Tears of the Kingdom: The best DLC $70 can buy

Image from author.

Among the many high profile game releases of 2023, Tears of the Kingdom (TotK), was arguably one of the most anticipated. The impact of its prequel, Breath of the Wild (BotW), cannot be understated: it easily swept 2017s Game Awards and left with Game of the Year, which it rightfully deserved. The game was infectious, its world brimming with life and things to see, quests to find, riddles to solve and mountains to climb. It was arguably the first open world game to live up to the “go anywhere, do anything” slogan so commonly used to advertise games of its type. I only stopped playing when I felt I could map most of Hyrule from memory alone. Though the game was easily the best to come out in 2017, it also had many glaring flaws, flaws that even I had to simply ignore. The enemy variety was poor, the combat had major issues, and the gear system was downright laughable. Joseph Anderson put it best when he described Breath of the Wild as “the best and worst game I have ever played.” Naturally then, the sequel was clamored over for years, and last year we finally got it. But does it live up to expectations? Does it acknowledge the successes and the failures of its predecessor to better itself, or does it fall down the same traps BotW did?

To start, the game took obvious and heavy inspiration from BotW. That is to say that fundamentally it is the exact same game, down to each and every flaw. TotK copies its prequel so much to the point where I can’t confidently say someone would be able to tell the difference if you spliced footage of the two together. It really is that blatant. Nintendo squandered a very rare opportunity to fix some of their more egregious errors and instead went with the “if it aint broke dont fix it” route while standing over a pile of rubble, occasionally applying a bandage here or there and expecting another Game of the Year award. 

Still, the tools you have at your disposal are generally more unique, and being able to fuse objects together to make prototype mechs is undoubtedly fresh and a lot of my early memories of playing TotK are from that system. Fusing together a bunch of logs and a few fans to make a raft immediately comes to mind. This is actually a great change, since it expands on the freedom of the first game by letting you go anywhere, do anything and make everything. The same goes for the weapon fusion mechanic: weapons you find in the world are generally very weak to encourage you to fuse them with other objects, typically pointy bits from monsters you’ve slain. Though this system lacks depth, usually just requiring you to select the piece with the biggest number, it is still interesting which is unfortunately not true of the other two powers (a tool that lets you dive straight up through solid objects and a rarely used time reversal ability). TotK does take steps to carve out its own identity, but not nearly big enough steps to make it feel like its own product, the game felt familiar to me within a few hours.

But this shouldn’t matter to me, right? I said that the world is what pulled me into BotW despite its glaring flaws, so why are they so bad here? This leads me into by far my biggest disappointment with this game, that the whole thing takes place above, on, and below the exact same Hyrule I can map from memory. But surely I’m overlooking something: I just said the game takes place above and below Hyrule, a feature nonexistent in the first game. While true that there are new layers to Hyrule, being composed of the skies, ground and depths, each of these layers fail in their own ways. Starting from the top, the skies were all I was expecting from TotK knowing nothing going into the game. I was expecting a game entirely focused on floating islands and vertical movement between them, but this is not the case. Sky islands, excluding the tutorial one, are not only far too sparse to be noteworthy but also fill one of two roles. They are either staging grounds for puzzles, or a boss arena. This isn’t true for every island in the game of course, but it was true for enough of them to ruin the idea of exploring them for me, save for one or two good ones. The ground was the most offensive: it’s the same layout, almost to a tee. Villages were in the same place and felt familiar: the desert was in the bottom left, jungle bottom right, volcano top right, etc. Breath of the Wild earned almost all of its praise from the sense of exploration, of going somewhere new or surveying the landscape for landmarks as you glide from a tower. This mysticism is gone from the sequel, save for a few minor changes. Finally, we have the depths, a cavernous and pitch black layer deep beneath Hyrule’s surface. In terms of scale it actually matches the surface, but its shortcoming is, ironically, its depth. No light reaches the depths save for the waypoints you can teleport to and the odd torch, which severely limits what can go down there. There may be a few structures dotted around the depths, but walking around with your arms out until you bump into them isn’t as engaging as spotting them from a distance. The depths are also much less vertical and covered in floor to ceiling walls, making exploring them feel weak even without the muted and uninteresting pallet. But the final nail in the coffin for the depths, for me at least, was the realization that the depths was a copy and paste of the surface. The geography and notable places are identical. They have different things to do, but still felt like exploring the same exact world.

Tears of the Kingdom does have a lot to praise. The music, like the first, is stellar, and it can be very pretty to look at at times. But I didn’t go into TotK expecting another Breath of the Wild. I expected so much more than it was willing to offer. Tears of the Kingdom is an enjoyable game, but only because of the shoulders it stands on.

Clayton (Mae) Paxton is a 17 year old first year journalist born and raised right here in Fremont. They’ll gladly write an article about whatever catches their attention, but mainly they want to write about popular game releases and the history of gaming media. Predictably, their main hobby is playing video games but they also spend their free time ranting to their friends about how good whatever song that got stuck in their head is. Their plans for the future are just to make it to the next day and enjoy themselves doing it, ideally getting a job in the gaming industry but never worrying too much about any of that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *