The framerate drops that plague The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom have been noted as a problem, but the game’s biggest issues have nothing to do with the Nintendo Switch’s performance. While there are certainly some amazing moments in TOTK, the overall game design is the primary flaw for the latest Zelda entry, as it has no respect for players’ time. Those who are interested in experiencing the full story of TOTK can easily spend upwards of 60 hours completing the game. Sadly, TOTK features perhaps 20 hours of quality Zelda gameplay and storytelling, significantly padded by tedious travel and opaque quest objectives.
[Warning: Spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom below]
For every rousing, heroic moment in the story, or satisfying puzzle or boss battle, TOTK offers twice as much uninspired filler content. For those who enjoy getting lost in a sprawling, open world, Zelda: TOTK has a larger map than Breath of the Wild, as it adds both Sky Islands and the underground Depths. A larger world is not necessarily a more interesting one, however. Some of the travel between the handful of populated settlements, or the elemental Temples that are central to the story, can be engaging, but for the most part, it is a journey over barren and empty landscapes devoid of anything interesting to interact with.
Zelda: TOTK Has A Massive World That’s Mostly Empty
Link will encounter the same monsters repeatedly, sometimes guarding the occasional treasure chest, and completionists may enjoy tracking down every Shrine to maximize stamina and hearts (or simply to unlock fast travel points). The Shrine format in TOTK is identical to Breath of the Wild’s gameplay loop, however, and treasure chests rarely yield anything of lasting value, due to the return of weapon breakage. There is more of Hyrule to explore than ever, thanks to the verticality of floating and subterranean areas. A massive world that is big for the sake of bragging rights does not yield a better game experience for the player, as evidenced by Tears Of The Kingdom.
The time required to traverse the desolate wildlands of Hyrule in TOTK has many longtime Zelda fans longing for a return to the 2D worlds of games like A Link to the Past. The explorable maps of early Zelda titles consisted of a limited number of screens, but each of those had something interesting to explore and interact with. Beyond its large map, where there is a lot to see, but relatively little of interest to do, there are some entirely bizarre design choices at play in TOTK. The quest direction, at times, offers a throwback to the worst parts of NES games in a AAA game released in 2023.
The first portion of the game provides adequate direction, as Link is sent to investigate four Regional Phenomena that take the player through the Elemental Temples of Air, Water, Fire, and Lightning, similar to the Divine Beast quests of BOTW. Completing these challenges sends Link to Hyrule castle, but the main story hits a brick wall soon thereafter. After confirming there is a missing Sage, the four Sages confer with Link and Purah. Purah theorizes the final Sage can be found at a “ruin from the age of legends,” and Lightning Sage Riju notes, “If we just searched all of Hyrule randomly, we’d probably never find the sage.”
Zelda: TOTK Puzzles Rely Too Much On Weird Physics & Finicky Controls
Despite Riju’s analysis, that is essentially what TOTK asks players to do at this point in the story. With only guidance to find the sage in a “ruin from the age of legends,” players are left essentially directionless. Each of the sky islands fits the definition of ruins from the age of legends, returned through The Upheaval. The Temple of Time might seem logical, but that is associated with the Sage of Time, not the enigmatic Sage of Spirit. This style of directionless quest progression, requiring luck (or a strategy guide) to advance the story was commonplace in the NES era of gaming, and TOTK players deserved better.
To move the main plot forward, Link must travel to the ruins at Kakariko Village, but no dialogue or in-game clues suggest this course. Kakariko Village is not even a location players would have visited en route to any of the earlier Temples. In addition to its tedious travel requirements and overly cryptic main quest path, far too many TOTK puzzles rely on inconsistent physics instead of problem-solving. Players are sharing their funniest TOTK creations, but the freedom afforded by the Ultrahand ability comes at a cost to traditional gameplay. With a physics engine akin to games like Goat Simulator or Surgeon Simulator, TOTK turned puzzles into a farce.
A player might correctly intuit the solution to a TOTK puzzle, such as those required to gather the Construct Limbs in the Spirit Temple, only to see it fail due to the finicky nature of Ultrahand creations and the game’s unpredictable physics engine. This could lead players to try different approaches to the problem, believing their original solution must have been incorrect. In earlier Zelda games, it was evident whether a player had correctly discerned a puzzle’s solution; A block either fit or it did not. TOTK not only required players to solve puzzles but to battle the flawed Ultrahand construction system, along with its accompanying framerate drops on Switch.
Classic Zelda Games Had More Refined Experiences, Compared To TOTK’s Bloat
These willful design choices add up to a game that simply does not respect its players’ time. When Nintendo elected to charge a $70 USD retail price for TOTK, players rightfully expected a lengthy experience to justify the cost. Regrettably, what TOTK offers is more quantity than quality. There is a magnificent 15-to-20-hour experience within the most recent Zelda game, but for most players that exists alongside many more hours of tedium, aimlessness, and frustration. While some may spend more than 100 hours seeking out every Korok seed and Shrine Tears Of The Kingdom contains, even those who stick to the main questline may find two hours wasted for every hour truly enjoyed.
Bigger is not always better, and the bloat and padding of Tears Of The Kingdom on Switch is evident compared to true Zelda classics. Most players complete A Link To The Past in under 20 hours, but those are 20 hours of progress, discovery, adventure, and problem-solving. Where the actual high fantasy adventure of the Zelda series is concerned, Tears of the Kingdom offers little more than the 16-bit classic, as it essentially consists of seven dungeons. Even those fail to meet the series’ standards, as the Temples of TOTK double down on the approach of Breath of the Wild, absent the clever spatial reasoning required by the Divine Beasts.
Viewing it on the strengths of its best moments, TOTK still stands among the best games in its franchise. Those high points are, unfortunately, interspersed between many more boring, meandering, and repetitive sections that exist seemingly to pad the length and scope of the game. With so much of its playtime squandered, what could have been a truly great entry into the Zelda canon becomes simply mediocre. There exists a certain segment of open-world game fans who are content to simply meander aimlessly in a massive world, and TOTK fully caters to such players. Those interested in actually immersing themselves in the story and adventure of Link’s quest itself have far less to love, as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is content to waste several hours for every one that is actually worthwhile.