Much like everyone else in the gaming world, our writers at The Punished Backlog have spent the past couple of weeks knee-deep in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The title has (unsurprisingly) emerged as a frontrunner for Game of the Year, and its novel approach to player freedom and open-world design has made for a bounty of incredible moments.
In lieu of a standard review at this time, our team has offered dozens of bite-sized thoughts on how we’re experiencing TotK, with everyone heaping praise on the latest Nintendo wonder. (Don’t worry—there’s some criticism sprinkled in there as well.)
Here are our thoughts so far, which have been edited for clarity (questions courtesy of Amanda Tien):
Q: What’s One Thing About Tears of the Kingdom That Makes It Special?
Sam Martinelli: Every second of the game feels worthwhile.
Anthony Franklin: It feels like the game they wanted to make with Breath of the Wild but couldn’t because of the Wii U.
David Silbert: My favorite “little” thing is diving. Such a fun mechanic.
Donovan Harrell: I just love the feel of adventure! And I love exploring the skies.
Eric Tate: I like how with Link’s new abilities there are now so many different ways to solve the various puzzles.
Sam: The best part, in my view, is that I’ve solved puzzles in so many seemingly unintended ways, but it never feels like “breaking” the game like it did in BOTW. Like, I don’t feel like I figured out some weird speedrunning technique or whatever; it’s just what the game allows.
Eric: Yes! Exactly. The mechanics in the game are so cool!
Jason Toro: I had a few of the general complaints that people who were cooler on BOTW had. Combat was whatever, a lot of open space with no real substance, etc. But it really does feel like Nintendo took any complaints to heart in Tears. Combat is similar, but the bosses are designed less around “perfect dodge to Flurry Rush” and more around puzzle-solving. There is so much more to explore and, thanks to the new weapon systems, even simple items can be rewarding with the correct Fusions. It really is such an improvement over an already excellent game.
Sam: Yeah, I genuinely cannot find a single thing I think BOTW does better.
Donovan: I also like it for the ease of its infinite item glitches. Also, the economy in this game feels too much like real life!
Sam: Ok, I’ve found the tweet that really describes how I’m feeling about TOTK:
Tears of the Kingdom really is like Pokemon Gold and Silver to BOTW’s Red/Blue
— Jiikae (@Jiikae) May 22, 2023
David: That’s fire. Definitely hits the nail on the head.
Sam: I love that travel between the sky, the surface, and the depths is perfectly seamless. Everything feels like a perfectly connected world rather than a random collection of parts (the way most open worlds feel, if we’re being honest).
David: Breath of the Wild impressed me, but Tears of the Kingdom truly wows me. Every facet of the game—from Ultrahand to shrines to side quests—feels like a decided step up from its predecessor. (Even wells have personality in this game.) Oh, and the saxophone is killer.
Dwayne Jenkins: I agree with all that, but I can’t help but feel that it’s not… “weird” enough? Like, it has its quirks (and we’re nowhere near seeing all the game has to offer), but I’m pretty sure someone here expressed that BotW was a departure from the established weirdness that the series had lived in for so long. Which isn’t to say I’m not loving Tears, but I also can’t help but feel those pangs of missing the series’ eccentricities.
David: Have you visited those wells? Nah, I get you though. I think eccentric Zelda peaked with Wind Waker (or even Majora’s Mask if I’m being honest).
Sam: Oh the depths get WEIRD, man.
David: I clearly need to play more. Memorial Day weekend is as good a time as ever! (Editor’s Note: We conducted this Q&A heading into the holiday weekend.)
Dwayne: As much as I think Ocarina of Time aged like spoiled milk (controversial take, I know), I loved how fucking weird it was! I agree with David in the “Zelda weirdness peaked with Majora’s Mask” sentiment. Wind Waker was also weird in spots, but I mean that gritty, gross, dark “What the hell is this?!” kind of weird!
…Perhaps I haven’t explored the depths enough! To be fair, I’ve only spent maybe, like, half an hour down there!
David: I’m expecting some Made in Abyss-level shit from the depths lol.
Amanda: I like watching people make horse traps on TikTok.
Donovan: Don’t trust the trees; they will betray you!
One more Zelda thought: You really, really need to talk to the NPCs if you want to stand a chance.
Sam: This is a great point. I’ve found so many extra items/treasures through NPC chats.
Q: What Are Some Criticisms You Have About the Game?
Sam: I still think the dungeons, while still a ton of fun and greatly improved from Breath of the Wild, lack some of the majesty and “wow factor” of other entries in the series.
