Sometimes in sports, an all-time great athlete comes around and changes the entire fabric of a franchise, upending the definition of success. This is why, in the world of sports, there is nothing more difficult than being the person that follows after someone like that because the expectations are impossibly high. In a way, they’re almost pre-destined to fail.
This is what it feels like when looking at the monumental expectations that everyone has for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Not only is it one of the first direct sequels we’ve gotten from Zelda since Spirit Tracks, but it’s following up a game that in every way shape and form broke the established 3D Zelda formula. Ever since Ocarina of Time first flashed on TV screens in 1998, there was an established formula that every mainline 3D Zelda title followed for almost 20 years. Breath of the Wild changed that. It did away with everything from the themed dungeons to the plethora of items, and even the bombastic overworld theme. It was an entirely different game and everyone adored it.
Well, almost everyone, there was a sect of fans who were not happy with those changes. The reason Zelda didn’t bother changing the formula for almost 20 years is that it worked. Fans relished the chance to play through that familiar formula all over again. They didn’t want them to rebuild the wheel, they just wanted to solve puzzles, explore extensive dungeons with a themed item at the end, and then beat the big bad at the end of the game. It was simple and addictive, but Breath of the Wild went away from that. This begs the question: where does Tears of the Kingdom go from here?
The options are clear: do the impossible and follow the path of one of the most beloved open-world games in recent memory, or pull back and try to recapture the tried and true Zelda formula that BOTW went away from? Considering this is pretty much a direct sequel to the original we can probably safely assume that it is going to mainly focus on giving us more of what that game gave us, meaning Tears of the Kingdom is likely to solidify the gameplay of BOTW as the new normal.
Does this mean that there is no opportunity for the game to appeal to both Zelda factions? No way, there are plenty of things that Tears Of The Kingdom can do to try and recapture some of that classic Zelda spirit without breaking what made BOTW so popular. For starters, the biggest change has to be in the game’s major dungeons. A criticism that even huge fans had for BOTW was how its four major dungeons, the Divine Beasts, were all too similar and short. This was obviously designed to help complement the freedom players had to go wherever they wanted, but since none of them curved for difficulty or progress it led to players feeling underwhelmed instead of accomplished.
Another addition they can make to recapture some of that classic 3D Zelda nature is bringing back items in a big way. We already know that this game is going to allow us to traverse the skies, and hopefully, that will mean new items to explore with.
Of course, bigger dungeons and new items would be a great way to appeal to longtime fans, but there are still many fans who loved everything about BOTW and want to see a continuation of that. For starters, let’s talk about the density of the game world. It won’t be surprising to see a lot of locales reused throughout Hyrule, so make them feel alive. A more dense world will freshen the experience even as players re-explore familiar settings. The skies playing a larger role should also allow for some new locales on top of any reused areas. Perhaps we’ll even get an opportunity to go underground if the first teaser trailer is any indication.
No matter what Nintendo does with Tears of the Kingdom though, it feels like a certainty that it’s going to be one of the best games of 2023. It’s definitely one of the most anticipated. Even the worst Zelda games are considered good by any regular standard, it’s when we start comparing them to the entire franchise that the conversation deepens. Unfortunately for Tears of the Kingdom, its legacy is going to always be associated with how it followed up one of the best games ever made. An impossible act to follow, but one fans fans will enjoy all the same.