I wasn’t a fan of BOTW, can Tears of the Kingdom win me over?

Yes, it did win me over.

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Okay okay let’s get a bit more details by starting off with a confession: I really didn’t enjoy The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This isn’t a feeling I hold for contrarian reasons so I can feel special about not liking one of the most beloved games of the modern era, but a simple fact that the game didn’t gel for me.

I truly despise the weapon durability system. I hate the constant, mindless climbing. I double hate the constant, mindless climbing combined with the endless rain that makes it worse. I don’t like the lack of overall direction and a story that even fans of the game, all these years later, have settled on “yeah just don’t think about it”.

There are several other small annoyances but Breath of the Wild released in 2017 and, since then, many discussions and individuals have popped up to also voice their dislike after the initial hype wore off and the Nintendo Switch was easier and / or cheaper to find. It’s still very much a “there are dozens of us!” situation but I find some solace in the fact that this sacred cow of a game can be dinged for its flaws and sometimes unwelcoming mechanics.

It’s with all this in mind that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom arrived on my desk. As a sequel to Breath of the Wild it carries over a lot of that past game’s design that I disliked so much but, you know what? I was up until two AM last night playing it and I can officially say that it has won me over where the previous game did not.

Those who have watched the trailers on this page or elsewhere may be a bit shocked by this given just how similar the games look on the surface. Thankfully there are some changes that completely shift how you interact with both titles.

The biggest of these may be the new abilities, especially the first two you unlock: Ultrahand and Fuse.

Ultrahand gives Link the ability to not only pick up items in the environment, but also join them together. It can be as simple as joining some logs together to make the most basic of rafts to cross a body of water, all the way up to elaborate machines that you can use to lay siege to enemy encampments or even fly through the sky on improvised aircraft.

Ultrahand is aided by the presence of Zonai devices. These machine modules represent items like fans, wings, flamethrowers, rockets and more. By combining low tech items like wood and wheels with these more advanced items, you can create machines to do just about anything.

Ultrahand goes a massive way towards fixing the irritation with progression, climbing and the general trudge in Breath of the Wild. If presented with a massive mountain on a rainy day that would take an entire afternoon to methodically climb up, you can just Ultrahand a machine of your own creation to take you to the summit in a few seconds.

Those now terrified that this removes the feeling of accomplishment from difficult exploration will be happy to know that there’s a great balance between what can be skipped over by Ultrahand creations and what still needs to be slowly conquered. A great example is the fact that Hyrule is essentially three maps this time: the surface level, the floating Sky Islands above and a network of caves below. These three all require their own types of traversal to conquer so you can’t solve everything just with Ultrahand.

Fuse on the other hand focuses on weapons. At any time you can Fuse your weapon or shield with an item in the environment, or something in your inventory. The simplest example you’re shown is taking a dinky stick and joining it to a rock to make a low tech hammer. It’s simple but effective and can be used to not only defeat enemies, but also break rocks to access new areas and even mine for precious resources.

As straightforward as it sounds, the fact that you can Fuse so many weapons and items adds not only variety, but also incentive to experiment. Some of my favourite discoveries include an improvised German stick grenade (any weapon plus an explosive barrel), a hammer several times the height of Link that sweeps the screen when you swing it (a tree trunk combined with a boulder) and what equates to a self-guided missile (a regular arrow attached to an elemental-charged monster eye).

Fuse acts as a huge band aid over the problem of weapon durability. It returns in Tears of the Kingdom and it’s just as bad as ever with even fine weaponry barely lasting an encounter with a group of enemies before it shatters. Thanks to Fuse you can create ways around this such as starting with a higher durability weapon and then improving its durability – or damage – further by fusing it with the appropriate items.

If you’re ever in a complete pinch where all your weapons have been vaporised, in the heat of battle you can Fuse and make yourself something simple just to finish the fight.

With Ultrahand and Fuse working so hard to address the combat, traversal and other irritating mechanics, it allowed me to have more fun with Tears of the Kingdom. Much more fun than I ever had with Breath of the Wild.

Other parts of the game have also been tweaked to improve on the last game, such as more voice acting and a greater focus given to the player towards completing missions and furthering the story.

If you found yourself aimlessly wondering around in Breath of the Wild, not really knowing what to do next, well that’s not a problem here. Some may find the constant interruptions from NPCs a bit too handholding, but this is offset by the fact that you can just ignore everything and do whatever you want, only returning to the main path and side quests when you decide to.

It also helps that the placement of these missions was done in a very clever way where you will naturally encounter them when pursuing upgrades or exploring new areas. Even if you’re on your own self-imposed adventure you will still still come across these incentives to play the main focus of the game.

As much fun as I had, there are still a handful of problems that will hamper enjoyment. Rewards for difficult fights or exploration, for example, are usually underwhelming. You can spend an irritating amount of time solving an optional puzzle just to be rewarded with something like a precious stone that you already have a dozen of from the many cave trips you go on.

The game is also stingy with certain rewards such as new armour. It’s a long game so I understand that these bigger upgrades need to be spaced out, but it can still grate on you and discourage optional progression.

Saying anything more about Tears of the Kingdom or how it fixes issues I had with Breath of the Wild would veer into spoiler territory. At this point I hope it’s clear that, despite creating what many consider one of the best games of all time, the developers didn’t just sit back and do the same thing again for this game. Instead it seems like they were keenly aware of the problems and irritations the first time around and have gone back to introduce new, fun ways to address them.

For fans of Breath of the Wild who maybe even loved the foibles of that title, the designers have you covered too as the new stuff instead builds on and improves on aspects of that game instead of replacing them outright. There’s more of what you love and new aspects to enjoy too.

As for me I’ll be heading back to Hyrule whenever I can because the content is so expansive. It seems like I have only scratched the surface here and the drive to return and find more is definitely there.

To end on a very local note South Africa is currently in Stage 6 loadshedding. For those outside the country this means that, multiple times per day, you will have periods where there is no electricity for four hours in a row. In my area, for some reason, this can be up to four and half hours instead.

Multiple times during my playthrough of Tears of the Kingdom I filled that entire block of loadshedding with this game alone. The battery of the Nintendo Switch – OLED Model just about covered it too, so this latest Legend of Zelda has come at a perfect time for me and many other South Africans.


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