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10th Nov 2023 | 1,005 views
(Note this was originally going to be a slideshow based review, so if it comes off a little funky that's definitely why. But that's on-brand so it's ok)
Welcome to the first ever instalment of Funktown Reviews; great to see you again!
Today’s subject and first game I’ll be reviewing is a little title called The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which happens to be the direct sequel to another little game called The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Now, it’s safe to say that Breath of the Wild was fairly well received when it came out in 2017, in fact it was lauded by many as one of the best games of all time. So as one would expect, expectations were pretty high for its sequel, including my own. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that 3D Zelda is one my favorite game series and Breath of the Wild was as far as I’m concerned, the best entry yet, so leading up to Tears of the Kingdom, I was definitely aboard the hype train. So much so that I even picked up the massive Collector’s Edition; a box so big it could fit 3 normal collector’s editions and 500 grams of pasta.
And so, with expectations as high as the game’s sky islands could the end product itself possible live up to them? That’s what we’re here to answer today … 6 months after the game’s release. Exactly when you’d need that information.
But before we get into the bulk of the review I want to first talk about the story, or rather talk about the fact that I’m not gonna talk about the story, at least not in detail. All you need to know is that I… liked it. I thought it had some strong elements to it, particularly the ending which is one element that I was just a teeny bit underwhelmed by in Breath of the Wild. It did definitely have some issues like a repetition of elements (ancient sages anyone?), but overall, I would definitely still say I enjoyed it and that it holds up to other Zelda stories in my eyes. But regardless, while the story of course takes up some space this it isn’t a game where it’s the main focus and not nearly as much of a bearing element as the gameplay or the world, which is the main focus of this review, starting with the very basics.
(Btw I lied about the little part, this will be one long review).
Most of this review will be spent talking about what sets Tears of the Kingdom apart from its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, but to first set the stage game I gotta talk about the things they have in common, namely, the basics.
The combat, material gathering and cooking, weather and temperature mechanics and the ways you can move about the world, climbing, gliding or shield surfing; these were all core elements of Breath of the Wild and a large part of what made it an amazing game. I even liked the dreaded durability mechanic, because it added more variation to the gameplay and a sort of strategic weapon management. These elements are all back in Tears of the Kingdom and largely unchanged, there are of course new materials with new uses and elements that spice of the combat, but we’re dealing with the same basic blueprint here, and even to some extent the same world map, which we’ll get back to. And despite Breath of the Wild being as beloved as it was, this long list of similarities has been a point of contention among some players, even some of those who loved Breath of the Wild. Personally, I think a large part of the that is the fact that it’s been 6 whole years since Breath of the Wild, and with such a large time span people expected a bigger transformation, even from a direct sequel, and I can sort of relate to that.
But the other side of the coin is that many other players are happy to have a new massive game that shares so much with Breath of the Wild and builds on top of it, and I find myself mostly in this second camp. Sure, one of the weaknesses of this approach is that many things that could have been improved over Breath of the Wild are instead left the same, but overall, these core elements’ return are a welcome one and once again a huge part of what makes the game great. For those who have played BotW there’s no denying that Tears of the Kingdom is a revisit on many levels, but I for one don’t think it’s a case of too much of a good thing. Particularly not when there’s also so many, many things that set the games apart and even smaller introductions to the basics like the new materials or the expanded midair moveset are really fun and welcome additions.
As hinted at earlier Tears of the Kingdom builds off the same surface world map as Breath of the Wild and despite various changes to landmarks and locations there’s no denying this makes the act of exploring Hyrule proper a little less exciting this time around. However, they did a lot more with the world than just freshen up Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule map; they put it in a sandwich. The top slice is the sky islands waay above the surface as the bottom part is the Depths, way down in the darkness below. Both distinctly different from the surface.
