Early this morning, millions of people around the world rushed to their Nintendo Switch to play The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and immerse themselves anew in this game’s vast, mythical kingdom of Hyrule.
This fresh release, a sequel to 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, has been long awaited by Zelda fans around the globe, and the subject of breathless coverage in both specialist gaming media and the mainstream press.
So, why is this game such big news – even among those who don’t necessarily see themselves as “gamers”?
I’m a game design researcher focused on creating and developing systems that allow games to be played by anyone – and there cannot be a better example of that than The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
Who is this game for?
This game situates itself in the action-adventure genre, but that descriptor only scratches the surface. It offers an unparalleled open world, both in size and detail, and is uniquely able to cater to a huge audience.
Want to explore and discover a breathtakingly beautiful world? This game has you covered. Want to absorb a rich story built up over many years? This game lets you do that. Want to test your mettle and take down tough foes? This game is for you.
From the limited game play footage already released, it’s obvious Tears of the Kingdom allows the player to use their critical thinking skills to overcome puzzles their own way.
Taken together, Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild suggest Nintendo is pioneering a model focused on inclusivity and approachability. Players can take things at their own pace. The open-world exploration, engaging storytelling, mind-bending challenges and serene atmosphere draw audiences ranging from franchise veterans to those completely new to games.
Accessibility and creativity combine to give players an unparalleled level of freedom. The puzzles around every corner of the kingdom of Hyrule make this game compelling for newcomers and old hands alike.
What is The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom?
Despite the franchise name, the game’s protagonist is the young knight Link (Zelda is the name of the princess he must help to set free). His task is to save the mythical kingdom of Hyrule by ridding it of the tyrannical overlord Ganon. In the previous game, Link must travel across the kingdom, seeking aid from the diverse species and tribes of the lands to uproot and vanquish Ganon.
From the promotional videos and early game play footage of the new game, we know Ganon has returned and Link must embark on a new adventure to defeat him.
To do so, players must navigate and explore new mysterious sky islands high above Hyrule, as well as the familiar sprawling landscapes of the previous game.
With the shift to the skies, Link has also received an updated suite of skills. He can now rewind time, ascend through ceilings, and – most importantly – combine items to create new and exciting weapons or vehicles.
This game allows you to combine real-world and in-game knowledge to literally invent your own solutions.
Why was Breath of the Wild such a, well, game-changer?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild caused genre-defining waves when it was released in 2017, forcing many to rethink what an open world game is.
Most open world games at the time featured much more linear narratives, forcing players to experience the world one small area after another. Many blocked players from content until they have progressed further in the story. This denies players from the freedom and choice Breath of the Wild relishes in.
At its core, Breath of the Wild allows you to do what you want, when you want, without forcing you down a particular path. After brief tutorials, you’re off on your quest to find Ganon – but what you do between now and then is completely up to you. You can spend the entire time picking and cooking mushrooms, if you like.
Subtle environmental cues help deliver a gripping narrative, and there are plenty of side quests along the way. Players who want the story can seek it out, while those who’d rather skip it are free to wander around deserts, oceans, forests and plains on their own personal voyage.
Another reason this game garnered such a vast and loyal fanbase is it allows players to do as much or as little as they feel up to that day.
Had a hard week and just want to relax? You can take to the skies with your paraglider and soar around breathtaking landscapes or hop on your horse to explore the nooks and crannies of Hyrule. In the mood for a challenge? Try your hand at one of hundreds of expertly designed puzzles (many of which have more than one solution). Keen for some biffo? Battle one of Ganon’s minions or practise your skills with a new weapon.
Unplanned interactions between game characters, landscapes or puzzles abound. That’s how this game can keep surprising even those players who have sunk hundreds of hours into it.
“What would happen if I do this?” you ask. This game always has an answer.
What do we know so far about Tears of the Kingdom?
Building on the previous game’s focus on discovery, players in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will be spending a lot of time exploring the mysterious sky islands floating high above the land, bringing both new challenges and stunning scenery.
Players will have a range of new abilities that focus on invention and experimentation. Using the new “fuse” ability, you can combine a weapon with items found throughout the game to create new possibilities. Found a spiky metal ball? Why not stick it to the end of your sword and see what it does?
The new “ultrahand” feature allows you to combine a huge variety of vehicle components and in-game objects to create vehicles. Found a wooden board drifting in the ocean? Attach some fans, a sail and voilà! You’ve got a powerboat.
This allows player to apply knowledge from the real world and the game world to come up with creative solutions.
This game is extremely approachable, yet has the depth to keep players interested for years to come.
This article is republished from The Conversation is the world's leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Padraic Heaton, University of Technology Sydney.
Padraic Heaton receives a research stipend as a part of his research at UTS.