James Stephanie Sterling
The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom - Like Tears In Rain (Review)
Updated: 7 days ago
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Released: May 12, 2023
Systems: Nintendo Switch
Nobody has ever been enjoying a videogame and thought, “this would be more fun if my sword broke.”
That is an absolute statement, and literally nobody on earth is more averse to absolutes than I am, but for as long as I live I’ll assert this particular statement on weapons to be 100% true. Those who argue against my assertion will be quick to defend weapon durability systems, to go so far as to say they actually enjoy them, but in doing so they miss the point of what I’m saying. You can defend them all day long, but if you claim to have ever wished for weapon durability in a game without it, if you tell me you’ve ever longed for your beloved sword to shatter in the middle of a tense fight, I will not believe you, and my disbelief will be absolute.
Weapon degradation is something people retroactively defend rather than actively demand, as we all saw when players rallied around Breath of the Wild's feeble arsenal with a litany of equally weak arguments. Then again, no series has benefited from the fervent aegis of its fanbase more than The Legend of Zelda, a line of games protected from criticism by a shield so unbreakable it sure at shit wouldn't resemble the average one in Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom works overtime to join its fans in defending the contentiously flimsy weapons from Breath of the Wild, not only including an entirely new upgrade system to prop it up, adding a narrative justification for making them even more pathetic. This dogged commitment to a transient arsenal is reflective of the sequel’s clear mission - to double down on the last game’s controversial features, indulge in its own laborious contrivances, and continue a tradition of spiting the player’s attempts to enjoy it.
I liked Breath of the Wild, but my enjoyment was fettered by all the little ways it said “fuck you” with a metaphorical smirk. I like Tears of the Kingdom just as much as its predecessor, and my criticisms remain entirely the same, unchanged by a game that insists no change is needed. I admire the confidence it radiates with almost contemptuous arrogance, but the result is that I’m once again left trying to love a game that makes loving it a brutal uphill battle.
Tears of the Kingdom has two faces. One face offers, and regularly delivers, a sense of wonder and adventure, a beautiful world to discover packed with amusing interactions and innovative gameplay challenges that truly impress with their cleverness. I don’t think I can freely describe the other face, as it would be poor form to call a game “cunty” in a professional review no matter how much of a cunt said game is being. I assure you, I am not going to call it that.
Before I get to my hearty list of grievances, I feel I should offer some positive points. Due to how similar the two games are, much of what I like about Tears of the Kingdom is stuff I liked in Breath of the Wild. I enjoy the general sense of exploration, the versatility of gameplay and sheer wealth of interactions between the player, the environment, and Link’s inventory of items - flint that can be struck to set wood aflame, fanning leaves that can blow sails or shift sand piles, etcetera. It’s a game full of tricks and tactics, rewarding players for thinking outside the box.
Oh, and the outfits, of course. The whole point of the game to me is collecting new outfits.
Tears of the Kingdom does have a few of its own pleasant additions. Link’s fresh set of magic powers, awarded almost in their entirety early on, are both useful and gratifying. Ascend, an ability that lets Link shoot upwards through almost any overhead surface, is amazing. It’s great for vertical traversal, as well as exiting wells and caves without backtracking. In a game full of inconvenience, this is a true quality-of-life improvement. Recall, meanwhile, allows any item that moves to have its trajectory rewound, be it a platform going the wrong way or an important object falling foul of the game’s cruel physics.
Chief among these powers is the Ultrahand. It lets you pick up and manipulate any environmental object and glue it to other things. There’s an abundance of materials for this purpose, from planks of woods that can be used to form boats, to wheels and beams for fully functional wagons. Additionally, a huge number of “Zonai devices" now exist - little machines that perform a single function, usually when struck. These include fan turbines, miniature flamethrowers, automated wheels, and steering sticks that direct combinations of other items.
An appropriate subtitle for the game would be Deku Nuts & Bolts, as the similarities to this and Banjo-Kazooie’s vehicular outing are clear. The combination of Zonai tools and assorted debris can create machines as creative as their creator. There’s enough to make cars, planes, sleds, boats, and even wilder inventions. Hell, you can make robot allies once you discover a machine designed to approach hostiles. This is balanced by a battery meter that drains when Zonai items are active and passively regenerates. While it can be extended with one of the game’s multiple currency items, the battery does drain a bit too fast.