Anthony: I think the game could have shortened the opening tutorial section in favor of guiding you through the first couple of story missions since they kind of are necessary to do. They drop you in Hyrule and the belief is that you should be good to go based on Breath of the Wild when you really aren’t fully ready.
Donovan: I think this game could’ve offered a little more hand-holding for the players. While I enjoy the freedom this game gives, this world is enormous. And it’s too easy to wander into a place you’re completely unprepared for. Despite the emphasis on freedom, there’s definitely an intended order for players to explore the world in which the difficulty progression feels fair.
I’d appreciate some kind of indication that I’m not ready for a certain area before I get one-shotted by a grunt or my strongest weapons betray me and hardly chip away at their health. Tip: For people starting this game, make sure you speak to all the NPCs and take pictures of the different maps the NPCs are working on.
David: In line with Donovan’s thoughts, I’m surprised Tears of the Kingdom essentially hides two of its most critical tools—the paraglider and the Autobuild power—from players. The former is obtainable within a half hour or so after reaching Hyrule… but you’ll only actually find it if you decide to pursue the main story. The latter is even harder to track down, with no immediate waypoint or questline that points to it.
I would have much preferred a guided quest that forces players to obtain both of these power-ups. Yes, it’d detract from the “Go anywhere! Do anything!” vibe of the game, but I worry the current experience may alienate Zelda newcomers looking to explore Hyrule for the first time.
Q: Early Impressions of Tears of the Kingdom’s Story and World?
Sam: I think the game particularly excels at all the “little parts” of its storytelling—side quests, environmental design, etc.—and the main narrative, from what I’ve played so far, is surprisingly engaging.
Anthony: The story does a great job retaining some familiar details and beats but switching things up to add enough mystery to keep you going. I think the world is better fleshed out to allow for a greater level of environmental storytelling that’s necessary for this version of Hyrule.
Donovan: There’s just something about the most recent Zelda games that just sucks you in. The wildlife, the colors, the decaying ruins—it all just gels together to keep me exploring and wanting to learn more about the vast world.
One of my favorite things about Zelda games is how they occasionally have you explore some darker version of the world you’re already familiar with. Tears of the Kingdom took that concept and expanded it, giving the “dark version” of the world its own creepy sense of identity and adding clever, unique exploration of its skies. And it all flows together seamlessly. Also, you never know what you’re going to find once you drop into a well.
Q: Where Can (or Should) the Zelda Franchise Go From Here?
Sam: In terms of the future, part of me wishes there were still a team at Nintendo working on 2D/top-down Zelda games that could have traditional dungeons and try out non-Ganon/Ganondorf villains, but I wouldn’t be mad if the BotW/TotK design for the main Zelda games was here to stay.
Anthony: Zelda should stay in this open world space for the 3D games but continue to do so in a way that mixes the old with the new like Tears of the Kingdom does. I’d love to see a game with this structure based in Termina. I think Nintendo has an opportunity now to establish the Zelda world as a series of countries and not just locations that aren’t connected.
Overall, Ocarina of Time has long stood as my GOAT Zelda game but there’s a legitimate chance that by the time I complete Tears of the Kingdom, it could take that spot. It feels like everything Nintendo has wanted Zelda to be.
Sam: I still think Ocarina is my GOAT (and I don’t see myself wavering on that just yet), but I definitely see TOTK as, like, top three at worst, whereas I didn’t quite feel that way about BOTW.
Anthony: I’ll know by the time I’m done but I feel the same way playing this that I felt playing Ocarina and even though I’ve loved them all, I’ve never felt that about another Zelda game. It’s crazy.
Donovan: The series has a pretty solid formula as it heads into the future. I’m surprised at what Nintendo has been able to do on the aging Switch hardware. Imagine what a stronger console could produce!
I think Zelda could also enhance its combat to make it more fast-paced and stylish. Think something faster and more complex than the combat we have now, but a little more toned down and technical than, say, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
David: Aonuma recently confirmed that the Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom-style Zelda experience is here to stay. And you know what? I’m fine with that.
If you had asked me that same question post-Breath of the Wild, I’d be singing a different tune. Too much of BotW seemed to err from the spirit of Zelda, from the quality of its puzzles to the look and feel of its bosses. Tears of the Kingdom, meanwhile, tuned up nearly every aspect of its processor that I disliked. It’s the perfect compromise between past and present Zelda, and it makes me hopeful about the series’ future.
What are your thoughts on Tears of the Kingdom so far? Let us know in the comments!