Spoiler Warning: This article contains minor spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom‘s story.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has been out for nearly two months. The release-window frenzy has started to settle, the game is now in the hands of most Switch owners, and many fans have now had the chance to really sink our teeth into the new adventure. And while it may take years for our opinions on Tears of the Kingdom to fully crystallize, we at least have enough hours clocked into this game to formulate some firm conclusions on its many contents.

There are a lot of competing opinions here at Zelda Dungeon. Over just the past two months, our writing team has argued the merits of Tears of the Kingdom‘s gameplay, world, characters, story, and so much more. But the single debate we keep coming back to is this: Who did it better? Breath of the Wild or Tears of the Kingdom?

As a game once known as “The sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” Tears of the Kingdom does a lot to carry on the strengths and address the weaknesses of its 2017 predecessor. Many on our team feel that the newest Zelda title improved upon every aspect of Breath of the Wild, full stop. However, an equal degree of many feels that Tears of the Kingdom falls short of its predecessor in certain circumstances. The Breath of the Wild Vs. Tears of the Kingdom debate has proved a polarizing one.

So, rather than argue in circles around each other in our writing chat for always and eternity, we’re taking this debate to the people! We’ve decided to pit our team’s Breath of the Wild advocates against our Tears of the Kingdom advocates to see who makes the better case for their game of choice. We have thus paired our editors off by various criteria shared by both titles — including gameplay features, music, story, and more — and gave each side the chance to argue in favor of their side.

But this debate is not exclusive to the Zelda Dungeon staff! You, our wonderful readers, will have a chance to make your voices heard as well. In addition to our writers’ arguments, each battleground below will feature a “Readers’ Choice” poll, where you’ll be able to vote for the game that you think did it better in that specific category.

But I’d say we’ve had enough talk. Let’s, as they say, get it on!

Starting Area

Breath of the Wild (Rod Lloyd):

In the world of game development, there exists a term called “a vertical slice,” which refers to a small, self-contained portion of a game that acts as a proof-of-concept or summary showcase that demonstrates the developers’ intended player experience for the game as a whole. Like a vertical slice of a three-layer cake, vertical slices in gaming are meant to show all the elements — the ingredients — that comprise the whole and offer a representational sample of that whole. Breath of the Wild‘s Great Plateau may stand as one of the best vertical slices in video game history, as it effectively introduces every fundamental element of the overall game (many elements that were brand new to the Zelda formula) and perfectly captures the essence of the overall player experience. It might as well be all of Breath of the Wild in miniature, selling the magic of the entire game in only an hour or two.

Tears of the Kingdom‘s Great Sky Island may be a great tutorial area, as it functionally introduces new abilities like Fuse and Ultrahand, but it falls short as a vertical slice. Where the Great Plateau effectively demonstrates the open-air nature of Breath of the Wild (something the sequel inherits, by the way), the Great Sky Island offers a much more guided, linear experience that inadequately prepares players for the vast openness of the world below. Where the Great Plateau showcases the full utility of all of Link’s Runes, the Great Sky Island merely scratches the surface of what Link’s new abilities can do (especially with Ultrahand). And where the Great Plateau provides teaching moments in logical, organic ways, the Great Plateau indulges in several contrived set pieces to teach the player (“Here’s another pile of things for you, Link”).

Way back in 2016, the Great Plateau was so big, intricate, and dense that we thought it could stand on its own as its own game. That idea truly is a testament to how effective that introduction area was.

Tears of the Kingdom (Charles Xavier):

The Great Sky Island adequately prepares players for what lies ahead in Tears of the Kingdom. Ultimately, all one needs to know is how the abilities work on a fundamental level, and the Island achieves that. Sure, there are materials and Zonai devices that are not showcased in the tutorial, but that’s perfectly reasonable. Their basic application is always transparent. As long as a player knows how to manipulate an object with Ultrahand, which the Island gives plenty of opportunity to do, there is never a pile of materials and devices that is too cryptic to makeshift something functional. There are also never moments where materials or devices feel like they aren’t conveniently laying around where they need to be – the entire game is set-pieces put in mostly the right spots. For the few times devices aren’t around, the devices Link can carry in his inventory come into play, which is also a mechanic covered on the Island. 

Overall, I’d say both tutorials are about equal in terms of introducing the fundamentals of Link’s abilities and what the games uniquely offer. Where the Great Sky Island soars beyond the Great Plateau is its beckoning to explore, its own references to The Great Plateau and then subversions of it (i.e. not placing the intro clothing set together and hiding the fourth Shrine for a majority of the tutorial), and most of all its cinematic presentation. The Great Sky Island has more cutscenes than the Great Plateau, so rather than going over them all, I’ll hone in on the main ones that make or break these games – the awakening scenes leading to the logo drops.

In Breath of the Wild, exiting the Shrine of Resurrection is pretty simple: grab the Sheikah Slate, open some chests, and climb a small, broken part of a staircase leading to a cutscene of Link running outside, with music building as the camera pans out to Hyrule with the logo fading in. Simplicity works; it was a very iconic intro. I even wondered how it could ever be topped in Tears of the Kingdom. It seems that diving to the lower levels of a building, with the dives getting longer each time, coalescing to a penultimate dive through the sky with the logo fading in (allowing for player control for part of the dive) was how to win me over. After having gone through the rollercoaster of the game’s opening under Hyrule Castle, which led to these moments, I could feel my own anticipation of the logo drop building with each dive until finally it happened in such a magnificent way. It’s nothing short of excellence, and it paved the way for a more immersive tutorial experience.

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Which Game Had a Better Starting Area?

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Runes / Abilities

Breath of the Wild (Nick Miller):

When it comes to Sheikah Slate Runes or Zonai Hand abilities, I’ll be the first to admit that Tears of the Kingdom’s Ultrahand is the best of the bunch. It has the most utility and is integrated into Tears of the Kingdom to such a magnitude that the game would not exist without it. However, when we look at the totality of these abilities in their respective games, I believe that Breath of the Wild comes out on top for two reasons: diversity and synergy.

First, let’s talk about diversity. Magnesis, Stasis, Cryonis, and Bombs all have distinct yet well-defined functions. Each is very different from the next, and there’s little-to-no overlap in their utility. The same cannot be said for Tears of the Kingdom. Fuse is just Ultrahand’s attaching function but specific to weapons and shields. Autobuild is just an Ultrahand shortcut for when you’re feeling impatient. Recall and Ascend both admittedly have unique functions though. So when we compare the actual number of distinct abilities, Tears of the Kingdom really only has three whereas Breath of the Wild has four.

The second point I’d like to touch on is synergy, or the interactions between these abilities. Breath of the Wild’s Shrines regularly require the player to use multiple Runes in combination with one another. Tears of the Kingdom uses Ultrahand as a catch-all for most of its puzzles. It’s an incredibly versatile ability, so it rarely needs any other ability to get the job done. Ultrahand does have some interaction with Recall, where players can move an object around with Ultrahand and then have it reverse those motions with Recall. Even then, Recall is fairly limited in what it can actually do and is more or less a downgraded version of using Breath of the Wild’s Stasis to build up energy in objects and launch them across the map. How cool would it be in Tears of the Kingdom to be able to store energy in a boulder, hop on board, and go for a ride as it launches into the sky? Instead, we just got a button to press. Ascend is a similarly useful ability that requires nothing more than a button press, but it really is little more than a quick fix to prevent players from having to backtrack out of caves. Once Ascend is in use, the player loses control of Link until the ability has run its course. As such, Ascend has an incredibly limited functionality with almost no way of interacting with other abilities aside from maybe ascending to a platform you’ve built with Ultrahand. 

Again, while I believe Ultrahand is the best ability of the bunch, I think Breath of the Wild has the better abilities overall.

Tears of the Kingdom (Emi Curtis):

I think the thing that particularly took me more than anything with the Zonai abilities of Tears of the Kingdom was that it felt like Nintendo properly delivered on the promise from Breath of the Wild of truly welcoming all kinds of solutions to its puzzles. While that statement was the ethos of Breath of the Wild, it still really felt like everything had an intended solution and every other method for completing a given challenge was a little forced. Tears of the Kingdom’s array of tools truly feels like some Shrines and puzzles were simply made open-ended with no intended “solution.” The versatility really does allow the freedom for players to develop all kinds of wacky remedies for the problems that beset Link in his journey. The Ultrahand definitely is the primary ability, but I think having a tool to take the main stage while the others complement it is actually a benefit more than a fault. I’ll be honest, I forgot Cryonis was a thing half the time in Breath of the Wild because I was constantly trying to juggle between all my abilities since no particular one stood out; and honestly, they often really lacked synergy at all. In Tears of the Kingdom, I can default onto Ultrahand to start my problem solving, and then from there, figure out how Ascend, Recall, and Fuse can play into it. The abilities flow into a wonderful medley of ideas that have conjured some wild contraptions that easily put all the speedrun Stasis flinging from Breath of the Wild to shame.

Beyond that, the world of Hyrule feels built for these abilities. Every single one ties in some way to the physics and functionality of the world around it. Not only do the abilities play into a wonderful blend with one another, but so do the environments, the enemies, and the exploration. If anything, I would describe Tears of the Kingdom’s abilities as “accessible.” There are crazy trick videos from Breath of the Wild, but the precision and timing for those are beyond most players’ reach. In Tears of the Kingdom, I feel like a total rock star. So many times, I’ve been able to approach an enemy outpost and create all kinds of traps, tricks, and maneuvers to decimate the forces of Ganon. I play games to feel good, and goodness does Tears of the Kingdom make me feel good when I can pull off the ridiculous nonsense its abilities allow me to do. Every time I feel stuck, I can easily think of a way to get myself out of the problem. It’s just simply good design that feels far more in line with what the team was aiming for with an open-world Zelda.

Readers’ Choice:

Which Game Had Better Runes / Abilities?

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Breath of the Wild (Maddie McRae)

With the world of Breath of the Wild, Nintendo took a huge step towards world-building, exploration, and curiosity. While playing, Breath of the Wild to me felt like I was on my own personal journey, and Nintendo encouraged that feeling by making Link (the player) experience and discover the huge map and world on their own at their own pace. Nintendo went in a more “take your time and appreciate” direction with BotW, something familiar for The Legend of Zelda games. Nintendo wanted to let the player soak up the world and story as much as they wanted — however they chose. Breath of the Wild decided for Link to go alone as it was a common element in the franchise; we as the player are used to playing Link, and Link alone. Breath of the Wild and the exploration it provides proved to be a more personal experience for players.

I think that it was a nice choice for the game’s format that Link should go alone, as Link (and players) needed to get familiar with the land. With exploration in Breath of the Wild, you are left to your own decisions and left with your own solitude as you explore the vast world of Hyrule. The exploration aspect the game offered a chance for players to understand the world that they have been given without any interruptions other than what the world provides organically (monsters, NPCs, Koroks, etcetera). The last “big” Legend of Zelda game players saw before Breath of the Wild‘s release was Skyward Sword in 2011. So, of course, players were going to be instantly enveloped in the story, and it’s best for that story to be experienced alone as players can get their own personal experience without any other interpretations but their own. Players are able to go at their own pace and see what they are able to do in the game without anything or anyone telling them where to go or what to do; tasks are simply suggested.

In Breath of the Wild, you as the player explore the world at your own pace. All you have out there is you, your weapon skills, abilities you’ve earned, and maybe your horse — if you didn’t abandon it already while looking for items or enemies. Breath of the Wild was a huge leap in exploration for the Legend of Zelda games. And coming back to the game, especially after Tears of the Kingdom’s release, one can really appreciate its nice, comforting air of seclusion in terms of exploration. 

Tears of the Kingdom (Heather Beard):

When Breath of the Wild released in 2017, it set a new precedent for The Legend of Zelda as a series, and for open-world gaming in general. Exploration is always a large part of open-world gaming, and Breath of the Wild did an excellent  job. But at times, the vast expanse felt lacking. I often wished for more to find and for more to do. Breath of the Wild is truly a masterpiece of a game, but it had to walk so that the sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, could run. 

Tears of the Kingdom took the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild and did something truly amazing: they made it ten times better, better than one would have expected of a direct sequel. The map has more than doubled, with the player being able to explore the Sky Islands, the Surface, and The Depths below. I have found very few areas with nothing for me to find or explore. The player is left to wonder what has changed in locations that they traversed in Breath of the Wild and to find the new additions.

Breath of the Wild’s exploration focused a lot on climbing to high surfaces and seeing as far as the eye can see, and after a while, it became very one note. Tears of the Kingdom keeps a similar model, but adds more. A Shrine might be high upon a mountain, or nestled inside of a cave. There’s a lure to the Depths, caves, and wells of Hyrule too. A lot more effort is involved in finding what you need to find. There’s risks involved, but the rewards are always worth it. There have been times where I’ve been focused on exploring one place, but I then get distracted by seeing another interesting location elsewhere. And given all the new abilities, you can get creative with your exploration too!

The exploration in Tears of the Kingdom is simply better, but only because it built upon what was alluring to Breath of the Wild. Tears of the Kingdom gives you a lot of freedom to explore every nook and cranny, but also the peace of finding a nice, simple hill and watching the sun set. It’s a great balance, and so much better.

Readers’ Choice:

Which Game Had Better Exploration?

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Breath of the Wild (Rod Lloyd):

For years, fans have championed The Legend of Zelda for its tightly designed, cerebral puzzles. And while Breath of the Wild took a different approach to dungeons through its Divine Beasts, the game still carried on the Zelda series’ tradition of clever puzzles through its collection of Shrines. Nearly every Shrine provided a bite-sized brain-teaser that tested both the critical thinking and spatial awareness of the player. And like the best puzzles of Zeldas past, Breath‘s Shrines allowed for that coveted “aha” moment once players came upon the correct solution to the presented query. Sure, there were a few Shrines that could be circumvented by exploiting an odd quirk in the game’s environmental / physics engine; but most Shrines offered a single, deliberate, masterfully crafted path to the end. Quite honestly, it’s a true testament to the skills and smarts of the game designers that they were able to squeeze out so many puzzles using just Link’s base movements and four Runes.

