Tears of the Kingdom is somehow everything we all wanted, nothing like we expected, and still weighed down with the biggest controversy New Zelda has wrought. It's a wonderful conundrum. I remain mostly an outsider to the world of Tears of the Kingdom, untouched by its magic, so I can watch from afar with no real personal stakes. I like to think this helps me see the bigger picture, and it's remarkable that a game made under so much pressure has consistently managed to make exactly the right choice at every turn.
The most hotly debated aspect of Breath of the Wild was its breakable weapons, and Tears of the Kingdom has a readymade answer. All of the weapons you pick up in Tears of the Kingdom are described as being Rusty, corrupted by gloom, or in some other state of disrepair, which gives a canon reason for the weapons breaking and sets the game's stall out. It tells players 'this is how it's going to be'. If you want to run around in this world of creativity, pay the ferryman. The only currency he knows is shattered iron.
It's not a debate I feel all that strongly about. I understand that the game's philosophy is that you can grab anything in the world and make use of the environment, but I also found it annoying when a broken weapon suddenly meant I was severely underpowered midway through a battle. I would argue this was no fault of my own, while purists would tell me the fault came in not being prepared. But Tears of the Kingdom not only rationalises this mechanic, it builds on it.
The Fuse ability counteracts the breakable weapons. Fused weapons will still break, but you're never going to be caught with just a stick again because Fuse makes the most basic parts into weapons that are not only powerful in battle, but engaging to use. While the response to the breakable weapons had as many supporters as it did critics, it would have been easy for Nintendo to look at the one thing controversial about BOTW and sand off its edges. Instead it meets its audience halfway. Rather than 'no', it's 'yes, and'. Yes, the weapons still break, and now you can Fuse things onto them.
While it didn't cave in on the weapons, Nintendo has clearly been looking to its fans. Tears of the Kingdom's director Hidemaro Fujibayashi said recently that the team spent a lot of time watching Breath of the Wild clips on YouTube, and that they noted how many people managed to make contraptions with the tools the game provided. Sensing this as the purest interpretation of New Zelda's 'create your own fun' philosophy, this was doubled down on in Tears of the Kingdom.
Part of this was via Fuse, but the obvious example of providing these tools for the players can be found in Ultrahand. By picking up various parts and fusing them together (yes, Ultrahand fuses, which is a slight issue with the nomenclature), players would not only find it far easier to make these machines, but they would be encouraged to as well. These became the building blocks of the game. While some designers look at shortcuts players make and try to counteract them, forcing them to play 'properly', New Zelda has embraced that there is no right way to play - my colleague Eric Switzer already demonstrated this with an icicle.
Of course there are pitfalls, and not everything is perfected. I've written about how dull the combat is in the game, and even the most die-hard New Zelda fan would agree that slaying Bokoblins is not the game's draw. There are other places we can prod at too - are the tutorial shrines just filler, would the game be more magical if it were just the sky and the depths rather than the ground, does the Zonai economy need to be so laborious? All fair questions, but the balance the game has struck remains remarkable.
Developers will take a lot of lessons from Tears of the Kingdom, and some of them will learn the wrong ones. But alongside everything else, TOTK is a masterclass looking at how fans experience the world and devising ways to both add to that experience and further shape the game in the developers' vision.
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