The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was announced way back in 2019, and since then we've been left to wonder just how it could justify itself as a direct sequel to Breath of the Wild. The original is one of the best games of all time, redefining a legendary series in the context of modern open worlds without losing the spirit of Nintendo's original adventures. Could Tears of the Kingdom live up to the legacy of a game that the industry is still trying to catch up with? Such lofty goals are probably impossible to reach, but today's Tears of the Kingdom gameplay reveal of the Fuse and Ultrahand Zelda Tears of the Kingdom abilities finally has me convinced that this sequel to Breath of the Wild is justified.
Previous glimpses of Tears of the Kingdom have made clear that its version of Hyrule is largely built on the bones of the world we explored in Breath of the Wild, with some changes and a host of new areas in the sky (and potentially underground). At some level, that made TotK feel like it was going to be more of an expansion pack for BotK, and that idea was particularly hard to swallow with the new game's $70 price tag. But the brilliance of open-world Zelda isn't just in the map itself, but in how you interact with it, and the new abilities we've just seen are more exciting than anything I could've imagined.
No confusion, I'm pro-Fusion
The Zelda Tears of the Kingdom fusions and fuse ability lets you combine what seems like any two items in the game. Stick plus rock? That's a hammer. Stick plus pitchfork? That's a long-reaching spear. We've seen combinations go as esoteric as adding an eyeball to an arrow to make it a homing arrow. This gives every object new uses and new reasons to matter. Impressively, this all works without adding a bunch of inventory management cruft and crafting menus, letting you build combos with basically the same interface from the original game.
Even if this Hyrule was exactly the same as the previous one, Fuse would make sure that every object in it took on new meaning. The most delightful tease in the new gameplay footage is what we haven't seen. If you can just stick a rock on any weapon in your inventory, does that mean you can do the same with trees? Shards of ice? Campfires? Wheels? Fallen Guardians? What effects will all those have? I don't know, but I'm eager to find out.
Fuse also affects the dirtiest words in Zelda discourse: the whole Zelda Tears of the Kingdom weapon durability argument. I'm never one who cared much about weapons breaking in BotW, but the issue with the system is that once you got more than a few hours into the game, most weapons you'd find on the ground became functionally useless inventory clutter - there was no reason to keep picking up clubs once you started finding swords. Fuse gives each of those items new meaning. A stick might be useless on its own, but it could give incredible reach to a more powerful weapon. Cooking ingredients suffered the same fate as weapons, as once you started finding the items to make the most powerful healing and buff recipes, those early ingredients once again became useless. But now a mushroom can turn your shield into a smoke grenade and a sudden stealth tool. It's no longer about how powerful an item is, but what uses you can find for it. If an eyeball can create homing weapons, how much weirder are the combos going to get?
You gotta Ultrahand it to them
Then there's Ultrahand, the long-speculated-on ability that turns TotK into Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. This ability lets you grab rocks, tree trunks, sails, wheels, and engines to turn them into Zelda Tears of the Kingdom vehicles that you can ride. Just pick up an object, put it near whatever you want to stick it to, and hit the attach button. On its most simple level, you can use this to stick a few logs together for a makeshift raft - but attach an engine to it and suddenly you've got a speedboat.
That's cool enough on its own, but in previous trailers we've seen drivable cars complete with headlights, independent power sources, and apparent steering controls. Flip one of those speedboat engines around and it can blow at the ground, giving you enough lift to take to the skies. Getting these sorts of traversal options is cool enough on its own, but as with Fuse, the truly exciting bit is what we haven't seen.
Can I attach weapons to Ultrahand-built machines? Will I be able to create a tank with a wall of swords sticking out of its front to run into Lynels? Can I stock an airship full of explosive barrels and rain them down like a bomber? Can I rip off a Guardian's laser eye and plop it on top of a car to turn it into a tank? Can I turn a bunch of tree trunks into the limbs of a bipedal golem that I can pilot like a gosh-darned Gundam?
The answer to some of those questions is bound to be 'no,' but the beauty of these abilities is that they invite you to ask about their limits. A lot of things made Breath of the Wild great, but one of the most notable is the way its highly interactive systems invited you to be curious about how different elements of the world would interact. The first time I realized I could roll a rock down a hillside to take out a group of unsuspecting enemies was magical. Now Tears of the Kingdom is promising that I can attach that rock to an explosive homing arrow that I can shoot from a magical airship that I built out of green goo and tree trunks. It's an exponential increase over what was possible in the previous game, and I couldn't be more excited to start exploring those possibilities for myself.
There's nothing bigger than Tears of the Kingdom, but that doesn't mean there aren't still plenty of upcoming Switch games to look forward to.