get on a huge lily that floats in the middle of a lake, and sinks under my weight, leaving me submerged up to my shins.

While piloting a raft up the river, I accidentally got too close to a small group of ducks, scared them and made them fly.

From the top of a mountain I see a magnificent kite flying through the sky. I am too small, too insignificant to warrant your attention.

In a million little ways, Tears of the Kingdom World is alive and responsive to my presence. Sometimes I’m also wonderfully indifferent. I may be a legendary hero, with a great weight of fate on my shoulders, but I am also one more person who directs my life. Dogs frolic, horses run freely through the fields, merchants carry goods from one place to another: the song of life continues without my intervention. The weather, regardless of my struggles, tends to make life difficult for me, to soften the surfaces I want to climb on from the rain or to blow me away with lightning. I am not the center of the universe, but as I cross the mountains and rivers, Hyrule keeps reacting to me and reminds me of my place in the family of things.

With 2017’s Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has boldly revived its beloved fantasy series The Legend of Zelda. For decades, the Zelda design stagnated and became a rigid and lifeless sequence of locks and keys. The stories the games told were full of magic, but the gameplay had little magic or wonder to offer. Breath of the Wild changed all that and gave us a huge Hyrule full of natural beauty and magical secrets. The revelation that the successor to Breath of the Wild would be a direct sequel set in the same Hyrule and would continue the story of the same Link and Zelda worried me that we could return to the path of equality, that Nintendo could play it safe with sequels that only emulate the design principles of this game instead of finding new ways to harness the potential of the series. Instead, however, we have been given another game of incredible inventiveness, one that encourages play in the true sense of the word, that reminds us, when we have forgotten, that the world is full of magic after all.

Connection with Hyrule

Although Breath of the Wild’s narrative saw Link plagued by amnesia, rediscovering memories from his own past that illuminated his connection to Princess Zelda, the true relationship at the core of the game was that between Link and Hyrule himself. You are constantly climbing rocks, and a thunderstorm always starts at the worst moment. Breath of the Wild really brings its own terrain to the forefront and makes you aware of the natural world around you in a way few games do.

The result was a game where just being in the world was its own reward. He climbed mountains, not because he expected to find a valuable object at the top, but only because he wanted to see the view from up there. While many games encourage us to explore, hoping to find an item that will make us better, faster or stronger (I’m currently scouring every nook and cranny of Diablo IV looking for Lilith altars and the extra bonuses they grant), this was a real exploration, the kind where I just wanted to see what’s in the way behind the next turn for its own sake.

Now the tears of the kingdom bring us back to Hyrule itself. How is it possible that exploring the same Hyrule that many of us were so familiar with in Breath of the Wild is still compelling for the second time? Because the passage of time leaves traces on all things, and this Hyrule is deeply influenced by time. In particular, an event called upheaval has changed Hyrule a lot, made floating islands visible in the sky, opened chasms to great depths and significantly changed the landscape in general.

In many ways, The Legend of Zelda has been dealing with the passage of time for a long time – think back to previous subtitles like A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, or the way Breath of the Wilds Hyrule has faded echoes of places many of us have visited in previous games in the series. But here in Tears of the Realm, the way their world is so similar and at the same time so different from the previous game means that we see and feel the direct effects of what the upheaval has brought about more than we have felt before from the forces of change in Hyrule.

There is the village of Kakariko, which is somehow still the peaceful little village you remember, but now has fallen ruins on the hills around it. There’s Rito’s old stable, a place where he might have stopped once to pick up his horse when driving into the chilly northwestern region of Hebra, but now it houses a newspaper. At least for Breath of the Wild players, there is a delicious tension between the familiar and the new here, similar to returning to your childhood hometown after years and being kicked out by all the changes that have changed in your absence.

The exhilarating Breath-taking feeling of the Wildness that discoveries await you everywhere is not only renewed, but intensified in Tears of the Kingdom. The world now extends far beyond the familiar surface, with undiscovered places both high in the sky and underground, and an exciting array of new ways to do so. Gone are Left’s BotW powers: his ability to call a blow-up out of thin air or manifest a pillar of ice. In its place is a new set of forces.

Ascent is a remarkable and intuitive new ability that allows Link to jump straight up through solid terrain and emerge on top. Not only is it a useful and fun way to elevate yourself to hard-to-reach places, but it also highlights the feeling the game creates that this is a cohesive and connected world. Once, when I was using Ascend, while I was in the underground depths of Hyrule, I appeared on a mountain, the sapphire sky above me. Of course, I know that the game had loaded up a lot while Link was swimming through all these layers of rock, but the effect was, however, that I felt that this was a real place, with the depths resting hundreds of feet below the surface.

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