‘The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’ — A GeekDad First Look

LoZ ToTK featured

Last week I was lucky enough to be in the very first media cohort for a special hands-on look at The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. From high above Chelsea, we were given an initial rundown of the ins and outs of TotK, sufficiently caffeinated with complementary coffees, and then turned lose for two different play sessions in this strange but familiar Hyrule.

Each of us found their own dedicated play space complete with a comfy chair, a TotK-edition Switch OLED console (which truly is a thing of beauty) with a Pro Controller, and a pair of handlers to help us out on our journey. This made for a wonderful, controlled environment in which we could explore the world of Tears of the Kingdom… within reason.

Admittedly, it only gave us a chance to scratch the surface of a game this expansive, and the Nintendo team was constantly on hand to make sure none of us strayed too far from the proverbial path. Yet even with those guardrails in place, it was an illuminating (and, obviously, genuinely enjoyable) experience.

What follows is a brief recollection of my misadventures as Hylian hero Link, complete with all my greatest hits, even greater misses, and more than a few gross miscalculations.

Part One: The Ballad of the Fire-Stick

After a brief introduction to some of the game’s new mechanics—specifically the Ultrahand and Fuse abilities—I was encouraged to try them out myself with a little LoZ-style environmental problem-solving.

Tears of the Kingdom‘s rising plateaus and floating sky islands are largely detached from each other, but the portion of the map I was dropped into featured a number of landmasses connected via simple rails. As Eiji Aonuma demonstrated in last month’s game preview, while the machinery of old Hyrule is largely in a state of ruin, Link’s Ultrahand can be used to combine remnants of Zonai tech to create working vehicles.

TotK Link
There’s a great big world out there. image: NOA

After orienting myself as to my desired destination, I first located the closest available set of cart rails. Fortuitously, these were located next to an old (but still visibly roadworthy) mine cart. When I activated Ultrahand, the cart acquired a shimmery glow letting me know that it was… fully… Ultrahand-able? I lifted the cart and easily placed it on the rails. Now it was a mere matter of locomotion.

Remembering Aonuma’s example, I again activated Ultrahand and used it to manipulate a nearby Zonai fan. By placing the fan near the stationary cart, I was able to locate any number of suitable connection points. Admittedly, fine tuning the position of said fan took a little trial and error, but using a combination of the shoulder buttons (to capture the device) and the analog sticks and d-pad (to rotate and flip the position of the fan along multiple axes), I was finally able to craft a functional fan-cart.

A strike with the sword activated the fan, which propelled the cart nicely to my next destination. Here I found a stranded Korok wearing a too-big backpack and unable to stand on his own. His partner was awaiting him at the next landing, but there was no way the little guy would be able to get there without a little assistance.

TotK building
The shimmer means it’s working! image: NOA

Not one to fix what isn’t already broken, I turned to me trusty Ultrahand and, like the fan before it, I affixed my tiny passenger firmly to the cart—for his own safety and comfort. Once we reached our destination, there was only the matter of removing him from the works—a cinch for a veteran Ultrahand-er.

I also used Ultrahand to lift up the little dude and deposit him directly at the nearby Korok camp. (When you travel on Link Railways, service is out goal.)

Then things got a bit more complicated. While this platform was connected to the next via the familiar tracks, there was significant damage to one rail about halfway up the incline. This problem called for more than a fan.

My first instinct was to simply replace the missing rail. A large hook-like metal piece I found sticking out conspicuously from the surrounding ruins seemed like a suitable candidate, but it turned out that, while the hook was able to be manipulated with my Ultrahand, the track itself was not.

That was when I remembered another piece of Zonai tech covered in the hands-off portion of our introduction, the rocket. Sure enough, I was able to locate a Zonai rocket. While I’d already discovered that it was pretty easy to deconstruct with the Ultrahand, there was another minecart present, so I chose to use it in my next experiment.

TotK rocket
You can do lots of things with a Zonai rocket and a little imagination. image: NOA

After setting it on the tracks and attaching the rocket, I was one quick sword strike away from glorious success or a very messy failure. Thankfully, rocket-cart proved just the thing for bypassing that damaged rail, and I made it safely to my next destination. (Much to the surprise of several onlookers.)

