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Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom leaves Breath of the Wild behind – hands-on preview

With new mechanics like the Fuse power, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a fresh take on the same massive open world.

Link using a stone shield to block an attack in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Image credit: Nintendo

The exciting thing about The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is how it moves on from some of the most influential elements of Breath of the Wild.

I, like a lot of people, wondered how fresh Tears of the Kingdom could feel with a similar look on almost unchanged console hardware six years later, and it’s not just games in the same series Zelda has to compete with.

Want a video version of this preview? Here's us discussing what makes Zelda:Tears of the Kingdom great.

Skews of mechanics that Breath of the Wild popularised have been so comprehensively copied and adopted by action games the world over that they’re almost treated as default – kind of like how the Call of Duty control scheme stuck post-Modern Warfare 2 and has been ubiquitous ever since (I still shudder every time I think of pressing R3 to ADS).

Nearly every game you can climb so much as a set of stairs in shows your grip depleting with a little wheel, and gliders have never been bigger. So how could you say this new Zelda stands out as an innovator when you could feasibly have been doing the same things in Genshin Impact every day for the last three years?

But where those were some of your primary methods of traversal in Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom looks at them and says, “eh, you don’t really do that anymore”.

Link flying a plane built with the Fuse power in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Link can pilot makeshift machines on the land, water and in the air. | Image credit: Nintendo

Rather than free solo up the side of every cliff, Link can now Superman up from the bottom via caves to reach high places. Or, even better, he can use the Fuse power to slap together a few bits of wood, a couple of doohickeys, a battery and a mechanised dragon head to pilot a fire-breathing hovercraft off into the sunset.

In practice the building is fiddly, but has a Top Gear challenge chaotic energy that gives every misaligned rocket and wonky wheel a madcap sense of fun: if it’s broken, you just rip it off and try again.

You don’t have to painstakingly piece together every single creation you want to fudge throughout the entire game though, there is something that streamlines the process eventually – so hopefully it doesn’t feel too much like a gimmick that outstays its welcome across the time you spend with Tears of the Kingdom.

Speaking of fudging stuff together, Fuse can also be used on weapons and shields, turning long sticks into exploding spears or an inert plank into a wind-tunnel that blows enemies away.

One of my first tasks in Tears of the Kingdom was to attack a Bokoblin stronghold. After immediately blowing the element of surprise by zooming past in a rocket-powered “car” with three fans strapped to the back, defeating a gangly Moblin netted me one of their slender forehead horns.

Fusing it onto the end of a big pole had me poking holes with the best of them, turning an otherwise unassuming twig into a dangerous piece of equipment. But you can do sillier stuff with Fuse too.

Link using the Rewind power in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to throw a giant spiky ball
In Tears of the Kingdom, almost everything in the environment can be used to your advantage! | Image credit: Nintendo

As I snuck up on the rest of the Bokoblin camp, they tried to squish me with a giant spiky ball. Link’s Rewind power sent it tumbling back up the hill with explosive results, but then I could fuse the ball onto the end of my two-handed sword to face off against a Boss Bokoblin – who then promptly did the same.

Enemies also using the Fuse power in combat against you makes it feel reactive, like even though the enemies are visually the same, they could take a completely different approach to battling you rather than pulling from a list of canned attacks.

As me and the Boss Bokoblin squared off in a duel I remembered how satisfying the momentum-heavy, ragdoll combat in Breath of the Wild was, with a hard bonk to the bonce sending the big boi to the mat. I then (completely on purpose, promise) smashed its giant ball club into pieces like I was Obi-Wan cutting Darth Maul’s lightsaber in half, leaving it whirling around in surprise when it eventually got back to its feet.

These physics-focused systems have so much potential for variety compared to other massive open world games that feel rigid and unresponsive. It has that proper sandbox feel which makes you feel clever for bending the rules of engagement, instead of just going through predetermined motions. All that applies to the puzzles, too. You can manipulate large objects with your powers, platform, interact with ancient technology or get launched into the air; sometimes all within the same activity.

So during my relatively brief preview, while I didn’t get to see if the world of Tears of the Kingdom had the same sense of incredible density as Breath of the Wild – and it’s always tempting to fall into the trap of assuming everything you haven’t seen is as great as what you have – it did give me the same daunting feeling of vastness and almost endless exploration.

It would be hyperbolic to say if you were late to the party and played 100 hours of Breath of the Wild recently, rather than in 2017, you’re still going to find Tears of the Kingdom completely different. However, the new additions to the core loop make do make this feel like a full sequel, not just an update. The Fuse power steals the show, letting you take an experimental approach to almost everything you encounter.

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James Billcliffe avatar

James Billcliffe

Guides Editor

With 7 years' experience, James (he/him) suffers so you don't have to, creating expert guides for the toughest games and reviews for the biggest blockbuster releases. He has a Master's degree in Journalism and a BA in Linguistics that he never got a chance to flex until Wordle came along.
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