The complexity is staggering, but it’s the humble hot air balloon that steals the show. Combined with a paraglider acquired not long into the main quest, the ability to fly straight up into the air and glide toward a destination is a huge time saver. Later on, you can discover an ability to automatically build prior creations, even conjuring them from nothing (at a cost of “Zonaite” minerals). For a series increasingly happy to get in the way of a player’s fun, it’s a refreshing breeze of convenience.
Weapon fusion is another important new addition, one that allows Nintendo to not back down on durability while offering some sort of concession to its critics. Divorced from that context, fusion is genuinely enjoyable. Anything is attachable to a weapon, shield, or arrow to increase durability and power, with some items even bestowing special properties. You could glue weapons to other weapons so a sword has a sword slapped on the end, but monster parts tend to yield the best results, some of them even transforming a weapon entirely to boast a fresh look. You can put an explosive barrel on a throwing spear, a fiery Lizalfos horn will create flaming weapons, and there's room to be silly as well - a clay pot tacked onto a club is rather pointless, but it’s a giggle. I like to pop a crab on a shield, just for the simple joy of having an aesthetic crustacean on my back.
I’ll admit it - weapon fusion goes some way toward improving a durability system that would still be best addressed by ripping it out entirely. It’s amusing, enticing, and it’s a true incentive to experimentation. That said, imminent breakage is still an omnipresent threat that hampers one’s willingness to use all those wonderful toys. The added inevitability of losing rare crafting materials has made me even more hesitant to use my best gear, which is just not what should be happening.
A warning message saying a weapon's badly damaged appears onscreen with such regularity it would actually be less distracting to instead offer a notification when a weapon isn't badly damaged. It's just plain demoralizing to constantly see that notification after just a few swings - and even when fusing, the more durable results remain piteously fragile.
Okay, this is the perfect time to get into all the bullshit that offsets these positives alongside any further compliments I may have. For all its ingenuity and affability, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is primarily an expanded retread of its predecessor, with the exact same array of problems. If anything is even slightly different, it's that the sequel almost seems to lean into the issues of its 2017 counterpart.
After all these years, I’d forgotten how immediately mean spirited a latter day Zelda game could be. It all came flooding back the moment I attempted to catch a wild horse. Sneaking up on it slowly and carefully, only for the omniscient bastard to kick me in the face and run away. After pursuing it across the field and mounting it, the thing bucked wildly and drained both my stamina meter and every food item I had to replenish it before throwing me into the dirt. That's when they came: the familiar feelings of disappointment and embarrassment, the sense of loss over fruitlessly spent resources and thoroughly wasted time. This is when I knew I was back in Hyrule.
It was with some relief that I discovered the horses I caught in Breath of the Wild were retrievable from any stable. It felt good to be reunited with my faithful steed Wankboy.
Of course, equine troubles are merely one small shitpiece in the fuckpuzzle.
Slippery surfaces make an unwelcome return, as random rainfall turns any climbable surface into a slick wet slice of vertical vexation. Whoever insisted on this malevolence is not a good person. I simply fail to see how being unable to climb surfaces when they get moist, in a game that features a ridiculous amount of climbing, is in any way entertaining. What, exactly, is fun about standing around waiting for the rain to stop? Rain that can arrive at any time and hamper your progress, even if you're already really high up. Cooking food that enhances slip resistance yields unreliable results at the best of times, and the only other way to resist it involves performing a huge series of sidequests strewn across the massive map.
In fact, a number of maligned and malicious features have obscure ways to counteract them this time, but all of them are roundabout, convoluted, and time consuming. This includes even the most exasperating problem, the lack of an option to repair one’s weapons. There is a method of doing so, and while I won’t spoil it, I’ll say it’s the most deliciously Nintendo thing imaginable, to the point where I love how stupid it is while wanting to bang my head on a desk so hard it fuses to the thing like a Moblin horn on a broadsword.
