendo has done a lot of quality of life improvements compared to Breath of the Wild. Story moments are still delivered by looking back into the past, although this time it comes in the form of Dragon’s Tears, which can be found at huge Glyphs found all over Hyrule. These are drawings on the ground, which can be seen best from great heights. Search around these glyphs on the ground and you’ll find a small pool of water containing the tears of a dragon, which are converted to flashbacks for Link. I found this system a much better way of engaging with the story. Breath of the Wild did something similar with the memories and the camera, but finding the right spot for the memories in Breath of the Wild felt much more obtuse than this mechanism in Tears of the Kingdom. We have to travel around Hyrule to unlock the Towers anyway, and finding a new Glyph then hunting for the tear was good fun.

Talking of the Towers, they have returned, but this time they shoot you into the sky rather than having to climb each of them one by one. Climbing was front and center in Breath of the Wild, but Tears of the Kingdom is much more dyanmic and skydiving is the new mechanic of freedom, so what better way of getting into the sky quickly than being shot into the sky with a huge canon. This can be a problem if you don’t have the paraglider, which isn’t just handed to you like it is in Breath of the Wild. Tears of the Kingdom does a great job in subtly directing you where to go, so getting the paraglider is still on the main path, but it’s possibel to miss and I’ve heard a bunch of stories from players who didn’t get the glider immediately and were asking where it was.

Another feature that has returned from Breath of the Wild are shrines, which have been given a new swirl of energy coming out the top to make them easier to find. The shrines are just as creative as ever, and with the suite of abilities Link has now, they are even more challenging. I’ve gone into a shrine expecting a 10 minute puzzle and have been stuck in some for nearly an hour. The combination of Ultrahand, Fuse, Recall and Ascend make for really entertaining puzzles, plus the shrines act as tutorials for your abilities, so try and do as many shrines as possible early in the game because they will teach you abilities, plus how to use Zonai Devices.

Zonai Devices are a new addition to the game, which are part of the suite of tools you can stick together using Ultrahand or Fuse to your weapons and shields. There are many Zonai Devices in the game and they range from fans, fire emitters, wheels, baloons and a whole load more. Zonai Devices can be found in Zonai Depensers, which look like huge pachinko machines found all over Hyrule, and it’s good to hunt these devices out and find new devices because they really open up the gameplay in Tears of the Kingdom.

Side quests have really been fleshed out in Tears of the Kingdom, as well as characters and NPC stories. There were side quests in Breath of the Wild, but I feel like they are much more engaging here in Tears of the Kingdom, with may of them being elevated to main story status. One of my favourites includes opening up the Great Fairy Fountains, which is slightly different to the previous game. There all we had to do was find the fountains, here you have to wake up each individudal fairy with a wandering band, playing them a song each time you visit a new fountain. As well as getting the band back together, you unlock armor upgrades and build some great Zonai machines along the way.

I’m going to go into some gameplay spoliers now, which haven’t been widely discussed by Nintendo. Consider this your warning number two, and click away now if you really don’t want to know.

Still with me? OK. Much of the marketing was focused around the Sky Islands in Tears of the Kingdom, but I actually have spent more time under Hyrule than in the sky. We have a whole other map under Hyrule called The Depths, which is dark, dank and dangerous. Early in Tears of the Kingdom we’re given a quest from Robbie to go down into the Depths to learn more about our camera feature on the Pura Pad. There’s that nmoment when you run into Hyrule field and you see the chasm, this huge black and red hole in the middle of the ground, then you jump in and you’re diving for roughly the same amount of time it takes to get from the sky to the ground.

The music changes, and it’s dark and gloom is everywhere (the red and black substance covering the ground and enemies in the depths and above ground in Hyrule). I haven’t spent as much time as I would like down in the depths, I really need to explore more but that first time you dive down there and realise it’s as big as Hyrule above is one of the best moments I can remember, and Nintendo did well to prevent this information from getting out. They even showed the Depths briefly in trailers, and I don’t think anyone put two and two together. Elden Ring did something similar, but the undeground sections in Elden Ring were’nt half as big at this. The Depths really remind me of the Dark World in A Link To The Past, although rather than a parrallel world, this is another layer below Hyrule.

Something else we didn’t find out until hours from launch is the confirmation that dungeons or back in a mainline Zelda game. This was rumoured, and then confirmed by Eiji Aonuma and the team very close to launch through the developer Q&A. We have regional temples related to the different races; Gerudo, Rito, Zora and Goron, which translate to Lightning, Wind, Water and Fire Temples. I don’t think they are quite as engaging as traditional Zelda Temples, for example, they don’t reach the same heights as Twilight Princess, but they are better than the Divine Beasts found in Breath of the Wild. I think they sit somewhere between the Divine Beasts and traditional Zelda Dungeons. Getting the the temples is a journey in itself, for example, getting to the Wind temple felt epic and gave me a sense of scale and verticality I’ll remember for a long time.

I like a lot about Tears of the Kingdom, but there are some thing that still could be improved. Combat is still a little janky, especially when compared to other similar open world action games. I found doing the temples back to back after some exploration made narrative moments repetitive, and the boss fights in the temples were hit and miss. The whole water temple was hit and miss for me to be honest.

In terms of performance, mostly it’s fine, there are some moments where the game struggles, but it hasn’t interrupted my enjoyment of the game. The fact this is 16GB running on hardware which is outperformed by mobile phones these days is impressive. I don’t really buy into the graphics arguements, I like the style of Tears of the Kingdom. The polish is incredible. Many developers have taken to social media to question exactly how this game was made; the physics, the engine, the fact you can make prettyv miuch anything and the game wants you to break it, makes it a semi-technical miracle it even exists. It’s almost unfair, Nintendo has raised the bar once again, and it feels like other teams are so far behind what Nintendo is doing here, it’s going to take years to catch up. Even Breath of the Wild came out in 2017 and one of the only open-world experiences we’ve seen that comes anywhere close is ELden Ring, and that released 5 years after Breath of the Wild. With these new mechanics, Nintendo have taken Zelda up to another level and it’s going to be a long time before any other team is there.

Throughout the whole experience so far I have been sitting there like I did as a kid, playing through the latest Zelda game, cramming as much game time in as I possibly can without damaging other parts of my life. It’s been a pleasure to be in at the ground floor on this game and being part of the conversation online. I don’t know if it’s ultimately better than Breath of the Wild, but peronally I am enjoying the experience of playing through this much more than I did with the first game. I’m roughly 45-50 hours in at the moment and I still have a long way to go, and I’m excited to finish up the latest adventure in Hyrule.

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