Tears of the Kingdom‘s Shrines, on the other hand, cater more to player ingenuity and brute force than to logic and critical thinking. If they aren’t just another treasure room, these Shrines often just give players a collection of materials that can be combined with Ultrahand to complete a given challenge in whatever way that works. Because Ultrahand creations can take many different forms, and because the game allows for multiple solutions to a single problem, Tears‘ puzzles lack much of the tightness and deliberate nature that The Legend of Zelda‘s traditional puzzles have been known for, something even Breath of the Wild‘s Shrines retained. I can’t deny the satisfaction in overcoming a challenge in an unexpected way, feeling as if I’d outsmarted the game itself. But such puzzle design robs the player of the familiar “aha” moments of past Zelda puzzles, leaving more “huh, I guess that worked” moments in their place.

Tears of the Kingdom (Leslie Jacobson):

Puzzle solving has always been a major component of the Zelda series since the very beginning. Breath of the Wild laid a foundation for the concept of Shrines versus the traditional multi-room dungeons. Each Shrine calls upon the player to use the four main abilities or develop combat skills. Some were even dependent on solving quests outside of the Shrine itself. Many of the Shrines were complex, clever, and gave a feeling of satisfaction once you figured out the quirk or mechanic. However, many Shrines had a mostly “do it in this order” feeling, taking away from what was touted as an open-world, craft-your-own survival style of gameplay. Many players found alternate ways of completing Shrines that felt like cheating. One example is the Myahm Agana Shrine, infamous for how a player can completely turn the labyrinth upside-down and flip the ball into the slot. This solution undermined any intent of well-crafted, intentional puzzles, and it’s certainly not the only example. One only has to turn to YouTube to see the myriad of content creators who solve Shrines with little to no regard for the developer’s intelligent, intricate designs. This is not inherently bad; in fact, Tears of the Kingdom embraced this philosophy when designing its new Shrines.

Tears of the Kingdom took the concept of Shrines and made it a better and richer experience. One way this is done differently is how the game teaches the player to use the abilities and Zonai tech. Puzzle-oriented Shrines are dedicated to teaching the player how to better use the tools at their disposal in the overworld to their advantage. Many puzzle-oriented Shrines start with a simple-to-solve problem that is almost laughably obvious. Then, the next area expands on that concept introduced to push the player to a new understanding of how to use that Zonai device or ability. The final room makes the player put it all together in yet another, more complicated way that may not have been readily apparent had they dropped the player into the final room for them to solve. While it may not look as intricately designed as some of Breath of the Wild’s Shrines, that is a deception. There’s perhaps an even greater example of puzzle design because the developers had to think through how to teach the player to understand the abilities and Zonai tech to solve problems in multiple ways rather than giving a set series of obvious tasks that require specific tools. In Breath of the Wild, if the player failed to understand the specific method of solving the puzzle or combat and got a “Game Over,” it felt like hitting a wall and led to frustration. Since Tears of the Kingdom allows for many ways of solving the same puzzle, a “Game Over” feels more like a “try it again, but in a different way” that is more encouraging and fun.

Readers’ Choice:

Which Game Had Better Shrines?

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Breath of the Wild (Connor Butler):

The soundtrack of Breath of the Wild faced a lot of criticism upon its release, and in comparison to the other entries in the franchise, that criticism is a little justified. Breath of the Wild took a minimalist approach to the music, where its older siblings had these deep, fleshed-out soundtracks. The grandiosity of the music was seemingly gone, replaced by these incredibly sparse piano arrangements. The game’s towns as well as certain events, however, break through this sparse piano, making it rewarding to find a track with similar depth as those found in entries like A Link Between Worlds or Skyward Sword. To me, there has always been a certain air of loneliness present in the music of Breath of the Wild that perfectly encapsulates the vast and open world in that game. The minimalist piano serves as a reminder that Hyrule has been decimated. It’s only a shell of the kingdom that it once was, and you are truly alone in it. The sound of the piano makes the world of Breath of the Wild feel even bigger than it already is physically, tying together the already detailed world. 

On the other hand, Tears of the Kingdom takes the criticism from the first game, and makes sure that there isn’t another complaint about the amount of music. There is an abundance of tracks, with music playing for just about every instance of the game. Although there wasn’t a proper return to an overworld theme in Tears of the Kingdom, the piano from the overworld of Breath of the Wild accompanies the journey on the surface, but instances of piano sounds occur more often than they did in the game’s predecessor. In my opinion, this excess of music is almost a detriment to the game and makes the massive world of Tears of the Kingdom seem a little small. In addition to the amount of music, there are a lot of reused pieces from Breath of the Wild that make an appearance in the sequel. This resuse evokes a feeling of familiarity, but a variation on these themes would have been an even bigger breath (no pun intended) of fresh air to the long-awaited sequel. 