Once again, tamed horses only respond to a player calling them if they’re in earshot, and have to navigate obstacles in real time to reach them. This is stupid. Any game that does this is being stupid. Thankfully, horses aren’t as essential this time around, but I’m nonetheless irritated that, for the sake of realism in a game full of magic, fairies, and royal families that actively work for the benefit of their nation, horses don’t just spawn behind the player like in any normal videogame. There was an item to warp horses from long range in Breath of the Wild's DLC, and really it should be in this one from the bloody start.
Zelda’s physics are a pain in the ass. The amount of times a monster’s dropped its crafting materials over the edge of a cliff, or I’ve had to chase items as they roll downhill, is excessive, and the recall ability can’t catch it all at once. None of that's helped by the game's messy sprawl of controls, which feature so many combined button presses, so much tapping and holding, and so many of the buttons pulling double or triple duty that it's easy to get confused. The right bumper, for instance, makes Link ready and throw his weapon. It also allows him to turn an item with directional buttons after it's been grabbed by using the left bumper, and picking up said item with the A button. The right bumper becomes so committed to muscle memory it's hard not to press it first sometimes.
Anyway, that's how my sword ended up in the river.
Also, it should be industry standard by now that buttons can be remapped to the player's liking. Holding B to sprint and pressing X to jump is just plain unnatural and wrong. The fact that swapping those two commands is basically the only remapping you can do almost seems like a deliberate joke. Often is the moment I wished this game would control like a sensible videogame.
The rapidly depleting stamina wheel once again governs sprinting, swimming, and climbing with all the mercy of a tyrant. It starts pathetically small, making the early game a slog before more Zonai devices turn up. It’s just not necessary for a game like this, it's yet another instance of inclusion that literally takes away from the experience rather than adds a damn thing, only ensuring more time is spent doing nothing and struggling to get anywhere.
Another returning “feature” is a gleeful endeavor on the game’s part to murder the player suddenly. I’ve taken to renaming this sequel The Legend of Killda: Tears of the Killdom. It’s a tenuous bit of wordplay, and I stand by it.
Almost immediately after exiting the tutorial area, it becomes apparent that one-hit kills are just as prevalent as ever, to the point of absurdity. Even a basic minion is capable of ending Link’s life in a single blow, and with the new weapon fusions it becomes a fucking joke - getting instantly executed by a lowly Bokoblin wielding a stick with a honeycomb attached would be hilarious if it wasn’t happening to me, or if I wasn’t dealing scratch damage in return with even high level weaponry. The main problem with these unnecessarily mighty mooks is that, because bosses are much better balanced than random encounters, they often deal less damage. This means a climactic battle with a gigantic rock monster capable of incapacitating the entire Goron race is significantly less of a scary prospect than a goblinesque nobody clutching a rock. It’s a problem Tears of the Kingdom shares with The Last Oricru, and no title of pedigree should be comparable to one of the most incompetent pieces of media I’ve ever witnessed.
“Oh but it’s good actually, because it forces you to engage with the cooking system and make food that raises your defense,” I hear you declare, just as you do when you say breakable weapons force you to experiment and change gear. Frankly, I’m fed up with Nintendo’s pathological need to force things on players rather than incentivize them, always choosing a stick over honey (or fusing them and killing you with the result). Besides which, the silly fact you can only have one food bonus at a time means that you can’t raise defense if you need something like heat resistance.
Fortunately, that pervasive weapon durability system means loot doesn’t have much worth, so many fights can be ignored as unworthy of the effort. A hard earned treasure chest can yield you naught but a handful of arrows because they’re on the same level as a greatsword that breaks in a few hits - in fact, they're arguably more useful. I’ll happily grab a chest if it’s not too much of a hassle, or specifically flagged as treasure, but I know that a huge battle out in the field is just a waste of time and resources so I skip a bunch of them unless I spy a monster with powerful crafting parts, because that’s at least interesting.
Then again, you never know when an enemy might just turn up and get in your face anyway, perhaps scaring away the animal you were hunting, or making you drop shit, because the game would rather play with you than let you play with it.
Boasting so many restrictions, hindrances, and smarmy little screwjobs that it clearly thinks are funny, Tears of the Kingdom is every bit as hard to enjoy as Breath of the Wild was. Yet again, there is so much to appreciate, but bloody hell it’s a laborious chore to get to any of it.
