This review contains mild The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom spoilers, unrelated to major plot points.

A transwarp conduit over Hyrule?

In Tears of the Kingdom, Link once again awakens to a devastated Hyrule and must rescue the titular princess. Building on the foundation of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to deliver something that feels fresh (but remains firmly planted in the boundaries of the franchise), Tears of the Kingdom is an instant candidate (if not a surefire shoo-in) for 2023 game of the year.

Back to Hyrule

Tears of the Kingdom returns to a Hyrule that will already be familiar to players of Breath of the Wild or even its previous “semi-sequel,” Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Likewise, returning players will find many of the characters that populate this recognizable map to be familiar. 

Familiar faces.

This calls to mind previous sequels in the franchise’s history and their relationships to the preceding Zelda releases. For example, just as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening took place in the wake of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it’s clear that Tears of the Kingdom follows on the heels of Breath of the Wild.

With a landscape torn apart by corrosive Gloom combined with a re-emergence of the Blood Red Moon and its associated resurrected monsters, the game’s apocalyptic atmosphere recalls The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. In addition, the way some of the characters react to this new Calamity echoes the denizens of Clock Town: just trying to continue the established patterns of their lives in the face of impending extermination.

However, the vibrant Hyrule citizens of Tears of the Kingdom occupy a full spectrum of personalities and perspectives. While some people continue to live their lives as though the status quo were intact, others have leaped into action, forming mutual support organizations and committees. These are largely centered in Lookout Landing, the game’s central “town” (which in this game, is actually a makeshift outpost that has arisen around the Hyrule royal family’s panic room).

Engaging dialogue for the wide array of characters that populate Tears of the Kingdom is one of the game’s many achievements. Players who are interested in the interpersonal dynamics or sidequest-worthy problems of the locals will find a seemingly endless supply of well-animated and well-written characters eager to spill their troubles to an available ear.

Another Calamity

“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.”

In more recent years, more and more conversation surrounding the meta-narrative of The Legend of Zelda franchise has arisen. This has in part been fueled by Nintendo themselves – just check out the much-discussed timeline in the Hyrule Historia, which would make Doc Brown proud. Tears of the Kingdom cleverly incorporates elements of this discussion into its story, reframing “Calamity” not as remarkable circumstances, but as part of an ongoing cycle.

Link and the surviving Hyrule citizens are not really prepared for another Calamity. Worse still, all of the weapons in the realm have inexplicably begun to decay at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, our heroes must stand against such daunting circumstances, combining whatever’s at hand with personal ingenuity to get the job done.

From this ethos emerges the game’s building mechanic. Using a magic right arm inherited from an ancient entity named Rauru, Link can build objects out of spare building material and fuse materials to corroded weapons. 

Tears of the Kingdom

For one thing, this leads to plenty of hilarious moments, like sticking a mildly protesting but ultimately complacent Korok on the side of a cart. However, it also leads to a D.I.Y. ethos that extends through the game. I’m relatively certain that on several occasions, I jury-rigged solutions for puzzles that did not align with the resolution intended by the programmers – but nevertheless, I was able to clear the Shrine puzzle.

The fusion mechanic also leads to plenty of weird and unforgettable moments. These include experiences like charging into battle armed with weapons like a baked Hyrule Bass on a stick, or a bony and writhing Bokoblin arm on a stick.

Scenes that immediately precede a disaster.

The sublime becomes fused with the surreal, as when a motorized cart trip saw a fox racing alongside my vehicle through a field… followed immediately by a collision with a passing traveler and donkey (which, like my many misfires in making sure Link lands in the safety of water, made me grateful that the realism of the game has a decided limit).

Groundward Sword

In advance of the game’s release, the marketing made much of the airborne elements of Tears of the Kingdom. Beyond this component, which feels like a developed and refined version of the aerial elements of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, there is also a serious subterranean segment to Tears.

Delivered in the form of deep-deep Gloom holes and middle-deep caves and wells, these spaces allow for copious amounts of “dungeon-crawl” style gameplay to be seamlessly integrated into Hyrule’s overworld.

The caves and wells, in addition to proving invaluable territory for gathering cooking ingredients for meals and elixirs alike, also offer an intriguing way of navigating the terrain above. This is because another function of Rauru’s arm allows Link to pop out of the ground above, Mogma-style, and then determine whether or not he’s going to remain below ground or emerge onto the surface.

Soarin’ Over Hateno.

The interplay between the subterranean, surface, and sky levels of Hyrule is varied and leads to plenty of interesting scenarios as the vast fantasy landscape is explored. 

Fantasy Texture

Speaking of the landscape, this incarnation of Hyrule offers an incredibly immersive fantasy realm to explore. One example is the numerous details that can be turned up by examining the interiors of the many houses you encounter, with character development conveyed through framed pictures and the objects left on bedside tables. Another is the Purah Pad’s encyclopedia function, which allows you to catalog and document the many species of avians, animals, enemies, and crafting items you alight upon during your quest.

Seems like a morally gray area, Link.

Players are free to dig as deeply as they desire into these genre elements. If delving into the social lives of the denizens of Hateno Village is your cup of tea (as it is mine), Tears of the Kingdom offers the opportunity to do that.

Furthermore, the game’s clever mechanics are designed to funnel players towards the type of experience they’re looking for – in my case, I got pulled into the village’s political drama after seeking out the dye shop. However, a player less interested in these story elements could have easily migrated up the hill, where components to build a steerable fan cart lay waiting to be assembled on a hill.

Tears of the Kingdom

Does Tears of the Kingdom deliver on the hype? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” The polished and at times literally breathtaking sequel is worthy as a successor to Breath of the Wild and an entry in The Legend of Zelda series alike. 

Finally, fellow Amiibo enthusiasts take note: the game benefits from the use of any Amiibo, but especially from those in the Zelda series.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available now.

Reviewed in TV mode with Pro Controller. Review code provided by Nintendo.