Tears of the Kingdom (Chakell Herbert):

Although Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack got some heat upon release, due to it being a new take on the Zelda series with less epic themes playing in Hyrule Field and more subtle piano pieces, I actually really enjoy the soundtrack. To me, it really evokes the sense of loneliness Link faces in his journey alone to set things right. There’s a melancholy feel to the departed Champion’s themes and to the somber Legend of Zelda theme that plays while riding a horse at night. And let’s not forget one of the greatest pieces of music in Zelda ever: Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule Castle theme. So. Good. 

However, even with only a few months into its release, I can say with confidence that Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack walked so that Tears of the Kingdom’s could run. This game’s pieces are quite literally breathtaking (more so than Breath of the Wild’s), there are endless easter eggs from previous games woven throughout the story (“Fi’s Gratitude” from Skyward Sword, Ganon’s battle theme from A Link to the Past, the Ganondorf battle from Ocarina of Time, and more!), and each one pierced me through the heart with nostalgia in the best way. As a long-time Zelda fan, I loved hearing the references to previous games in this adventure. Breath of the Wild had some easter eggs, but Tears of the Kingdom has many, many more that are much more apparent. I also believe that Tears of the Kingdom did a great job at balancing the new open-world style of the series with many callbacks to previous classic titles. 

However, in all honesty, Tears of the Kingdom shines most in its original pieces of music. The new temple themes (particularly the Wind and Lightning Temples) really draw players into their unique environments (like in previous Zelda games), the Sages’ themes were all beautifully composed, and the cutscenes (like Rauru’s theme) include some of the most beautiful and emotional pieces of music I’ve ever heard. The use of the saxophone in Tears of the Kingdom‘s main theme makes it a complete banger. And that theme combined with the continual use of unnerving distorted vocals in boss fights and other areas constantly evoke the feeling that Ganondorf is the greatest and most unnerving threat this Link has ever faced. When you hear those voices, they serve as a constant reminder of his sinister plans for Hyrule and imply that there’s something much more important to worry about than whether or not your Zonai wing will make it to the next Sky Island.

I won’t go into spoilers, but the final sequence of this game is one of the most memorable in any game ever for me. The atmosphere in this last leg is unnerving and masterfully designed, but it’s the use of musical throwbacks, themes of triumph, and notes of loneliness and terror woven together that seriously knocked this game’s soundtrack out of the park for me. I loved every bit of it. Even though Tears of the Kingdom is still fresh and new in the world, I already feel a sense of nostalgic bliss when I listen to its brilliantly evocative music, and that’s an impressive feat to me.

Readers’ Choice:

Which Game Had a Better Soundtrack?

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Towns & Settlements

Breath of the Wild (Michaela El-Ters):

In Breath of the Wild, Hyrule was ravaged by the Calamity 100 years prior. By the time Link awakens, much of the landscape is in ruins. You can see remnants of old farms and villages as you explore, and it feels earned. The desolation and ruins serve as a grim reminder of the ruin Calamity Ganon caused, as well as the justification to save what’s left of Hyrule and bring a better tomorrow. There are several towns and settlements that have thrived, though, including Kakariko Village, Hateno Village, Lurelin Village, Gerudo Town, Zora’s Domain, Goron City, Rito Village, and Tarrey Town (once you complete the side quest to build it). 

Each settlement is incredibly charming and has its own way of life, culture, and perspective, particularly Tarrey Town. The satisfaction of helping build Tarrey Town from the ground up and bringing together members of all Hyrulian races into one community was extremely satisfying, and the entire side quest was very well done (plus, I’m a sucker for the architecture and aesthetic of Tarrey Town. It’s so charming and delightful!). In Breath of the Wild, the settlements feel like small, tight-knit communities and safe spaces that have risen up against all odds. The NPCs do what they can to survive and live meaningful lives despite the destruction of Hyrule, and they’re nothing but welcoming and helpful. It incentivized me to find these last remnants of society and help them as much as I could. 

I absolutely loved visiting these towns in Breath of the Wild, so it’s a bit of a shame to me that many of them are destroyed or in ruins in Tears of the Kingdom (or whatever’s happening in Hateno Village with the hideous mushroom decorations that completely dominate the landscape. Sorry, Cece, but I hate it). It doesn’t feel quite as earned to me this time around. Yes, the Upheaval was devastating, but how is it that Castle Town is still completely destroyed and seemingly wasn’t rebuilt at all between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom? While there are some town additions in Tears of the Kingdom that I do like (such as the school in Hateno Village), overall, I find myself enjoying the towns and settlements in Breath of the Wild, and what they bring to the game’s world-building and exploration, much more.

Tears of the Kingdom (Judy Calder):

Breath of the Wild might have introduced the towns and settlements that we’ve come to know and love, but Tears of the Kingdom made them over by adding a little something extra to keep players engaged. I think that that little bit of spice makes a huge difference! Each locale has been physically developed and improved, with brand new opportunities for exploration and quest-seeking. 

