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Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom isn’t our Game of the Year, but it’s the strongest No. 2 ever

When we asked our writers to give us a list of their favorite games of 2023, everyone had a different game in the top spot. We saw votes for Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Alan Wake 2, Hi-Fi Rush, and even Sonic Superstars. Baldur’s Gate 3 ultimately won out, but what stuck out to me the most following that process was how, on almost everyone’s list, the same game was in that No. 2 slot: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

Released by Nintendo in May after a long wait, Tears of the Kingdom would have been the industry’s unequivocal game of the year in any other year. Although its competition was too stiff in this packed year for that to be the case, that doesn’t make Tears of the Kingdom any less of an experience. In fact, I think that earning a spot near the top on almost everyone’s personal list at Digital Trends demonstrates how widely appealing Nintendo’s latest Zelda game is and that end-of-year gaming conversations should be about uplifting great games, not nitpicking their flaws to determine which one’s the best.

Recognizing great games

Tears of the Kingdom is a monumental achievement in open-world game design. It essentially has three worlds stacked on top of each other. From almost any point in Hyrule, it’s possible to stop, look around, and find several points of interest around, above, and below yourself. That alone makes it a game that consistently delivers a sense of awe and discovery, even after dozens of hours of playtime.

Nintendo further emboldens its open-world design by giving players lots of abilities to help them explore it thoroughly. It’s possible to climb almost any surface like one could in Breath of the Wild, but Ascend now makes it easier to navigate out of caves or reach the top of overhangs on cliffs or mountainsides. And if climbing isn’t enough, you can build something with almost any physical object in the open world using Ultrahand. Although the controls of Ultrahand are a bit complex, learning to work around the system’s control eccentricities is possible with enough time and practice.

Link opens a door with Ultrahand
Nintendo

Once you do, one of the year’s most creatively fulfilling gameplay systems is at your fingertips. These ideas permeate throughout every part of Tears of the Kingdom. For traversal, you can build a flying machine or a giant mech to get around. These abilities also come into play in the shrines and dungeons, enabling some of the most creative puzzle-solving moments that I’ve had in a game since playing Portal 2 for the first time.

That emphasis on choice and creation is also present within the combat system. Not only is it possible to build Ultrahand vehicles that can deal damage to enemies, but the new Fuse system adds a salve to the weapon degradation problem that plagued Breath of the Wild. These systems all work together to make Tears of the Kingdom a game that’s almost impossible to dislike and a title other game developers should consider when determining how much freedom to give players in their game.

Months after its release, though, many of these positives were overshadowed by Baldur’s Gate 3. That RPG encourages player freedom by giving them lots of choice in terms of character builds, dialogue choice, and possible actions allowed to be taken during turn-based combat. It’s getting lots of praise for that, thus forcing many a debate about whether Baldur’s Gate 3 or Tears of the Kingdom is better. This, unfortunately, puts a much greater analysis on each game’s shortcomings and weak points rather than a focus on what each did well.

Three warriors fightingg a giant snake monster with eyes.
Larian Studios

While Tears of the Kingdom has already gotten a lot of praise, factors like Ultrahand’s tricky controls or how it shares a lot in common with Breath of the Wild were ultimately the “negatives” that brought it down to our No. 2 spot on both Digital Trends’ Game of the Year list. While I fully stand by and support Baldur’s Gate 3 being our Game of the Year for 2023, this lineup of titles, more so than past years, has shown me how end-of-the-year game rankings are reductive, especially when a game like Tears of the Kingdom was ubiquitously loved by so many people on our gaming staff and freelancing team.

Every single one of the games on our Game of the Year and honorable mentions list — plus many that didn’t even make the cut — innovated and stood out in extraordinary ways that deserve recognition. Although The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom might not be Digital Trends’ Game of the Year in 2023, the ways it encourages players’ imagination deserve tremendous praise, and I hope it influences developers for years to come. Highlighting strengths and learning from great games is ultimately what end-of-the-year game discussions should be about.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is almost perfect, but it could use these tweaks
Link looking shocked holding rice.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a monumental game. It unleashes player creativity with Ultrahand and Fuse, features three vast open worlds for players to explore, and still tells a rich and enthralling story that expands the mythology of The Legend of Zelda series. Still, no game is perfect. While Tears of the Kingdom will likely go down as my game of the year for 2023 and potentially one of my favorite games ever, there are still a few things that the game could do better.

