When The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom arrived earlier this year, comparisons between it and Elden Ring were a given. Both are sprawling action RPGs, set in fantastical worlds brimming with peril and promise. Both explore themes of warped time cycles, of world devastation at the hands of bad actors, and of good versus evil. Both are intelligent evolutions of their creators' finest ideas, pushing the envelope and setting new standards in the open-world sandbox space. And in terms of fanfare, both are, quite simply, hot shit.
For the most part, I think those comparisons are fair. Assuming they're done so with a bigger picture, broader strokes outlook, there are similarities between the two. What I'm less interested in, however, are the meticulous, often shoe-horned side-by-side observations that dig into each game's mechanics, combat systems, and narrative structures. To those ends, Elden Ring and Tears of the Kingdom couldn't be more different.
But I do think it's worth talking about monster variety.
Back with a bang
The old adage that suggests 'the numbers don't lie' can be misleading when robbed of context, but let's lay the figures bare before we continue. These are estimates from played experience, and a fair whack of wiki and guides reading, but Elden Ring has around 140 unique enemy types, and 157 boss encounters. A number of those boss battles are recycled across the map, granted – Tree Sentinels and Erdtree Avatars, for example – which drops that tally down to 100-ish unique boss encounters.
Tears of the Kingdom, on the other hand, boasts 110 different monster types, but less than 30 of those are unique. Against Breath of the Wild's ~16 enemy types, this is a pretty significant jump, but a number of Tears of the Kingdom's beasts are returning enemies from its immediate forerunner. Which, to be fair, makes sense, given the fact a big part of Tears of the Kingdom unfolds within the same slice of Hyrule five years into the future. The rolling hills of the Great Plateau have noticeably evolved in the intervening period, but its hostile inhabitants haven't changed all that much.
I, like pretty much every Zelda enthusiast I've spoken to over the last several weeks, have been totally bowled over by Tears of the Kingdom's inventive and intuitive new abilities, not least Fuse and Ultrahand. I could spend hours messing around with both, sculpting weird and wonderful creations till the cows (or giant horses) come home, and bolstering my weapons and armor with the most incongruous of augmentations. The fact that this game can exist at all on aging Switch hardware – in handheld mode without issue, no less – with so many quests and points of interest is a feat in itself, but it might also be why enemy variety is so limited.
I'm not sure Tears of the Kingdom needs the same number of enemy types as the likes of Elden Ring, but when you've already faced-off against several of the same bad guy profiles before – and have learned their movesets and attack patterns – then that element of surprise is lost altogether. Over the fence in Elden Ring, and just about every enemy you face here feels new and fresh – against the game's Dark and Demon's Souls lineage, and the wider ecosystem within which these baddies exist. The immediate knock-on effect this has elsewhere is that Elden Ring's Lands Between feels dense and lived in; Tears of the Kingdom can at times feel quite isolated, with battles feeling repetitive.
Who cares, right? I've even said it myself, these are two different games from two different development teams, that happen to share the same genre and similar levels of pre and post-launch hype. But they're also the yardstick that many other games moving forward will measure themselves against, and so I reckon the comparison, and distinction, is an important one. Sure, Tears of the Kingdom more than deserves the plaudits it's received so far (it's my Game of the Year at this point by a long shot), but I've found its lack of enemy variety to be a blemish on an otherwise wonderful experience.
Comparing two great games against one another is only valuable to a point, and I'm more generally delighted to live in a timeline where both games concurrently exist. That said, if Tears of the Kingdom had Elden Ring's extensive roster of uglies it'd go from a fabulous game to an all-timer in my eyes. Switching the shoe to the other foot, I suppose the same could be said about Elden Ring's lack of inventiveness in comparison to Tears of the Kingdom. But I guess that's an article for another day.
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