Hateno Village always felt like a calming safe-haven that Link could retire to, with very little drama ensuing. Now, with its expanded borders and “cool” new attraction, Hateno has a new lease of life and a brand new exciting personality to boot. Rito Village could have been described as linear to the point of boring, with its single winding path. Now, while it retains that characteristic, it boasts a temporary new aesthetic that will literally give you chills because it just looks so quietly, devastatingly beautiful. And while Gerudo Town always felt magnificent, it now exudes a certain wonder due to the secrets inside its walls. Kakariko Village follows suit and boasts its own new infuriating mysteries. And Goron City’s vibe rouses a curiosity and concern that wasn’t hugely present for me beforehand. Zora’s Domain and Tarrey Town became downright stale in Breath of the Wild, and if not for certain phenomena and associated quests in Tears of the Kingdom, I wouldn’t remain intrigued by them.

It seems that as the settlements in this game have developed, so too have their occupants. Townsfolk have literally evolved to do more than just wait around to interact with Link — they have their own lives and routines. Watching NPCs interact together with more purpose makes these locations feel alive; it’s like the world is breathing! And the cherry on top of this element is the fact that we see the citizens of different regions actually come together in one place — a new locale in the form of Lookout Landing. This buzzing hub of activity transforms this area of Hyrule into something that promises a better tomorrow, which totally seals the deal for me as I state that Tears of the Kingdom did towns and settlements better!

Readers’ Choice:

Which Game Had Better Towns & Settlements?

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Champion / Sage Abilities

Breath of the Wild (Nick Miller):

Breath of the Wild’s Champion abilities and Tears of the Kingdom’s Sage avatars are special gifts or abilities granted to Link for completing the dungeons in each game. While the approach each game takes to these varies, both are useful and worthwhile additions to their respective games. However, I feel Breath of the Wild’s Champion abilities are superior to Tears of the Kingdom’s Sage avatars.

The first advantage that Champion abilities have over the Sage avatars is, in my opinion, low real estate. With the exception of icons on the HUD, Champion abilities act in the background and are only visible when actively in use. The Sage avatars on the other hand act as companion characters that are almost always visible. For me, it just clutters up the screen too much, making an otherwise expansive game feel constricted. Of course, avatars can be disabled, which is certainly a viable option for players who don’t want them in constant use, but you have to navigate the menus to do it. A selection wheel for the Sage avatars, similar to how Tears of the Kingdom has the player navigate Zonai hand abilities, would make toggling them on or off a more natural part of the gameplay by not breaking the pacing, which would probably encourage players to use them more. As it stands, I have mine turned off almost always because I don’t like the Sage avatars cluttering up my screen.

My second point pertains to their passive functions. Breath of the Wild’s Champion abilities don’t really have any. They’re only activated when you choose to use them and they act as additions to Link’s own abilities, except for Mipha’s Grace which activates upon death like a Fairy. That’s a good thing! The player is in control, and if they overcome an obstacle, it’s because of their own skills. Avatars, however, will assist Link in combat by attacking enemies for him. Maybe this is just me, but if an enemy I’m engaged with dies for reasons other than actions that I took, whether that be from Link himself or from some device I’ve built, I feel cheated. I get a sense of satisfaction out of knowing that I overcame a challenge on my own, by my own ability, without any artificial assistance. Breath of the Wild’s Champion abilities feed into this because they aren’t acting on their own volition; you are in control. So, you choose when to use them and when not to. The Sage avatars have an AI that controls them independent of what you want. That doesn’t jive with my playstyle.

In summary, Breath of the Wild handles Champion/Sage powers better because they are less intrusive, they are less obstructive, and they don’t take control away from the player. For that reason, if I could just use Tearsavatars’ special abilities without having them present on my screen, engaging in combat for me, I would never turn them off. However, as they are, I don’t care to use them at all. 

Tears of the Kingdom (Sean Gadus):

Overall, the Sages’ avatars are one of my favorite additions to Tears of the Kingdom. Not only do these avatars fit the game’s themes of camaraderie and fellowship, but the avatars and their abilities are also very useful for combat and exploration. The avatars are particularly useful in chaotic fights with big groups of enemies, where they draw some of the heat off of the player. In overworld and dungeon boss fights, the various avatars can help the player get in extra hits on challenging enemies or bosses. And while the controls/AI for the avatars aren’t perfect, the avatars function well enough to not be a hindrance. In fact, having to be next to the avatars in order to activate an ability requires the player to think strategically about when they use an ability.  

