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The Game Developer editorial team ponders the highs and lows of Tears of the Kingdom.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

May 19, 2023

9 Min Read
A picture of Link stood atop a floating island looking over Hyrule

It's been seven days since The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was dropped in our laps, and the long-awaited sequel to Breath of the Wild has been the talk of the town ever since. The title launched to critical acclaim before delivering commercial success, swiftly becoming the fastest-selling Zelda game in history after shifting 10 million copies in three days

It has also become a social media phenomenon thanks to a myriad of new mechanics that have turned Hyrule into a sprawling construction site, with players sharing their most creative (and preposterous) builds including bipedal mechs, rambling mono-wheels, hovercrafts of mass destruction, and alarmingly effective rotisseries. 

Devs are asking "How on earth did Nintendo make this?" Players are wondering, "How the hell did you build THAT?" The Koroks are begging to be left alone. And the Game Developer editorial team are itching to share their thoughts after exploring the many layers of Hyrule 2.0. Let's dive in.

Justin Carter / Contributing Editor 

(@GigawattConduit)

Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom feels big in both ways: big enough to get absorbed in for several hours at a time, and too big to have any real semblance of cohesion. It’s a game caught between the fun of forming something fuelled by one’s own creativity and the frustration of not having quite the structure (or semblance of it) that most open-world games have comfortably provided over the last 20 years. 

And yet, the best part of the game is when the scale of that world is further unveiled to the player. Finding Skyview Towers and accessing them in order to establish a new fast travel station and scope out the region of Hyrule never really loses its appeal. (Even with the occasional roadblock or extra wrinkle to accessing them thrown in to avoid complacency.) 

Zelda_4.png

Watching Link get blasted upwards thousands of miles into the sky gives Tears a sense of scale that its predecessor, Breath of the Wild wasn’t always able to convey with its static Sheikah stations. As simple as it is, Tears’ emphasis on verticality really does amplify the feeling of “if I see it, I can go to it“ that can be found in the better open world games. It’s further enhanced with the additions of the Depths below Hyrule. If Towers convey how big the world is, finding a lightroot to illuminate the underground is a reminder of its hostility. 

With how prevalent these types of games have been in the past two decades, open worlds can’t be truly unique again. But through its world design and the mechanics of its exploration, Tears of the Kingdom has managed to create a feeling of uniqueness to a version of Hyrule that once felt like it had nothing more to offer.

Bryant Francis / Senior Editor 

(@RBryant2012)

Nintendo's approach to "verticality" in Tears of the Kingdom is positively mind-boggling. When the publisher first teased that players could seamlessly move from floating islands to the ground below, that seemed fairly reasonable. A nice little "Castle in the Sky" essence to the very good Breath of the Wild

But apparently SOMEONE at Nintendo looked at how they were implementing seamless floating islands and went "Oh hey this means we can do caves and canyons too." And the results are astonishing. 

Link running away from an ogre in a cave

I have now on three or four occasions popped into a random hole in the ground and gone "Hey wait there's a whole dungeon's worth of content in here." I discovered the secret passage under Lookout Landing and figured I'd be done digging through boulders in about 10-20 minutes. An hour later, and not only am I *still tunneling*, but I've exited and entered the tunnel to replenish my digging supplies.

What on earth am I doing? I am LEAVING and RE-ENTERING a tunnel WILLINGLY to refill my mining supplies. I have better things to do with my time!!! When I figured out this is what you do in Minecraft I got bored and wandered away.

But this is The Legend of Zelda. In Breath of the Wild, Nintendo taught players to follow their sense of adventure. Does it look like there's something cool in the distance? Go over there and yeah, there probably is. I thought I'd be most blown away by applying that logic to the sky above, but it's in the canyons and caves of Hyrule that I've been struck by the enormity of this world's potential. Diving from the sky makes you feel powerful, but traversing to the bottom of a canyon makes you become so aware of how small and vulnerable a person can truly be.

Holly Green / Community Editorial Coordinator 

(@winnersusedrugs)

Gotta hand it to Nintendo. Tears of the Kingdom’s crafting system is a stroke of brilliance. Not only does it encourage players to engage more actively with the game, it also codifies what was arguably the most popular part of the original: messing around with Link’s abilities to create mindblowing stunts that defy the game’s design. 

With Breath of the Wild, I left that kind of experimenting to the professionals; it was a lot more fun to watch other players on social media push the boundaries of Statis or Magnesis than it was to pour hours into my own stunts. But that reluctance has disappeared with Tears of the Kingdom, a game that, with thousands upon thousands of complex interactions between environment and objects and Link’s powers, is teeming with possibility. Somehow the knowledge that I “can” do “anything” has me experimenting and doing things just because. 

