Tears of the Kingdom’s Hyrule Feels Livelier Than Ever

Games Features The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Tears of the Kingdom’s Hyrule Feels Livelier Than Ever

When I started The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, knowing from pre-release material that I would be returning to the same Hyrule from Breath of the Wild, there was one particular location I was very excited to revisit: Tarrey Town, the idyllic little hamlet in the northeastern region which, not to brag or anything, I myself helped construct. The sidequest to help Hudson build up Tarrey Town from scratch was easily one of the biggest highlights of Breath of the Wild; a long adventure that leads you to meet numerous memorable characters from around the world and build a rare sense of a real community in a Hyrule ravaged by Calamity Ganon. So naturally, I was very excited to see how that community had developed in my absence.

What I found ended up being far beyond my expectations. Not only was Tarrey Town back and in great shape, its founder Hudson and his wife Rhondson (who you set up together in Breath of the Wild, by the way) had started a Hyrule-wide construction company, with Hudson being a household name across the land and every region of Hyrule populated by workers with that distinctive “-son” name ending. And when I actually did get to Tarrey Town, I found a short but incredibly sweet side story centering around the couple’s young daughter, who, as part of her half-Gerudo heritage, must make a pilgrimage to Gerudo Town, leaving her town behind.

This level of interconnectedness was, outside of the Tarrey Town sidequest to a certain degree, largely unprecedented in Breath of the Wild. That version of Hyrule was on its last legs, a genuine post-apocalypse where the social structures of the world were decimated and the people of the world were scattered into far-flung and largely disconnected settlements. The world had been so desolated that your most common interactions with human civilization by far were in finding decayed ruins of old homes, left to silently mourn whatever poor soul had once lived there. This was absolutely crucial to developing and conveying the melancholy and often lonely tone that Breath of the Wild sought to achieve, but it did come with the consequence of having a world largely bereft of the kind of human side stories and tight-knit communities you’d find in other similar games like Xenoblade Chronicles or even the similarly post-apocalyptic Fallout.

But in Tears of the Kingdom, we find a Hyrule several years into its rebuilding, and one of the first things that I noticed about it is how many more people there are, and how many more things they’re doing. For a very brief and non-exhaustive rundown of some of the new faces, we have fashionista explorers in search of new styles, traveling musicians, Rito journalists, and the hard-working employees of the aforementioned Hudson Construction Co. We have a much greater number of people not just surviving, but thriving—pursuing ambitions, developing skills, and rebuilding Hyrule’s communities in whatever way they can.

And these people also never exist in a vacuum. While communities in Breath of the Wild often felt like just a bunch of random people who happened to be in the same place, now everybody knows and relates to each other in organic ways, forming a web of relationships that add up to communities that actually feel like communities. For example, in Gerudo Town, when Hudson’s daughter Mattison moves in, she becomes best friends with a girl named Aaqlet, whose mother works at the secret clothing shop and whose father is in jail, which other people in the town know about and have opinions on. And then they have teachers, and those teachers have friends and other students with their own lives going on, and so on. Pretty much every settlement in the game, not just Tarrey and Gerudo, is like this, and it creates a much greater sense of being in a world populated by real people. Hell, even the Yiga Clan gets more humanity afforded to it, by way of a really cool sidequest chain that I won’t spoil here.

And that is another factor that both contributes to and benefits from this new sense of community: really cool sidequest chains. In Breath of the Wild, the Tarrey Town quest was something of an anomaly; now, there’s an entire category of more ambitious questlines called side adventures. These quests are almost always multiple stages long and often feature more in-depth stories or unique gameplay. They allow for characters and communities to be developed even further, and many of them lead Link to actively involve himself in the effort to rebuild Hyrule’s society, whether that be by joining patrols of monster hunters or joining the staff of the first newspaper since the calamity.

Of course, none of these things are new concepts. Lots of open world games have these sorts of more robust sidequests and more developed communities. Playing through Tears of the Kingdom’s side content actually reminded me most distinctly of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and the Xenoblade Chronicles series, both of which excel at this kind of worldbuilding and both of which, I’m guessing not coincidentally, have a large overlap in development staff with Tears of the Kingdom. In a lot of ways, these games actually go far beyond the scope of Tears of the Kingdom with these concepts—Majora’s Mask gave a solid majority of the NPCs in the game personal stories and schedules, and last year’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3 both had a huge number of distinct settlements and tied community-building into its core themes. So what makes Tears of the Kingdom’s superficially less ambitious take on this special?

For me, it’s the tone it brings to the setting. Breath of the Wild was a unique take on the post-apocalypse, bright, colorful, and optimistic, but still saddled with the weight of all that was lost. Tears of the Kingdom gives us something much rarer: a society not defined by the aftermath of destruction, but by being on the cusp of rebuilding. Traveling the world and seeing the best parts of humanity beginning to show themselves once more now that the world is safe enough for them to blossom creates this beautiful feeling of optimism and hope in the face of the dangers of the Upheaval. Where Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule seemed almost trapped in the past, Tears of the Kingdom boldly looks to the future. And even when great crises do befall the various peoples of the land (without explicit spoilers, my jaw dropped and heart sank when I first stepped into Gerudo Town), the people maintain their resolve with an implicit reminder: “We’ve made it through worse. We can make it through this, together.” In a time where the future of the real world is uncertain and scary, having such a reminder is greatly uplifting.

Hope Pisoni is an intern for Paste’s games section.

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