All four of the Sages’ abilities are interesting in their own way, and none of them are as overpowered as Mipha’s Grace, Daruk’s Protection, and Urbosa’s Fury were in Breath of the Wild. The one big criticism of the change between Champions’ abilities to Sages’ abilities is the loss of Revali’s Gale, which is still the best time-saving tools present in either game. That being said, Ascend acts as a pseudo-replacement of Revali’s Gale. This opens a space for Tulin’s ability. The burst of air from Tulin’s ability is useful for players trying to travel from island to island in the sky, which is a key part of Tears of the Kingdom.

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Which Game Had Better Champion / Sage Abilities?

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Breath of the Wild (Q Rodriguez):

What was the Calamity? Why has Link been asleep so long? What happened to the Champions? In the first few hours of Breath of the Wild’s gameplay, I found myself completely enraptured by the story. I was anxious to get to the next phase of the main quest to unlock more of the story, and I was thrilled to discover the next memory offering a glimpse into the century-old past. Breath of the Wild ended with more questions than it did answers, but this only added to the intrigue of the story. While Tears of the Kingdom answers some of those questions, this game does so in a way that is much less intriguing to me than its predecessor. It’s to be expected that a direct sequel such as Tears of the Kingdom will contain many of the same gameplay elements as its predecessor, but where Breath of the Wild excelled in grabbing the player’s attention in the first few minutes, Tears of the Kingdom falls a bit flat for me. 

The first few hours of Tears of the Kingdom’s gameplay is so similar to Breath of the Wild’s that it feels more like deja vu than something new. From the Great Sky Island mirroring many aspects of the Great Plateau — like with Shrines and an introduction to the game’s different weather — to both tutorial areas having a ghostly spirit guide of a past Hyrulian king greet Link, I didn’t find my attention to be as gripped while playing Tears of the Kingdom for those first few hours. As I progressed through the game, the feeling didn’t dissipate. The formula was unchanged. Go to the major geographic areas. Stop the weird thing happening there. Recruit the easy-to-identify Sage. Find the memories. It was all the same as Breath of the Wild. Even Tears of the Kingdom’s story, though building on Breath of the Wild’s, just did not offer enough differing elements to keep me hooked. Of course, the game is marvelous and builds on the success of Breath of the Wild. But for me, the intrigue of Breath of the Wild’s story reigns as champion!

Tears of the Kingdom (Dave Lasby):

I honestly don’t understand how this is even a debate. It’s not close – seriously. Tears of the Kingdom’s opening holds more intrigue than the entirety of Breath of the Wild’s narrative arc. I’m not going to spend this opportunity trashing on Breath of the Wild; in fact, the game sat atop my Zelda rankings until this year. Instead, I’ll simply point out that Tears of the Kingdom runs where its predecessor crawled.

This isn’t a game with a defanged Calamity clone threatening the kingdom. No, we are faced with no less than the ancient Gerudo himself, Demon King Ganondorf. The fact that he decimates the Master Sword, Evil’s Bane, in a matter of seconds, before maiming the most powerful incarnation of the Hero ever, launches the game in a trajectory not seen in previous Zelda games. This is a darker, more dangerous threat to Hyrule; it’s one that even the fully realized Hero is unprepared to face. Talk about tension and intrigue!

And then there’s the overworld (and… Depths… and Skies). This ain’t your grandpa’s Breath of the Wild map (okay we’ll ignore that it’s only been six years). For anyone worried that Tears of the Kingdom would be more of the same, that first plunge into the Depths should put those fears to rest. Nintendo just straight up said, “Yeah we’ll throw in a whole other game just for fun!” The mystery and wonder of the Depths are perhaps unparalleled in the Zelda series. The alien landscape, the terrifying monsters, the incredible treasures hidden there; the Depths somehow manage to recapture (or even surpass) the spirit of adventure and curiosity mastered by Breath of the Wild.

Truthfully, there’s enough intrigue in Tears of the Kingdom to write volumes about. The beauty of this future Game of the Year is that there’s so much to explore and discover that players can spend years doing so. Which is probably good, because if this is the new standard, it’ll be a while before we get another Zelda adventure.

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Which Game Had Better Intrigue?

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Story Presentation

Breath of the Wild (Alexandria Weber):

First of all, I want to start off by saying that this is not an argument between linear and non-linear storytelling. I believe that, if executed well, both have their place in the construction and subsequent discovery of any given narrative. My two favorite Zelda games are Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild, two games that, to each other, have completely opposite approaches to how their stories unfold. In my eyes, those games owe their success to the way the developers had a complete understanding of the narrative and the role it plays when interwoven with the experience of the player. Skyward Sword is the classic cat-and-mouse trope turned into an epic tale of fledgling romance, unexpected redemption, and large stakes. You cannot advance in the story at any other pace than that of the track the game specifically puts you on, and you don’t want to. You want to soak up every heroic, emotional, and melancholy moment that the game surrounds you in, and you’re glad to be along for the ride. This fit Skyward Sword perfectly. If you’re watching a movie like Return of the Jedi, the pacing would be undercut if you were able to make Luke Skywalker go back to Tatooine and learn how to communicate with the sand people.

Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game with a protagonist that has amnesia, with Link waking up in a mysterious cavern only to be greeted by the nature surrounding him. You navigate a broken Hyrule and, as you learn that this is a Hyrule you were meant to save a hundred years ago, you have no idea which ruins are attributed to your failure or not. Through the disjunct memories, the player learns and connects dots in the same way that Link does, approaching the past almost like a puzzle. With guilt, sadness, and a quiet mourning that is compelling and tragic, you want to burst into the past, into the warmth of the memories and the feelings you can almost touch. Instead, you are left alone with the wild. The artistry of it all is nothing short of beautiful, and the ending reunion between Link and Zelda allows the player to take a breath. Link is not alone anymore.

The bulk momentum of Tears of the Kingdom is fantastic in theory. Instead of rediscovering your past, you are rediscovering secrets of Hyrule, old caves and the forgotten Depths with entrances opened by an event referred to as “The Upheaval.” Link takes on the role of the researcher, searching for answers about the Zonai and clues about where Zelda could have gone. This allows for open-world exploration on a massive scale, with Link exploring the three tiers of Hyrule with surprising mobility. However, there’s a simple reason why it didn’t work as far as the story goes, and it’s because the developers took Tears of the Kingdom being a sequel to Breath of the Wild far too literally.

This caused some other problems as well, but, in short, developers seem to have treated Breath of the Wild as the new Zelda formula, including Shrines, Korok Seeds, and memories. This time, however, the memories work actively against the story instead of with it. Getting all the memories too early, as per being motivated by what is arguably the strongest narrative start to any Zelda game thus far, results in a paradox of emotional stakes. Once you learn the truth about Zelda, every quest that has to do with the mystery of where she might be no longer has the same weight. Every time the Yiga Clan uses the idea of Zelda to trick Link during side quests or one of the main characters is wondering about Zelda’s odd behavior, once the player knows Zelda’s true location, all of those dialogues throw the player outside of the game, the setting, and the stakes and into an odd space of unwilling knowledge and overwhelming apathy.

The memories of Zelda’s time in the past should not have been scattered throughout the overworld like in Breath of the Wild, but presented to Link in a more controlled manner. Tears of the Kingdom begged for a Skyward Sword approach to the story but was hurt by its loyalty to Breath of the Wild. The setting of Tears of the Kingdom of course has its high points, like how prominent it is that Link now has allies and how Hyrule is rebuilding from its prior age of loneliness and despair, but I can’t help but wonder how it may have turned out if the story was left out of the open-world obsession. Like I said, it can work, but it didn’t here. Tears of the Kingdom had a fantastic start and a breathtakingly iconic ending, but there is a long middle in between those beats that saddens me as a storyteller.

Tears of the Kingdom (Kieran O’Connor):

When I think of storytelling in video games, there’s two big categories I find many games fall into: active and passive storytelling. Breath of the Wild’s story is very passive, in that you discover it at your own pace at your leisure, or not at all. Compare that to a game like Skyward Sword, where the story is presented in a very linear way, constantly changing on the fly; this is active storytelling.

My preference 99% of the time is active storytelling. I feel that the push to continue the story to be what makes me continue playing. Unlike movies, video games encourage players to interact directly with the story, and even if you can’t change the outcome, it makes you feel like you can. I found the story of Breath of the Wild difficult to engage in for this reason, since it’s so passive and almost part of the background. You experience it only through cutscenes of events long passed that you ultimately can’t do anything to affect or change. Tears of the Kingdom, while it still has many passive aspects such as the Dragon Tear cutscenes, feels more active overall. The story changes as the game goes on beyond the first four dungeons, giving the player new goals and new insights. Changes and twists change the trajectory of a story, and I feel Tears of the Kingdom does this better.

Another important piece that goes hand-in-hand with story is characters. They can make or break a story. Though the Champions in Breath of the Wild were interesting characters, we never had a chance to interact with them directly. And the second-generation Champions felt underdeveloped at best, showing up just before each dungeon for a small challenge and then disappearing before you even barely learn their names. When they appear in Tears of the Kingdom however, I found them to be far more engaging and interesting. Each of them had more of a character arc, and followed you through their respective dungeons. When they finally join up to help you in the end, it made for a far more satisfying conclusion than Breath of the Wild’s.

Readers’ Choice:

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So there you have it. Our writers have pled their cases; now it’s time for you to help us decide the victors.

Be sure to vote in the Readers’ Choice polls up above, and be sure to share your thoughts on the various criteria presented down below in the comments. Where do you think Breath of the Wild excelled? What aspects did Tears of the Kingdom improve on? Join this great debate in the comments below!

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