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The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom Review - Link Reaches New Heights

EDITORS' RATING : 10 / 10
Pros
  • Unbelievable freedom
  • Constantly engaging exploration
  • Jaw-dropping visuals
  • Charming cast of characters
Cons
  • Not the most original setup for a "Zelda" story
  • Open world somewhat subsumes the main quest
  • You can't put your life on hold to play this game

A Switch code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom" is available now for Nintendo Switch.

Ruins rain down on the kingdom, colossal chunks of stone that crush anything and everything in their path. Princess Zelda has gone missing, and an ancient evil long hidden beneath Hyrule castle has risen. As corrupting malice bubbles up from a network of caverns beneath the ground, giant islands populated by living machines descend from the heavens.

Link quite literally dives headfirst into this chaotic scene and lands in a Hyrule suffering from a mysterious event called the Upheaval. "Tears of the Kingdom" has a breakneck opening that doesn't waste a second as it strips Link of his heart containers, stamina, and sword in order to thrust him into a new conflict with a new set of abilities at his fingertips. The setup may be fairly straightforward, but the gameplay it leads to is anything but.

Everywhere you turn in "Tears of the Kingdom," there's something new to discover and a new challenge to take on. Its world doesn't get bigger as you explore, it feels infinite from the very beginning, and nothing in it seems to limit your imagination. The game is overflowing with an unbelievable amount of small details and delightful experiences that players will slowly absorb through hours of gameplay. Here's what we experienced as we made our way through the biggest "Legend of Zelda" title yet.

Early hours are a flurry of activity

"Tears of the Kingdom" begins its story with Link and Zelda exploring some caves underneath Hyrule Castle. The opening few minutes introduce the most basic mechanics of moving around the world and the inciting incident of the plot. There's a few tidbits in the story that are going to get hardcore "Zelda" fans thrilled from the get go, but besides that, the opening gets the job done. Some evil is back. Zelda is gone. Save the day, Link.

Except Link isn't in top shape. It's not just that his heart containers and stamina bars are gone, it's also that he's lost an arm and had it replaced with a mystical counterpart. On one of the new sky islands floating above Hyrule, Link gets to familiarize himself with his new arm and new abilities. Functionally, this initial sky island works like the Great Plateau section in "Breath of the Wild," but it's exactly because the two are so similar that the new gameplay twists in "Tears of the Kingdom" shine so brightly.

Ultrahand and Fuse open up a mind-boggling array of possibilities for dealing with anything from combat encounters to puzzles to simply traversing the world. For powers that seem so complicated, they are surprisingly easy to use. Tossing together makeshift platforms to get around, or attaching various bits of junk to arrows just to see what happens, is a joy from the moment the powers are introduced. Ascend and Recall don't seem as frequently useful, but they really open the door for some unique puzzles.

Getting to ground

The first sky island smoothly introduces all of Link's powers and also shows off the breathtaking visuals of "Tears of the Kingdom." The Zonai constructs patrolling the land are some of the most interesting looking creatures in "Zelda," and the landscapes that float above Hyrule have an eerie, otherworldly beauty. The first moment that Link dives on the islands feels like an early high point for the game, and then his first descent down to Hyrule itself blows it out of the water. The visuals are, simply put, spectacular, with an almost jarring lack of framerate drops, even while using Ultrahand.

On the ground, players will experience a Hyrule that is at different turns completely familiar and startlingly new. There are, of course, plenty of things you'd expect to see here, like monsters to fight, people to help, and towers to climb. But the expanded enemy variety, new and exciting problems facing Hyrule, and the ability to move between caves, land, and sky make this fresh adventure an absolute thrill.

There are so many places to explore and seemingly limitless ways to move about the world. Link's new powers really do offer a freedom that only begins to settle in after plenty of hours trekking across the mainland. This is going to be a long journey worth savoring.

The heart of adventure

The main course of "Tears of the Kingdom" is no less satisfying than the appetizer that is the Great Sky Island. Hyrule feels more alive than ever, with countless characters for Link to encounter and problems for him to solve. There's no shortage of new and familiar faces to see, and almost everyone has a request to make of Link. The quest log somehow manages to ensure that you always know what tasks you have to do without leading you step-by-step through your journey. Many of the sidequests lean into the inherent silliness of the "Zelda" world and characters, resulting in an experience that's constantly charming.

The main quest, while still filled with delightful people to meet, takes a more traditional approach. It leads Link to several temples across the land, elaborate dungeons full of puzzles to solve, as it explores a story that cuts deep into the history of Hyrule and its conflict with Ganondorf. The new temples are a masterful blending of old and new, but they might not fully satisfy gamers who loved spending multiple hours solving puzzles in dungeons from "A Link to the Past" and the like. The toned-down intensity of the temples, however, is mark of one the game's greatest strengths. At almost every turn, "Tears of the Kingdom" gets out of its own way and lets you have whatever kind of fun you want.

After the early game lets players perfect traversing the land and building with Ultrahand, certain items and abilities later on offer even more accessibility. "Tears of the Kingdom" wants you to feel comfortable trying out your wildest ideas, which makes every dive back into the game more fun than the one before it.

Tears of the Kingdom is a triumph

If there's a single complaint to be made about this latest "Legend of Zelda" adventure, it's that the game can't dodge the small problems that typically come with the open world genre. At times there's an overwhelming amount of places to go and things to do. After hours of chasing whims, the main quest can start to feel like just another side quest. Without those minor qualms, though, the game wouldn't be what it is in the first place.

Diving from an archipelago in the sky, sailing across Hyrule, and then plunging down into a chasm bubbling with malice only to land in a network of caverns seemingly as large as the land above it is an experience like few others in video games. This isn't just the most vibrant Hyrule in the series, it's one of the richest open worlds ever created. That the entire experience runs as smoothly as it does on the Switch is nothing short of miraculous.

After "Breath of the Wild," the bar for the next "Legend of Zelda" game was set high. From the top of a floating tower of ancient Zonai ruins, that bar is pretty hard to see. "Tears of the Kingdom" is a masterpiece. It improves upon its predecessor in every way and delivers an experience that magically gets better with every hour you play it. "The Legend of Zelda" has raised the bar again, this time leaving it above the clouds.

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