It is May 12, 2023, and on this fine day the much-hyped Nintendo sequel The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is finding its way into the eager hands of players around the world. But you: Maybe you stand apart. Maybe you didn’t end up playing the previous game, 2017’s smash hit Breath of the Wild. Or maybe you dabbled in it and fell off for whatever reason. I won’t judge, I’m right there with you.
Now here you are, seeing all these cool trailers and…interesting…things popping off in the new Zelda game and you’re wondering, “Do I need to play Breath of the Wild before Tears of the Kingdom? Should I?” Well, that’s what I’m here to help you figure out.
A series purist will always say to go back and play the games in proper order (which when you consider how long Zelda’s been around, you might want to be careful with that line of thinking). But here I’ll lay out some pros and cons for each course of action. There are valid reasons for either approach, so let’s get into them.
By the way, this article is a spoiler-free zone. So feel safe to read on even if you haven’t touched 2017’s Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild tells a very average fantasy story. Hold your farmer’s pitchforks; I don’t say that to put it down. In general the story’s overall beats are very familiar to almost anyone who’s experienced a Lord of the Rings or Star Wars joint. You’ve got your dark lord, your threat to peace, your amnesiac protagoboy, your magical items of power, rinse and repeat. Watching a quick recap video would be plenty to give you a general sense of BotW’s plot, and you won’t be robbing yourself of a grand-epic-of-all-time if you do.
How Breath of the Wild tells its story, however, is something you may wish to consider experiencing in full form, not just via synopsis. Link’s journey to regain his memories has him meet countless charming and memorable characters along the way, which will get you a lot more emotionally interested in the greater story of Hyrule (simple though it is) and the people who live there than if you just breezed through a summary.
If you’re just interested in a quick SparkNotes rundown of Hyrulian history, a wiki or video will do it. But if you value the experience of meeting interesting characters and gaining greater emotional investment in a fictional world, jumping into Breath of the Wild first will be time well spent.
We’ve all been there: You play a sequel first, and then the original just feels ancient by comparison. Some sequels so dramatically improve on their predecessor that it’s tough to go back. Mass Effect 2 is one such example. Skyrim may be another.
First of all, no: Tears of the Kingdom certainly has its share of improved quality-of-life features—such as in fast travel and cooking— but nothing so earth-shattering that Breath of the Wild suddenly feels neolithic in comparison.
As for whether or not they feel too similar, fear not. While very similar in key ways, Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild are distinct enough that going back to the older game after Tears of the Kingdom would still give you plenty of new experiences to enjoy.
As my colleague Kenneth Shepard told me after his first handful of hours in Tears of the Kingdom, the gameplay in the sequel is “less an evolution and more a sidestep.” Link’s new abilities, specifically the crafting and new Ultrahand ability, make it a distinct enough experience that if you play these in reverse order, you won’t feel like your abilities have been drastically dialed back in scope.
Tears of the Kingdom looks graphically daunting for the old Switch, so should you wait for future hardware?
It’s no secret that the aging Wii U wasn’t too kind to Breath of the Wild. And basically everyone who saw early footage of Tears of the Kingdom got a little nervous thinking about whether the humble Nintendo Switch, released over six years ago, might be able to keep up.
Well, I have good news. Or, rather, Digital Foundry has good news: Tears of the Kingdom will run pretty damn well on that old Switch of yours. You can expect a very close-to-solid 30 frames per second with some drops here and there, particularly when using Link’s new Ultrahand ability. Fast-travel loading times are also rather quick, around 30 percent quicker than in BotW.
I hear you thinking, “surely there’s another console from Nintendo on the way, right?” The Switch has been out for a while, true, but as we reported on Tuesday, May 9, Nintendo has no plans for a hardware refresh or followup to the Switch in 2023.
And no, I have no idea what a “You Zoo” is.
Say you don’t mind holding off on the game everyone’s chatting about right now and are cool jumping into Breath of the Wild first. Can you expect to knock it out in a weekend? Well, no.
According to Howlongtobeat.com, the main story of Breath of the Wild is around 50 hours. And if you want to do all the side-quests? You’re looking at just under 100 hours. If you’re a completionist fiend, HLtB estimates 189 hours. Our own experiences bear those numbers out.
Breath of the Wild is a game of sweeping proportions. The world is enormous and there’s so much to do. If you haven’t played it yet and Tears of the Kingdom’s release really has you interested in seeing what all this Link business is about, expect to need to set aside some time for BotW should you jump into that first.
Even if you’re not a completionist, taking in the world of Hyrule in the Switch’s first Zelda title is an experience best enjoyed at a gentle pace, and you won’t feel worse for having taken the time to let it all soak in.
So, yes, BotW is long. Which is good, since it’s a great game.
While some franchises are okay to enter at just about any point, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild offers some compelling reasons to give it a shot first. The plot consists of standard fantasy concepts, but is told very memorably and in a vista-rich open world that’s a joy to explore.
But, if you do decide to jump straight into Tears of the Kingdom, a quick synopsis or two of BotW’s story beats will get you up to speed quickly. And with the gameplay differences, playing the two games in reverse order shouldn’t feel too strange.
Order aside, another question is whether you ought to play the older game at all. You may feel differently, but my personal take is that Breath of the Wild is such a genuinely wonderful experience, from the well-told story, to the satisfying gameplay, and a world that is genuinely full of life and beautiful to explore, that you owe it to yourself to play this modern classic if you haven’t, even if you’ve already logged solid hours in Tears of the Kingdom.