This is a reactive piece with as few spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as I can manage. There are probably still some small ones scatted throughout this post, but there aren’t any major ones. There are some non-specific references to some unlocked things, which could count as a spoiler depending on how you define them, but I don’t mention any abilities by name or what main quests give you what. I don’t even mention half the stuff you can get up to, that caught me by surprise when I started the game. Honestly, if you’ve watched all the trailers, then none of this should be a surprise to you and I think I did a good job of riding the line between obscure references that people who have played the game will get and things that are vague enough not to spoil any details for someone who hasn’t played the game. But that’s just my opinion, so maybe bail out now if you want to avoid any influence or references to the game (which feels weird to say since this isn’t going up until a week and a half after the game came out, despite the fact that I’m writing this the Monday after it came out).
My first major thought, once I was fully in control of Link after the introductory bit, was that this starting area was huge. My second thought was that I was going to break a lot of weapons early-on, since all I was getting are tree branches and sticks. My next major thought, separate from the problem-solving of the moment, exploration-based thoughts, and combat encounters, was that this whole game was huge. It almost feels like they took Breath of the Wild and decided to see if they could double it, while also adding a bunch of plot and story elements, building out the existing world, and adding a whole new cast of characters to meet (while also doing the work of updating some of them to show the passage of time and how the world has changed following the events of BotW). I’ve put some twenty or more hours into the game and I’m still absolutely staggered by how big it feels.
Throw in a whole set of new shrines, a bunch of verticality that didn’t exist before, way more quests, and so many more collectibles, and you can see why I feel like I’ve barely made a dent after an entire weekend of playing Tears of the Kingdom. Sure, I had to take time away from it to do laundry, prepare to drive to New Jersey, do a 10-hour work day, and handle the various responsibilities of adult life, but I still played this game with every free hour I had. I will be losing some play time to the long drive I’m about to embark on, once my 10-hour work day is done (I’m writing this during breaks the Monday after the game came out), and there will be a series of wedding-related events that will take up some of my time over the next week (not to mention a drive home, afterwards), but I’m not sure I’ll be able to clear the game in about three weeks like I did with Breath of the Wild six years ago. It feels so incomprehensibly massive and, despite having half a dozen or more difference currencies and collectibles that I’m working to accrue, I’m still not sure where to spend half of them or what I’ll even get for doing so.
Combat also feels very different. I feel challenged in a way that even my “Naked and Afraid: Hats Only Master Mode” never quite hit. That was punishing because a single hit could take me down (which is still true in TotK, thanks to my emphasis on stamina increases over HP increases), but not particularly difficult. As the game went on and I managed to shake the rust off my skills and then improve them, I stopped dying outside of odd combat encounters (boss fights in the DLC, for example). In TotK, I feel like it takes more work and skill to clear the enemies before I get overwhelmed and must spend a lot of healing items to stay in the fight. They feel mechanically more complex, rather than the sort of rote/brute-force affairs that mid-to-late-game battles became in BotW. I can’t power my way through these fights since it is difficult to amass enough power that’ll last me through an entire fight. Most of the time, I wind up with lower-damage weapons that feel safer to use since chipping away at a weaker enemies’ health in that moment means I can save the more powerful weapons for the times when I get overwhelmed in an enemy fort or accidentally wander somewhere I’m not supposed to be and wind up fighting a difficult miniboss that absolutely one-shots me with every hit. The only reason I survived that fight is triple-damage-boost food, predictable attack patterns due to close quarters, and having enough fairies on-hand that I could keep getting back up. It was a load of fun.
I don’t mind the extra plot stuff, most of the time. It definitely has me doubling-back a lot more than I ever did in BotW, but my attention is so fractured in this game that going through places multiple times always means I’m finding stuff I missed a previous time, especially since I keep running off wherever rather than studiously searching an area. My only frustration with the game is how much stuff seems to be gated behind plot advancement. Sure, I could probably just push through some of the plot without too much hassle, but it’s annoying to know that I have to do that or else I might be missing out on something in the area. Like the sensor function. It felt like the same amount of plot advancement required for the expanded sensor function in BotW (the shrine sensor function was available after you found your first shrine after escaping The Great Plateau) only gets you some traversial stuff in TotK. Getting the Shrine Sensor function takes way more than that. It might even take some main plot advancement [it totally did], if the characters telling me about the Sensor function are to be believed. I don’t know for certain, yet, since I haven’t checked if I can get the sensor without plot advancement (similar experiences tell me that I need it, though I’ll still try to avoid it first).
Overall, I’m having a blast. Not playing due to work and then my one thousand mile drive is difficult. All I want to be doing is playing Tears of the Kingdom. I’ll still have plenty of opprotunities to do that, once my drive is complete, but Monday and Tuesday of the week I wrote this (so last week, since I’m posting this on the 24th) are entirely occupied by working, driving, and settling in with my friends/the hotel/meeting with my opposite number in the wedding party to review our speeches more. I’ll be very busy and then so sleepy that I imagine I won’t be able to stay up to play TotK even if I wanted to. It’s not like I’ve been a paragon of good sleep habits before this trip…