And no, I’m not talking about removing weapon degradation. After spending hours upon hours with Tears of the Kingdom, some user experience quirks became more annoying and noticeable. None of them are game-breaking, but they are still areas where Nintendo can stand to improve as it updates and expand upon Tears of the Kingdom or potentially do another game in this style. Here's what I hope to see change to make this version of Zelda an even smoother and more seamless experience.
Make disconnecting Ultrahand creations easier
Ultrahand is a revelation for Tears of the Kingdom that allows players to create some really creative things and solve puzzles in any way their minds can imagine. That said, one aspect of its controls still baffles me: the only way to "Unstick" objects stuck to each other is by moving the right stick back and forth or shaking a Joy-Con remote. It's a bafflingly clunky way to do things for what is otherwise such a delicate and precise building system.

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The best video games of May 2023: Tears of the Kingdom, Humanity, and more
Purah in Tears of the Kingdom.

When the video game industry looks back at May 2023, this month will most likely be remembered for just two things: the failure of Redfall and the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Redfall will serve as a cautionary tale about the industry embracing its worst impulses, while Tears of the Kingdom will likely be considered one of the best games ever made and serve as a North Star for video game design for the next several years, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before it. Still, this month was about a lot more than that.
With this roundup, we hope to paint a broader picture of all the great games that were released over the course of May 2023; no single game can paint the picture of the entire industry. From Tears of the Kingdom to some of PlayStation VR2's best releases to beautiful indies to a game Nintendo temporarily blocked from release over a TikTok joke, these are the best games of May 2023.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

To get the obvious out of the way: yeah, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a really good game. We already considered Breath of the Wild to be one of the best games ever made, but Tears of the Kingdom's evolution of that game's open world and mechanics make Breath of the Wild feel like a beta. Not only do players have two new open worlds to explore with the Sky Islands and underground Depths, but systems like Fuse and Ultrahand ask players to embrace their creativity to solve puzzles and traverse around the open world.
"So long as you’re willing to meticulously survey Hyrule like an archaeologist digging for fossils, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is an engrossing sequel full of mysteries to solve and experiments to conduct," Giovanni Colantonio wrote in his four-and-a-half star review of the game. "It’s a digital laboratory that I imagine will still be producing unbelievable discoveries 10 years from now."
Details big and small impress across Tears of the Kingdom, and at times it feels like this is the closest we'll get to the ultimate video game experience. Its complex controls do take a bit of getting used to, but those who get the hang of it will be able to enjoy one of the most impressive games ever made. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is available now for Nintendo Switch, and this is the last time I'm going to mention it in this article. On to some other fantastic games!
Humanity

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Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s new update removes item duplication glitch
Link aims a Ruby tipped arrow while riding a horse.

Two weeks after its release, Nintendo has patched out one of the most helpful exploits in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom: a popular item duplication glitch.
When Tears of the Kingdom launched on May 12, it felt surprisingly polished considering how complex its open world and systems like Fuse and Ultrahand are. That said, it wasn't entirely free of bugs. Some of these glitches prevented progression, including one that was solved in the Ver. 1.1.1 update, but others were much more helpful, like item duplication. As Digital Trends' guide on the exploit details, players could duplicate items by fusing materials with arrows and then dropping two identical bows within a short timeframe.
According to players, Tears of the Kingdom update Ver. 1.1.2, which was released on May 25, removes this item duplication glitch from the game. Interestingly, this specific exploit isn't detailed in the patch notes, which simply say that "several issues have been addressed to improve the gameplay experience," among other audio and quest fixes.

You can check out the full list of Ver 1.1.2 patch notes below.

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