What’s ironic is that I’ve become truly endeared to the portion of the game that’s supposed to be a labor - the Depths. Deep underground is an entirely new map the same size as the Hylian overworld, an eerily beautiful and cavernous expanse blanketed by pitch blackness. The game intends you to prepare for it. You'll want a stockpile of brightbulbs attached to arrows that cast beautiful, sometimes necessary light. The prevalence of a substance called Gloom will reduce max HP and is best safeguarded against with anti-Gloom cooking. Bringing a few rock-fused weapons is advisable to easily mine the bounty of ore deposits and acquire precious Zonaite. Getting ready to go down into the darkness feels like properly setting off for adventure.
Monsters in the Depths are dangerous and capable of Gloom damage, but the simpler environment makes them less of an unexpected pain in the ass (except for skeletal Stal wankers that come out of the ground when I’m trying to catch skittish fireflies). The depths house a lot of genuinely worthwhile treasures, as well as an abundance of Poe pickups that are given to spooky rocks for cool outfits and rare items.
Despite its positioning as a scary place, I’ve found the Depths to be the most chill, least aggravating thing in the whole production. Simply gliding around looking for Poes, scuffling with the Yiga Clan, and activating lamp towers to permanently illuminate territory, this is where I’d rather be. You can also mount skeleton horses down there - you sadly can’t keep them, but they’re skeleton horses! That’s a lot more exciting than the Sky Islands, a map sitting above Hyrule that feels a bit bland in contrast.
There’s admittedly less to do in the Depths, but at least that means a reduction in tiresome filler. The surface world is stuffed full of activities that make me roll my eyes because I don’t want to bother transporting yet another lazy Korok a mile down the road to meet his buddy, but I need to because they offer the seeds that buy more inventory space. While Shrines dotted around contain many clever physics puzzles that make use of Link’s new abilities, their sometimes lengthy nature and nigh essential completion can screw with the pacing of a player’s adventure. Using the Ultrahand to prop up a signpost being desperately held up by a hapless NPC is quite a laugh at first, but it gets old long before all the signs are secured.
The litany of actual story missions and side quests run the gamut of compelling, cute, and dreary. There’s a metric ton of them, some short, some lengthy, some with clear objectives, and a whole bunch hiding behind annoyingly vague and sometimes misleading clues. Zelda fans who lamented the lack of true dungeons in the last game get their wish sort of granted this time, but frankly I’ve found the temples quite boring. Sure, the maze-like rail system traversed using Zonai-powered mine carts is cleverly laid out with deft intricacy, but it’s slow-paced and subdued. Low on action, high on simplistic puzzles with a rote series of objectives, they're just not very good.
The main story leads to a growing set of allies whose projected “avatars” become permanent companions, each with a special ability that can be activated when spoken to. Of course, since all interactions require the same button, you’re likely to ask your Gerudo pal to ready a lightning bolt when all you wanted to do was pick up an apple.
All of this is to say missions are a cocktail of entertainment and annoyance, a perfect reflection of the game’s overall duality.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is indeed a game with two faces - one welcoming and the other viciously hostile. While it features a wealth of content, brilliant innovation, and genuine incentives to play with its toys, the spectre of its predecessor’s pernicious encroachment on fun is dispiriting in its ubiquity. The neat new tricks this sequel pulls simply aren’t enough to make Hyrule’s realm of brittle weapons, slippery surfaces, and tedious chores any more welcoming.
I love this game. I hate this game.
My review of Breath of the Wild is nonsensically infamous. The 7/10 I dared to award it, despite not being all that low, made an enemy of Zelda fans for years. As such, an identical conclusion will unavoidably be seen as trolling on my part, an insincerity intended to poke the hornet’s nest. Some will tiringly say I'm doing it for clicks. A few less invested folks will laugh, as even rational people may assume I'm being a bit of a bitch. If I feel the same way about this game as I did about the last one, an accurate numerical reflection would be appropriate but fated to be misconstrued, robbed of context, and ultimately written off.
Ah, screw it.
Truth’s the truth, and the truth is that if Zelda wants to stick to its guns, I have no choice but to stick to mine.