As I continued my climb, I began to encounter enemies, which gave me an excuse to try my hand at weapons fusion. A long-press of the L-trigger brought up a radial menu that let me swap my active ability from Ultrahand to Fuse, and thereafter a short tap activated the Fuse skill.

Just like with Ultrahand, fusible weapon materials available in the environment were distinctly outlined to make them easy to locate and identify. At first I was going to go with the tried and true tree branch and rock, which combine to make a crude hammer. Then I remembered all my sweet, sweet inventory.

A peculiar stone caught my eye, so I dropped it, fused it with a handy branch, and quickly found that I had crafted what I came to call the mighty fire-stick—a ridiculous but effective elemental weapon. After setting my enemies, a good portion of the grass and surrounding woodlands, and nearly myself on fire, I called the fire-stick experiment another rousing success.

TotK cooking
Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys! image: NOA

With the coast now clear, I was warned that, as I approached the higher, snowy altitudes, warmth would become an issue. Eying some conspicuously hot peppers growing in a nearby clutch, I was prepared to fall back on my Breath of the Wild culinary skills… until it was pointed out to me that the heat rising from my weapon would more than suffice.

Oh, fire-stick, is there anything you can’t do?

Part Two: Defying Gravity

After a brief break to recaffeinate and compare notes, our ragtag group of game journos was again called together in preparation for the second half of our Tears of the Kingdom gameplay experience. Here we were shown a few more items in the radial abilities menu like Ascend as well as a secondary mechanic that can be used to streamline building with Ultrahand. We were also issued a challenge; could we reach two very specific waypoints before our allotted time ran out?

TotK Bokoblins
It’s been a minute since I had to tangle with a crew of rabid Bokoblins! image: NOA

The first goal, as it turned out, was inside a fortified stronghold. Figuring this called for a little of the old ultra-violence, I first attempted to snipe my enemies from afar. While this allowed me to dispatch my first Bokoblin, it also alerted his bigger, meaner teammate, who struck me down before I could even fuse another handy fire-stick.

Next I tried stealth, using Ascend to make my way through the catwalk connecting the structures. It sounded good in theory—and the experience of watching Link swim through the air was pretty amazing—but it didn’t exactly shake out like I’d hoped. My enemies within the fortress saw me coming a mile away and easily crushed me with a comically oversized spiked ball trap.

ToTK Ascend
Ascend isn’t as flashy as some of Link’s other new abilities, but it’s amazing in its own right. image: NOA

Clearly, the third path was one of speed. And cowardice.

Using Ultrahand, I managed to construct a rising platform from cobbled together materials and Zonai technology. Once I’d achieved a suitable height, I used the returning Paraglider to reach my goal, bypassing what I could only assume was a small army of very confused Bokoblins.

Reaching this waypoint let me easily access the sky, which gave me an opportunity to island-hop to my ultimate destination. Of course, this was easier said than done.

Without sufficient space to Paraglide, I again resorted to Ultrahand construction, crafting first a simple fan-powered flying machine using a large winged metal structure. This served me well until I tried to bypass some very obvious old-school Zelda puzzling, at which point my DIY aircraft was lost and I was forced to swallow my pride and backtrack.

TotK flying machine
Behold my ingenious flying machine! image: NOA

The puzzle I’d so thoughtlessly fled from, it turned out, was easy enough to solve using Ultrahand, repositioning a small analogue of the larger platforms I actually needed to traverse to reach my final goal. And reach it I did, with time to spare!

The fruits of this particular labor were a little on the spoiler-y side, so I wasn’t allowed to proceed much further. With a few minutes still on the clock, it was suggested that I could return to the starting point and attempt to “redeem myself” from my earlier Bokoblin-related snafu.

Was this wording slightly hurtful? Yes, but it was no less accurate.

TotK puzzle
Yet another cool thing you can grab and manipulate using Ultrahand. image: NOA

Part Three: Redemption

Returning to ground zero, I re-assessed the situation… with some helpful input from my handlers. The order of the day was divide and conquer. First up, I cautiously eliminated the smaller Bokoblin using a rusty sword from my inventory. This netted me a Bokoblin horn, which I discovered I could Fuse with a long branch to make a crude pole arm.

