I spent 40 hours playing Tears of the Kingdom in Elden Ring mode, all because I took a wrong turn
Masochists. That's what the Zelda Tears of the Kingdom developer team is: a bunch of mean old masochists in their gloom-soaked ivory towers, laughing at my pain as I get downed in one hit by a Boss Bokoblin. Well, maybe that's not true, but they certainly had me fooled when I discovered the existence of armor upgrades a blistering 40 hours into my Hylian adventure.
Call me old fashioned, but when it comes to open world games, I like certain things to be made clear. Namely, where you go to upgrade your gear. The Witcher 3 has me trained to head for the nearest blacksmith or armorer for all my upgrade needs, while the soothing purple torchlight of Resident Evil 4's merchant is a one-stop beacon of organizational calm amid the chaos. Even the workbenches dotted across Dead Island 2 are a logical port of call. I know better than to expect a Zelda game to be that literal, of course, but I made my way through three-quarters of the main storyline before I met a Great Fairy and upgraded my armor. I didn't know whether I wanted to kiss her or burn her flower bud to the ground afterwards.
Road less traveled
Fellow paraglider super-fans, you're going to want to check out the Tears of the Kingdom infinite glider glitch.
One thing about Tears of the Kingdom is that there is no shortage of upgrade systems. Between collecting Bubbulfrog Gems, Lights of Blessing, Korok Seeds, Skyview Towers, and Lightroot locations, I just assumed that meeting the Great Fairies would happen as a part of a main mission later on in the story. I began to get suspicious, though, when I'd completed two of the four natural phenomena without a single mention of the Fairies or their powers. That's when it dawned on me that maybe my first mistake in Tears of the Kingdom was being a bit too adventurous early on.
This might sound odd, especially given that the game almost aggressively encourages innovative problem solving right from the jump, but it's true. With tools like Ultrahand at your disposal, Tears of the Kingdom forces you to be creative even when it's inconvenient – especially when it's inconvenient, actually, which is how come instead of following the road and "heading west" from Lookout Landing as instructed, I chose to launch myself into the stratosphere and make my way to Rito Village over the mountains.
I thought I was being clever by saving myself about half an hour of ambling down a dirt path, making use of my snazzy new paraglider in the process, but it turns out that this was a rather dumb idea. Despite finding a creative solution to my transportation problem, I never did come across the Lucky Clover Gazette headquarters on my travels. Consequently, this meant I didn't learn anything about Great Fairies or armor upgrades for a good 35 hours more. So began the hard slog of experiencing the toughest bosses in Tears of the Kingdom while feeling like an absolute pipsqueak.
Link isn't exactly a one-man tank of a hero either. In fact, between the measly trio of hearts he starts off with and his Level One tunic and legwear, he's one of the most pitifully placed early-game protagonists I've ever come across. But as I scraped my way past a Frost Gleeok with little more than a fistful of arrows, a shield, and my rapidly dwindling will to live, I began to wonder why I was finding a Zelda game more challenging than Elden Ring.
I struggled through three of the four major boss battles using a combination of buffed meals, elixirs, and a steady stream of Bomb Flowers. Despite dying about three to five times to each boss before an eventual victory, it was crushing to discover that all I would get for defeating the Scourges was one measly heart apiece. Sure, you're also granted the assistance of a holographic buddy following you around with circumstantially-useful powers, but it felt like I was being punished for even looking at an enemy more powerful than a Chuchu Jelly. The good thing is that I became comfortable with exploring the dark and spooky Depths early on, constantly farming the underworld for rare projectiles like Bomb Flowers, Puffshrooms, and Muddlebuds to avoid confronting the fact that I was utterly useless in a fight without them.
I thought I was being clever by saving myself about half an hour of ambling down a dirt path, making use of my snazzy new paraglider in the process, but it turns out that this was a rather dumb idea.
For me, Tears of the Kingdom was a pretty miserable experience for those first 40 hours, not least because I played it off the back of one of my standout games of 2023 so far. Dead Island 2 roots for the player nonstop, so I kept hoping Zelda would start to feel rewarding "once I get a little further" into the story. On I plodded, cursing each step.
It wasn't until I took a peek at my colleague's armor screen, and saw that he had Level 12 pieces of kit that I realized somehow, somewhere, I must have missed something huge. I didn't need to go further into the game – I had to actually go back.
That something huge I'd missed turned out to be the Lucky Clover Gazette, a small newspaper headquarters just south of Rito Village, and its location isn't marked on your map until you physically walk up to it. Here is where you're instructed to investigate the stables across Hyrule for information on Zelda's whereabouts, and, in turn, learn about the Great Fairies and their armor-buffing abilities. I've marked the intended path to the Lucky Clover with a pink line on the map above.
But as you can see from the orange line, I had the bright idea of coming to the village from the north, choosing jumping and glide there from tall mountains rather than taking the road. This means I'd never even laid eyes on the Lucky Clover at all until more than halfway through the main campaign missions.
The worst thing about it? You're vaguely told where it is shortly after arriving in Hyrule, which something I'd done more than a week earlier. Did I skip huge swathes of the map in an effort to save time and get to Rito Village quicker? Yes. Is that my fault? Also, yes, but I'm not letting Nintendo off that easily.
In an open world game that spans land, sky, and the Depths below, I find it bizarre that Nintendo should tie a core upgrade mechanic to a location you'd only stumble upon should you actually listen to the vague NPC instructions of "head west". With no indication of quest rewards given via the mission log, I assumed the game was just trying to get me to explore the map rather than direct me toward a major in-game mechanic. I'm not saying I need my hand held constantly, but a little heads up would've been nice.
Almost 50 hours in, I'm still undecided on whether I'm enjoying Tears of the Kingdom or just want to prove something to myself. My jaw clenches whenever I pick up my Switch to see Link's tiny blonde face glaring up at me in judgment, still seething that one wrong turn transformed my game into an accidental Soulslike, but it's hard to stay away from Hyrule for long. I sigh, mutter some profanity at Link, and get right back into it. This game has been bad for my blood pressure but it's fun all the same. Perhaps you Elden Ring fans are onto something after all.
Check out the best Zelda games ever and see where Tears of the Kingdom sits in our rankings.