Zelda_6.jpg

This afternoon I spent a tedious 20 minutes killing an Orc with a giant spiked ball for no particular reason. I had many strong weapons in my inventory! But I could not resist testing the game’s limits and reveling in the sneaky thrill. While I’m nowhere near the Ph.D-level Hylian engineering of some of the online creations I’ve already seen, I’m hooked on seeing what I’ll be able to come up with next. Perpetual motion machine, here I come.

Chris Kerr / News Editor 

(@kerrblimey)

If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a visionary for sticking a few logs together with mystical glue, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was made for dreamers like you.

I've spent a week sinking every spare minute I can find into Nintendo’s soaring sequel to Breath of the Wild, and yet I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. Tears of the Kingdom is a dizzying success for innumerable reasons, but primarily because Nintendo's systems-first approach to design shows what’s possible when a dev team is afforded the opportunity to flex their mechanical muscles with carefree abandon.

Truthfully, I wasn’t entirely sold on the prospect of revisiting the same version of Hyrule we saw in Breath of the Wild, and the idea of building mechanics taking center stage felt like a weird departure for the series. But you know what? I’ll hold my hands up and say those misgivings were so wide of the mark it’s almost embarrassing.

Link driving a makeshift vehicle in Tears of the Kingdom

Tears of the Kingdom’s core abilities–Ultrahand, Ascend, Fuse, and Recall–are bestowed upon players straight out of the gate and can be combined in ways that dumbfound and delight. I soon went from constructing crude climbing poles to building high-powered gliders, reinforced vehicles that wouldn’t look out of place on the Fury Road, and all manner of swords, sledges, and spears capable of pummelling Hyrule’s biggest and baddest foes into the dirt.

Exploration, combat, traversal, and puzzling are more engaging than ever because Tears of the Kingdom intentionally leans into a question that, in hindsight, it feels as if Breath of the Wild only ever flirted with: "What happens if?"

What happens if I stick this ruby to my shield? What happens if I freeze time and rewind that boulder hurtling toward my face? What happens if I fuse this ultra-rare diamond to a scepter? What happens if I slap a Zonai cannon on the roof of my rocket-powered off-roader?

The answer to all of those questions is CHAOS. Unbridled, unfathomable, and unforgettable chaos. Tears of the Kingdom guarantees that whether your plans go horribly wrong or horrifyingly right (RIP so many poor koroks) every action you take results in a sense of childlike wonderment that’ll remind you why you fell in love with this world–and perhaps even video games–in the first place.

Danielle Riendeau / Editor-in-Chief 

(@Danielleri)

My time with Tears of the Kingdom is only just beginning (I am approximately 6-7 hours into the game), but I've already experienced some glorious highs and frustrating lows. The game's appeal for me is obvious: its massive possibility space wide-open design is difficult to quantify, even at this early stage. I know it just gets bigger, and the possibilities broaden out significantly. I played somewhere around 200 hours of Breath of the Wild, and I've long been a fan of the series, so the fact that the developers may have topped their last open world effort is no mean feat!

However, I've definitely had some issues in my nascent playthrough. I got hilariously stuck on the training island: I somehow missed that you need to go to the temple of time first, and instead headed for the snowy mountain area, to see what I could see. I encountered inactive shrines, but had no idea how to open them up, so I spent hours, essentially powerless, puttering around the first area, smacking and bombing the lifeless shrine constructs with increasing desperation. A friend eventually pointed me in the correct direction.

Link.png

I love that the game does let you meander and explore right out of the gate: it's a big, beautiful area to explore, after all! But it would've been nice, given that wide-open blue sky design philosophy, to let players make their way without requiring the little story gate-check at the beginning (or better yet, get it out of the way first, then cut players loose).

I'm also having some serious difficulty with some of the more fiddly mega-hand puzzles in the game. I want to be clear: I love puzzles in Zelda games. I've always enjoyed the simple-yet-elegant lock and key design of the powers/abilities you'll need in any given room of a dungeon (from Ocarina of Time straight on throughout the series). But I've screamed at my screen multiple times already when I couldn't get the angle quite right, rotating a 3D object haphazardly. I'm chalking this up to my own early-game lack of skill so far, but I'd be lying if I said the onboarding was nearly as smooth as the previous game's was.

Tears of the Kingdom is getting a generous dose of benefit of the doubt from me, because, annoyances aside, I can see that this will be another immersive-sim-by-way-of 3D platformer (basically, another mashup of my favorite genres). The attention to detail is exquisite and the call to adventure is intoxicating. I'll gladly concede a few stumbles for a game that takes big swings. I just need to stop getting stuck in whatever that magic glue the TK ability uses long enough to make real progress.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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