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Right from the get go the lore and story of this Breath of the Wild sequel is strong. Jumping right in with Link and Zelda exploring an ancient ruin, the game quickly delves into new mysteries. Upon finding some remains of a long dead warrior, chaos ensues. Hyrule Castle is raised into the sky, the world is torn apart in a cataclysmic shift, and Link finds himself with a replacement arm with newfound powers.

Many of you already know the ins and outs of the game, so I won’t drag you through all that. After all, you can find that anywhere on the internet at this point. I want to talk about what makes this different and exciting. Honestly, I found this sequel to be even better than Breath of the Wild.

The world is changed just enough for things to feel fresh. And somehow, not truly knowing what is going on gives Tears a classic Zelda feel. The game isn’t just flat out, “Go get the things to stop Ganon.” Instead you’re doing things like researching the underworld, and investigating various events around the map after the “Upheaval” as the locals call it.

All of this wonder doesn’t really go away once the credits roll. There’s a lot of stuff to do, and odds are you won’t complete everything before you reach the end. Let alone, there are some great set pieces to explore throughout. There are some exceptions, but the game doesn’t really block you very often from just going out and doing your thing.

The best part about this, is that is why the original Zelda for the NES was so great! Sure, you had great game design leading you towards early dungeons. But overall the game encouraged exploration. Link To The Past had a similar feel, letting you wander to try to find heart pieces and improve Link instead of just barrelling through the plot. Tears is so open, I didn’t even get any of my Purah slate upgrades until much later on. Sure, the quests are there, but you don’t HAVE to follow them. And it didn’t ruin my gameplay experience.

Tears also has a darker tone, which adds some of that classic vibe back into the world as well. Everyone feels pretty devastated about their destroyed world. Things had gone so well! Link had triumphed and Zelda had been saved in BOTW. Now, no one really knows what is happening. Let alone this red gloom is seeping across the land and sucking the life out of people.

Where Tears definitely shines is the lore. I do very much miss the classic Zelda setup, and especially the original Moblin wizard version of Ganon. However, the Japanese inspired theme in the Switch releases has a solid feel to it. Not only does it meld with the more European medieval aesthetic, but it brings in such a rich history that it’s hard to not embrace. With tons of cut scenes further exploring the history of the world, it really makes something of its own. Instead of relying on the usual Zelda tropes there are some quite unique setups, like the dragons that fly above the world.

There are fun nods to the classic games too. With creatures such as Gleeok making a return. I’m not sure of later games, but these hydra like monsters were even the original first boss of the NES title. They’re terrifying boss battles out in the world in this one. The game gets really close to these references, but never quite dips into being, “Just Zelda” which is refreshing. One thing the Switch games do incredibly well is being their own thing. I always wanted to delve into what I knew, but it kept things refreshing that Nintendo held back. I’m totally up for a nostalgia trip in the future, and I’ll eat it up like candy. But these Switch titles benefited from always being different.

If you do want a trip down memory lane, there’s a huge wardrobe of outfits to scout around for as well. Or just break out your amiibo collection and start scanning away your Zelda themed ones. I’m glad Nintendo has added things like this because it gives the game a daily check in quality. Hop on, scan your favorite amiibos, collecting a bunch of goodies, and take a break. Even if you’re not planning to explore Hyrule that day, it gives you something to do.

If you’re on the fence about picking this one up for the holidays, the best recommendation is just the sheer content. There are a lot of story threads to explore here. Tons of vehicles to build with various parts you find around the world. On top of that, gathering resources makes it easy to recall your favorite creations with ease. So the more you play, the more you’re rewarded with ease of access and having tons of goodies on hand. In turn, that lets you get out there and explore more sections of the world. If you’re going to be a completionist about it, there is such a plethora of things to do.

Tears of the Kingdom is both a wonderful evolution of Breath of the Wild and the Zelda franchise overall. What I’d like to see next is this timeline finally reaching the end times that the NES Zelda games explored. There’s just something wild about Moblin Ganon being this evil wizard in a world filled with monsters we haven’t seen in awhile. I know The Adventures of Link didn’t seem to really take off at launch decades ago, but it had some very interesting bosses. Some of which did carry over into the later games. A final confrontation to bring an end to the Orcarina of Time Ganondorf’s reign of resurrection would be a fantastic next release. But then again I’m also the rare gamer who is eager for more Doki Doki Panic in the world of Subcon.

With so many collectibles, surprises, and mystery this time around, Nintendo has hit a new high with Tears of the Kingdom. In no way does this feel like a retread. Instead you even have a full underworld that feels like a different sort of exploration. A world filled with sky islands with so many different spots and puzzles to solve up there. This is a new Zelda adventure, sandwiched between two layers of candy that it feels like Nintendo didn’t have to include. Sure the sky world fits the plot, but there’s lots to see up there. The underworld is all about the mystery of the gloom, but it literally spans the whole map beneath Hyrule! These feel like great features that add value to an already expansive game.

Links latest outing keeps the surprises coming, and it’s genuinely a challenging sequel. This feels like Nintendo’s roots. In Japan, instead of releasing Super Mario Bros 2 that we got, Nintendo releases a game that essentially just continued the original and made it harder. That’s what this feels like. It’s a challenge to overcome, a wide world to enjoy, and so many new aspects like combined weapons and vehicle travel to delve into.

This year has some tough competition, but Tears of the Kingdom is a worth combatant for Game of the Year. Honestly, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t win. While Baldurs Gate 3 has so much freedom with choice, Tears of the Kingdom is just a solid video game overall. You can pick it up, explore the world a bit, and come back later. Sure, there’s an overall story, but it feels like you can just go out there and search the world till your hearts content. I’d love to nitpick, just with my own fanboy dreams filled with Nintendo nostalgia, but this game is truly wonderful.

Gameplay 10
Graphics 10
Sound 10
Overall 10