Using this allowed me to outmaneuver and defeat my next enemy, a sizable Moblin, who in turn dropped a Moblin horn. This too could be added to a branch to make an even more formidable weapon… But how to get past that spiked ball?

At this point, I was reminded of another new power I’d yet to fully explore, Link’s Recall ability!

Recall, as demonstrated by Eiji Aonuma, lets Link reverse the previous movements of some environmental assets. After readying Recall from the radial menu, I started up that precarious catwalk, selected the approaching spike ball with Recall, and rewound it back into my would-be assassins.

TotK spiked ball
Recall, too, packs quite a punch. image: NOA

I was now in the enemy fortress (but not out of the woods). A Moblin Chief and a swarm of his wretched underlings rushed me. I weaved and bobbed, managing to dispatch a couple of them with my bow and spear, but I took a sizable chunk of damage and had to pop into my inventory to eat a few healing meals.

While I searched my stash for a suitable weapon, it was casually suggested that, instead, I think of my environment—which was, at the time, still dominated by that huge spiked ball I had so recently unleashed upon my enemies. No amount of recovered Zonai machinery was going to get me out of this mess, save, perhaps, a tank.

But what if Ultrahand wasn’t the solution? I activated Fusion and, sure enough, the spiked ball was highlighted in that welcomed, comforting glow. This thing could be used as a weapon!

I equipped a tree branch, fused the two together, and suddenly found myself wielding a comically oversized DIY morning star. While far from the fastest weapon in my arsenal, this thing dealt considerable damage, and within minutes I had cleared out the offending fortress just as the last few seconds of my playtime ticked away.

Memories and Ruminations

I thought a lot about the Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on my Uber back to LaGuardia. Well, at least until my driver engaged me in some delightful conversation. (What up, Muhammad?!)

I thought about it more while I ate airport pizza, when my departing gate was changed two three different times, and during my layover outside DC. There was, after all, a lot to think about.

Obviously, Tears of the Kingdom bears a striking resemblance to Breath of the Wild. It has that look, that soft watercolor gouache overlay that makes it instantly recognizable. So, too, does it have BotW‘s spirit of exploration, he palpable sense of a great big game world full of wonder and mystery and challenges.

But at the same time, it also managed to reactivate an even older core memory from my sizable middle-aged catalog of emotionally-rooted gaming moments.

It is 1987 (or maybe early ’88). I am playing The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System at my friend Jason’s house. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. The world is, by the standards of the day, positively massive, and I’m free to roam where I wish. It is both exhilarating and keenly intimidating.

It’s three and a half decades later, and I have that same thick feeling, a deep, knotted sense of wonder, when I think of my adventures in Tears of the Kingdom. This time, though, it’s not just freedom of movement; it’s true freedom of action.

None of the other folks in my preview group had the same experience as me. We all made different choices, different mistakes, but we arrived (more or less) at the same place—at that same clearly defined destination—even though we each took a different path.

To be clear, not everything is possible this particular version of Hyrule, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling that way. Some things I didn’t think would work did, just as some I felt certain were the right choices proved foolish and shortsighted, but there was certainly no shortage of options. 

And while I certainly won’t discount the utility of (or the creativity inherent in) Recall or Ascend, for me it was the one-two punch of Ultrahand and Fuse that made the biggest impression. What they add to the gameplay is nothing short of mind-blowing.

When I asked—after pulling off that spiked ball fusion stunt—about the constraints of these new mechanics, if there was an upper limit for the size or style of item I could use to make a weapon or a machine, I was simply encouraged to try and see. I was assured that I would continue to be surprised, which I don’t doubt in the slightest.

In the world of Tears of the Kingdom, it all comes down to that distinct outline, to that shimmery little glow. So, if you take nothing else away from this missive, when you venture into this latest iteration of Hyrule, please let these words be your guide:

“If it glows, it goes!”

Travel and accommodations for this special media event were provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. May the mighty fire-stick guide you to a brighter, warmer tomorrow!

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