When The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom announced itself to the world last September, the sense of relief among Zelda fans was palpable. Sure, taking a closer look at the long-awaited and much-anticipated Breath of the Wild sequel was exciting, but its appearance at this particular Nintendo Direct showcase gave us more than ever before – an official title, and an official launch date: May 12, 2023. The fact that it was definitely still real, and, better yet, coming soon, was a clear source of joy, especially given how little we'd seen of the game since it first poked its head above the parapet during E3 2019.
Fast forward several months, and the Tears of the Kingdom release date is looming. By way of gameplay and story trailers we've now got a clearer sense of what it's about. I once said Zelda Tears of the Kingdom looks ace, but I hope it drops Breath of the Wild's most divisive feature – and now, having gone hands-on in this new skyborne slant on Hyrule myself, I now know stamina-gated traversal is back. I'd otherwise be disappointed by this, if I weren't so relieved by Tears of the Kingdom's exciting workaround.
Up, up and away
Zelda Tears of the Kingdom preview: It's bigger, bolder and more inventive than Breath of the Wild
Stamina bars first appeared in RPGs in the mid-90s, with little in the way of iteration since. In Breath of the Wild, a depleting stamina wheel lets you climb in any direction until, once emptied, you forcibly lose your grip and fall to the next flat surface, often resulting in instant death. Whereas stamina acts a depleting resource in games like Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West – one that must be managed on the fly to overcome obstacles, and succeed in battle – in Breath of the Wild it feels arbitrary; wherein the game is failing you and not the other way around. Given Breath of the Wild is otherwise so forward-thinking in its scope for player exploration and experimentation, its use of such a dated mechanic by way of stamina-gated traversal has, to me at least, always felt jarring.
The fact that it returns in Tears of the Kingdom could have put me off, then, but this game's own experimental potential far exceeds that of its forerunner – so much so, that I don't think I'll care much about stamina systems this time around at all. From the little I've played so far, it appears imagination underpins the world of Tears of the Kingdom across the board, and its new 'Ascend' ability has the potential to render climbing in many situations redundant.
By standing beneath the level or platform you want to reach, a quick tap of the left shoulder button with Ascend selected – similar to how Breath of the Wild's runes system works – shows where you can move upwards to next. In doing so, Link slips into a transitory state (he looks like he's swimming through a Matrix-aping time vortex), before surfacing at the other end. Doing so won't circumvent climbing on every occasion, granted – I foresee Ascend working similar to, say, Elden Ring's Spiritsprings – but it does blow the scope for approach wide open, in both exploration and combat.
In the situations where Ascend isn't feasible, I expect the 'Fuse' and 'Ultrahand' abilities to step in. With rockets, high-powered fans, hot air balloon apparatus, and more, there are multiple, seemingly readily-available ways to propel yourself skyward in Tears of the Kingdom. As outlined in my preview, on one occasion this saw me equipping a floating platform with said rockets and fans and taking off. On another, I slapped the same fans and a floor-standing control level onto a metal glider, and took to the skies. On another, I fused a rocket to my shield and flew among the clouds for a long, long time like Elton John. And on yet another, I mounted a huge metal hook onto a minecart and slid across a monorail line in something that sort-of resembled Bioshock Infinite.
As you might have spied already, perishable weapons also return in Tears in the Kingdom. And while I've not always gotten on with the mechanic, I have always respected Breath of the Wild's decision to eschew leveling in favor of progressively stronger weaponry. The fact that Fuse can also make weapons more powerful, and, crucially, more durable, though, will offer players countless alternatives in how they approach pretty much every single combat situation here. Combine this with the new, myriad ways to get around, and up and down, and it's hard to see how Tears of the Kingdom won't redefine our expectations and interpretations of the open-world genre, in the same way Breath of the Wild did six years ago. I'm so excited already, and I know I've barely scratched the surface of its many layers.
And so while I'm a wee bit disappointed to see such an archaic system in stamina-gated traversal return in Tears of the Kingdom, I'm now confident it'll no longer drive me up the wall. Simply because, with its suite of imaginative and inventive construction tools, I'll be doing so myself.
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