It’s no news that Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a great game. The map is expansive, there’s a world in the sky above the main one, and the bosses dwarf you in a way that makes you feel microscopic. While TotK has all of these things working to make him feel like an inaccessible beast, he still manages to break down in a way that’s accessible to many different types of players.
Traveling between locations in a game as big as TotK is one of the biggest things to refine because it can get irritating pretty quickly. Sure, the scenery changes as you progress from region to region, but traveling can still become a chore if the game isn’t designed in a way that keeps the world fresh. TotK manages to keep that travel period, of which there are many, pleasant and exhilarating.
Take just go from Lookout Landing to any other region. If you zoom out on the map and see how far you have to travel, it can be incredibly daunting and even daunting before you start going anywhere. Once you start traveling, you’ll notice where Nintendo dots the landscape with ways to stay engaged. You’ll run into characters like Addison who just need a little support, or little side quests that take your attention away from how far you just rode your horse.
These side quests are structured in such a way that the quest pushes you further across the map in the direction you need to go, but without you realizing it. You are fulfilling the task of traveling from one place to another, but the game is constantly rewarding you with upgrades so that you can tangibly feel the progress you have made. There is a downside to this though, because while you have the freedom to find the things you need to complete your quest, you may never find full game aspects like Fairies or Geoglyphs.
On the other hand, something you’re almost certain to find are Shrines, which serve as landmarks on the map that incentivize players to search for them. The Blessing Lights are a phenomenal incentive on their own, but with that size of the map, sometimes the real reward feels like the fast travel point. You can see the Shrines from such a distance that they act as a beacon, ensuring that there are is something there, and it’s something you’re going to want.
Even splitting your journey from Sanctuary to Sanctuary makes the process feel more enjoyable. Zooming in on your scope and leaving a pin for you to check every once in a while is one of the first things the game asks you to do, and it really is a valuable feature. You can set the pin and start your way, and they are often much closer than it seems at first, so you can get to the top of a hill and be right where you want to be.
The side quests in TotK are structured in a way that leads you to interact with the environment so deeply that you almost completely lose track of how much you’ve done. This works to take some of the monotony out of running or riding around Hyrule, and sometimes it’s the smaller quests that totally surprise you. I never expected to be told that one of the Skyview Towers was down, and I took it personally. I fixed it, no questions asked, not just because I’m a completionist but because I knew he was going to thank me later for having the option to ride there.
When TotK presents you with a goal, whether it’s a boss to fight or a destiny to discover, it makes sure you know how small you are compared to what you’re up against. When you have to climb Death Mountain, the camera moves in the correct way to show how far you are and how big it is. It’s almost threatening, but you know you can get there because you’ve already made it to Goron City.
The same goes for bosses; you feel too small to do anything to deal with them, but that’s intentional. The camera frames the boss perfectly to make him look as imposing as possible, and you have to remember why Link is known as a legendary swordsman. You give him a chance, find his weakness and learn to take them down, and remember that your size never mattered in the first place.
Tears of the Kingdom makes size one of the main recurring themes throughout the game. Characters like the Gorons comment on it directly at times, but they also don’t hesitate to ask for your help when it benefits them. Your allies may even be more threatened by a boss than you are at first, and when you end up winning, they sound surprised that you managed to do it. The game is all about constantly subverting your expectations and instilling that sense of pride in yourself.
While TotK is one of the biggest games I’ve reached out to and tried to conquer, I hardly feel it while playing. Each region almost feels like its own game with unique environments, bosses, and characters you can immerse yourself in, except everything is cohesive. All it takes is a falling rock to remind you how much there is to explore, but no matter how small you feel, remember that Link is capable of much more than meets the eye.
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