What’s this, you say? It’s been over a month since I completed anything? You thought I was dead? Well, no! Turns out that Tears of the Kingdom is Quite Large and so it has taken me 95 hours to complete it. Which, across a month, is about three hours a day. That’s fine, right?
There’s a lot to talk about regarding the game. For example, a number of people complained that it’s just using the same overworld as Breath of the Wild which means loads of asset reuse and less exploring because you already know what’s there. Yes, it’s the same basic map, with all the main locations like villages and stables and mountains and so on in the same places, but the event that provides the trigger for the story – the Upheaval – has seriously disrupted things. There are big old holes all over the map. There are caves everywhere. There are weird rocks which both create and block routes and roads. Things have been built, other things have been destroyed. As a result, it’s familiar but also new.
Also linked to The Event, there are unusual phenomena to investigate which have also altered the map. Rito village is cut off (as much as any 100% populated by birds village can be) because of snow. The Gerudo town is abandoned. The Zora’s waters are polluted. And this is before I get on to the two new maps which have been added: The Upheaval has revealed many islands in the sky, and opened chasms to the weird Depths which sits in the dark below Hyrule. They don’t quite triple the area to explore, but combined with all the new caves, they’re probably not far off.
With all this change, I was a bit disappointed at how little the game actually referenced the events of Breath of the Wild. It takes place a number of years later, but not hundreds of them, so you’d expect there still to be loads of ruined Guardians about the place, and the towers from the first game have completely vanished and have been replaced with new towers that act as giant catapults launching Link into the sky. There’s nothing relating to the Sheikah stuff at all, no Divine Beasts, no remnants of all those shrines you found before, or weapons or anything. The only references I’ve seen are in passing, like the Lab has a few Guardian arms on the roof, and it seems to be repurposed Guardian arms that grab you just before you’re catapulted. Several characters that you meet, who you’d previously met in the original, either struggle to recognise you or have completely forgotten you, despite you saving the entire actual world.
Replacing the Sheikah now are the even more ancient Zonai race of technologically advanced goat/lizard/fish creatures who created the Kingdom of Hyrule originally, with their King, Rauru marrying a proto-Hylian ancestor of Zelda, Sonia. Who they keep pronouncing “sohn-ear” instead of “son-yah”, which irritates. Seems Rauru and his allies many, many years ago sealed Ganondorf away and he’s Back and the reason why the Upheaval happened in the present. So in a way, Tears of the Kingdom is set both long before even the historical events in Breath of the Wild, and after the present-day events of that game. The Zelda timeline was complicated and nonsensical enough before this came along. Oh, and Ganondorf isn’t Ganon. Two entirely separate entities as far as the story goes, and I found Ganon was mentioned just once in my playthrough, and that was on a plaque in the middle of nowhere.
But what about the gameplay, I hear you cry in exasperation. Well, it’s largely as it was before. You have weapons, which degrade (and thanks to the Upheaval tend to be already damaged when you find them now), loads of items you can find and use to make meals, you can climb cliffs and soar across chasms with your paraglider. However, since you no longer have Sheikah powers, like Magnesis and Cryonis, new abilities are granted to you to replace them. Chief amongst these is the ability to build things. Stuff you pick up can be stuck to other stuff, and combined with Zonai devices like fans and rockets you can create cars and boats and planes and missile launchers that chase baddies and all sorts of contraptions. You also have the ability to turn back time for an item – handy for using on those rocks that fall out of the sky, as you can hop on, rewind, and get a lift upwards – and also a fuse power where you can stick almost any item to your weapons and shields for more damage, elemental effects, or to create new sorts of weapon. The other main new ability is “ascend”, which lets you “swim” directly upwards through solid objects.
Like before, your abilities are needed to not only reach places and progress the story, but also used extensively in the shrines. Most shrines contain puzzles where your skills in combining items, clever ascension, or making use of the game physics are tested and you’re rewarded with a blessing. Four blessings and you can trade it in for another heart or to increase your maximum stamina.
None of this actually tells you if the game is any good, though. Thankfully, it is. Very good. I was a bit worried at the start because once all your existing powers, hearts and stamina from BotW are forcefully extracted from you (not a spoiler, it’s in the first two minutes of the game), you have to complete a few shrines in order to get some of your new powers. This is similar to the first game, of course, but here it wasn’t much fun and felt much too linear. With them out of the way and the whole of the rest of the map(s) then opened up to explore pretty much as you want, it drastically improved. I tried to follow the main story, I really did, but I was sidetracked so often it was impossible, so after the first few missions it was probably 20 hours or more before I finally returned to the primary questline, but even that was short-lived before I was off again. There’s so much to explore, places to compare to what you remember from Breath of the Wild, side quests, shrines to find, and so on.
When I was 45 hours in, I had found what I thought were all the Sages, each of which gave me an additional ability, and though that despite only having about 15 hearts and no Master Sword, I was ready to take on Ganondorf. I was not.
It wasn’t too difficult to reach him, although it did take me TWO HOURS, but there’s a point of no return and after that there are So. Many. Baddies. that you’re exhausted of healing meals before you’ve even laid a sword on him. If you can lay a sword on him, because one hit almost wiped me out before I had a chance. I didn’t survive much longer and had to reload an earlier save to escape. I then set about getting more hearts, discovering I could get the Master Sword after all, upgraded my armour to max, and found that actually, there was more Main Quest to do which I hadn’t realised. Before long, another 45-odd hours had passed and I had 25 hearts and a pocket full of more suited meals, and off I went to try again.
This time, I was much more prepared, powerful and skilled. So I ran away from all the baddies I could on the trek back to Ganondorf, and then because of Spoiler reached him much more quickly and with less battle damage than previously. He was tricky to land a blow on, but he barely scratched me this time! Just as I was about to defeat him I realised – the armour I’d spent hours collecting material to upgrade, wasn’t being worn. I was still wearing the un-upgraded snow gear I’d been using just prior to going in. What a waste of time that was!
And then I beat him, it was done, and the end played out. What an incredible game. But I’m not done yet – I’ve already been back in to find more shrines! I was up to 105 found but it appears there are 152 of them to complete, so that’s my next task.