After playing Breath of the Wild for 14 hours straight on a long haul flight, I now appreciate the thing I found most challenging about Zelda Tears of the Kingdom

Breath of the Wild
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Staying awake for 14 hours on a flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam was surprisingly easy. My admittedly awful posture and the resultant neck pain didn't even register as I sat there, eyes glued to my Switch screen as the cabin lights dimmed, and gave my full attention to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It felt like a window to a simpler time in many ways, but it also made me more than a little bit frustrated.

There's an element of dutiful hand-holding in this game that I hadn't noticed back in 2017, and perhaps that's why The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom felt so challenging in contrast. In fact, the heavier lean toward open world exploration had me playing Tears of the Kingdom more like Elden Ring. In Breath of the Wild, though, without The Depths or Sky Islands to distract me from my quest, it's a far more linear experience that feels almost sparse in comparison. Hindsight means I can now appreciate it as the perfect training ground for Tears of the Kingdom's more complex systems – and that makes me both anxious and excited for how the next Zelda game might evolve things further.

Breath of the Wild

(Image credit: Nintendo)
Where next?

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Here's how Tears of the Kingdom feels when you have ADD.

I'll be honest: one of my biggest gripes with Tears of the Kingdom was how little map information and direction you're given after completing the introductory Great Sky Islands segment. Dropping into Hyrule and wandering around a barren map feels dizzying and intimidating in both games, but in Breath of the Wild, I'd forgotten how the reins are pulled so much tighter from the get-go.

I'm immediately directed to Kakariko Village to meet Impa after descending from the Great Plateau, and from there, she's more than happy to divulge the locations of each Divine Beast. Even making my way to the Zora's Domain feels somewhat easier in Breath of the Wild, to the point that I almost start to resent how simple everything is to find. It feels like I'm having my sleeve tugged by my mother as we cross a busy street; I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself, but at the same time, I know her persistence comes from a place of guidance. This guidance is something I might have welcomed a bit more of in the sequel, but now, I recognize Breath of the Wild as the more obedient younger sibling.

It's a strange feeling to be wandering around a Hyrule that feels far more barren than in my recent adventures in Tears of the Kingdom. Muscle memory means that I frequently forget which game I'm playing, and more than once, I find myself trying to fuse crystals to my weapons. Picking things up with Magnesis feels like a huge step back from the infinite possibilities of Ultrahand, mostly because there are very few things in Breath of the Wild that seem to be made of metal other than Guardian relics and wreckages, and I get the fright of my life the first time one of them wakes up as I approach it to scavenge for parts. Still, I was delighted to be reunited with my beloved remote bombs and Cryosis runes. If I'd had those in Tears of the Kingdom, I'd probably have finished the game a lot faster.

Breath of the Wild

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Muscle memory means that I frequently forget which game I'm playing.

The pace itself feels markedly zippier in Breath of the Wild compared to my experience in Tears of the Kingdom. The push to grind for better armor, to plumb The Depths for materials and poes to acquire unique items, all made for a more languid experience that veered more toward RPG territory than Metroidvania in some ways. 

Some of these elements are still there in Breath of the Wild, though much like everything about, on a much smaller scale. Maybe it's my own impatience, but I'm compelled to simply dot from main mission to main mission in Breath of the Wild. There isn't much in the way of meaty side quest material to distract me, and I have hours of flight time to go – why not cover as much ground as possible? That being said, I quickly find myself feeling stronger far earlier in Breath of the Wild than I recall in Tears of the Kingdom. An example? I defeat Waterblight Gannon in one go, with but four hearts to my name and a stack of elemental arrows. At the end of the day, though, it's not that Breath of the Wild is necessarily easier. It just has less happening overall, from combat systems to square footage, and that makes it noticeably more straightforward. 

As the plane touches down in Amsterdam, I'm reeling from how different the two game experiences feel despite having so much in common. Breath of the Wild walks us through the basics of Nintendo's open-world sandbox, though at the time, we all thought it the most ambitious Zelda game ever. Then Tears of the Kingdom elevated the bar even higher with the addition of entire new map areas, secrets, characters, and mechanics to flesh out what Breath of the Wild had outlined. I'm left wondering what on earth the next Zelda game could do to expand those systems beyond even that, given how much is packed into Tears of the Kingdom as is? More importantly, will I ever get to use all my runes and abilities in the same game, or would that just make Link a bit too powerful? If anyone from Nintendo is listening, please take the hint.

Check out the best Zelda games ever and see how your favorites rank up.

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.