As one would expect the sky islands are full of robots, catapults and death stars and very, very yellow. Since they’re these self-contained unique areas way up in the sky, exploring them and trying to find ways to reach them is extremely compelling particularly early in the game, and skydiving down from them to the world below is a blast. On top of that these sky areas frankly look amazing. Graphically Tears of the Kingdom is of course not the most advanced game out there, but like Breath of the Wild before it, I think it manages to look pretty damn good despite that due to its style, particularly here up in the sky with its golden colors and crazy lighting.
Moving on to the dark depths below these are also a really interesting new segment with unique challenges of trying to light up the areas to navigate them and avoiding gloom and gloom monsters that’ll lock away your hearts. With Hyrule feeling more familiar and a little smaller due to new mechanics, I would say the depths end up partially taking over the role of a new frontier to explore the way that Hyrule felt in Breath of the Wild, definitely nice to have that, but I also can’t deny that the depths aren’t quite a replacement of the same caliber with the areas feeling a lot less varied that the Hyrule above. I’m also not sure how to feel about Gloom as a mechanic since you can fairly easily create food that cures it which ends up making it feel not that different from taking regular damage except you gotta remember to stock up on those specific foods.
Going back briefly to meat of the sandwich, Hyrule itself, while I won’t talk about that at great length here, it shouldn’t be understated that that is still a fantastic and vaired part of this game and with caves, wells and monster fortresses there’s also lots of new areas and nocks and crannies to explore here.
So ultimately what we’ve got here is a pretty solid sandwich, delicious even one could say. There is also A LOT here, it would be no exaggeration to say the game is more than twice as big as Breath of the Wild and while you could argue that space doesn’t quite get fully utilized, it still makes for a very compelling world that gets my stamp of approval.
And while we’re on the topic I would be remiss to not also mention that it’s not just the map in which TotK is massive, also in terms of content is it an increase. Compared to Breath of the Wilds 76 side quests originally, Tears of the Kingdom launched with 199. Of course, quantity does not always equal quality, but it’s still worth mentioning just how much of Tears of the Kingdom there is in Tears of the Kingdom (a lot) and while that can make it daunting for the would-be completionist, I personally feel the quality of quests has generally held strong and it does make Tears a hell of a package.
Runes vs “Runes”
One of the biggest things that sets TotK apart from its predecessor is the new “runes” (which aren’t officially called runes this time around, but eh, they’re runes), particularly since they play a much bigger role in this game. In BotW the runes served as a little set of extra abilities, a little spice on top of Link’s regular move set which only became truly essential in shrines, but in TotK the runes are an absolutely integral part of the gameplay, particularly two of them: Ultrahand and Fuse.
Ultrahand is quite clearly an evolution of Magnesis from BotW that let you move around metal objects, and unless you really like pretending to Magneto it’s pretty clearly an upgrade. Ultrahand lets you not only move around all types of objects, not just metal, it also lets you stick objects together creating potentially massive constructions or chains of objects. By itself that’s already a pretty cool ability, but that’s only scratching the surface of its potential thanks to the newly introduced Zonai devices, unique objects like cannons, wheels or fans that can be carried in your inventory and brought out when you need them. With these in hand you can create basicly anything your heart desires; your own vehicles from a boat, to a car, to a stick with wheels and so much more that it doesn’t even make sense for me to try and list it. Essentially this ability is like a damn Arduino kit letting you couple together contraptions to your hearts content (only more intuitively). It’s like a game within the game and can be extremely fun to experiment with.
Then there’s the fuse mechanic which is perhaps even more vital to the game. Weapons are generally pretty awful by themselves in Tears of the Kingdom since anything that isn’t a stick has been degraded by the gloom, but fuse makes up for that by letting you combine your weapons with various materials increasing both damage and durability. This can be used on anything from crafting materials to Zonai devices or even other weapons. You can also fuse things to your shield or, one of the best uses, fusing to your arrows when shooting, which lets you manually create not only, fire, lighting and bomb arrows, but a ton of other things as well. It really an extremely versatile tool letting you create anything from useful to the... ehm... practical.