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Do I need to play Breath of the Wild before Tears of the Kingdom?

TL;DR: No

Zelda holds the Master Sword in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. She has her eyes closed, appears to be wearing ceremonial clothing, and we can see sky and mountains behind her. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is out on Friday after years of anticipation. While there are plenty of people who have prepared for its release by playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — or replaying it — there are still lots of people who missed the first game for whatever reason. Lots of people got the Nintendo Switch, maybe their first modern game console, during the COVID-19 pandemic; Tears of the Kingdom may be plenty of people’s first Zelda game.

If that’s you, you might be wondering: Do I need to play Breath of the Wild before diving into Tears of the Kingdom?

Should I play Breath of the Wild before Tears of the Kingdom?

It might be nice to play Breath of the Wild before Tears of the Kingdom, but it’s not necessary. In fact, playing Breath of the Wild and heading straight into Tears of the Kingdom might be detrimental to your experience of the new game. Tears of the Kingdom is indeed a sequel to Breath of the Wild, so it’s not a standalone game — it picks up shortly after Breath of the Wild in a changed (and expanded) Hyrule.

Tears of the Kingdom can be considered an iteration on Breath of the Wild; some would say it’s a final draft of the concept Nintendo put out in 2017. There is a sameness between Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom; the controls are similar but expanded with new abilities. Hyrule has changed, too, but the core of it remains the same. Characters overlap, with their stories from Breath of the Wild slipping into Tears of the Kingdom.

Polygon guides writer Johnny Yu said that playing Breath of the Wild so close to Tears of the Kingdom could limit the way you play Tears of the Kingdom; you may get too used to Breath of the Wild’s abilities. Tears of the Kingdom could feel like Breath of the Wild DLC rather than a new game. Polygon reviews editor Mike Mahardy agreed, but added that if you have played Breath of the Wild, “you’ll appreciate how [Nintendo] morphed Hyrule more, and tweaked existing locations, if the map is fresh in your mind.”

There isn’t a story recap within Tears of the Kingdom; you’re just dropped into its world and experiencing it from there. But Nintendo does a good job of keeping players clued-in on context and introducing the characters as they stand in Tears of the Kingdom. This extends to gameplay, too — there are tutorial elements to get new players used to how the new game works. Early shrines in Tears of the Kingdom are particularly good in that regard; there’s plenty of opportunity to learn and perfect new gameplay elements.

What should I know about the story?

Legend of Zelda stories are pretty simple at a high level: Link and Zelda always need to save Hyrule from some sort of evil, typically Ganon.

Nintendo released a six-minute story recap for Breath of the Wild, though, if you want to get into some of the details. Essentially, prior to the start of Breath of the Wild, Zelda wasn’t able to seal off Calamity Ganon, who had been resurrected to make chaos in Hyrule anew, killing the king of Hyrule, the city crumbling in Ganon’s wake. Zelda’s powers came back momentarily to temporarily seal off Ganon, but Link was hurt in the process. (Again, this all happens before the game begins.) Link then was laid down for a 100-year healing nap, from which he wakes up at the beginning of Breath of the Wild.

Princess Zelda had been keeping Ganon at bay for that entire century, and now it’s Link’s time to take over and save Hyrule. He does, ending in a big battle against Calamity Ganon, and with Zelda, the evil is sealed away for good. The end!

Tears of the Kingdom takes over from there, with Link and Zelda having spent some time restoring Hyrule. The sequel is said to be set “shortly” after Breath of the Wild, but it’s not entirely clear just how much time has passed.

For those of you who want to get deep in lore, we’ve got a guide to the entire timeline for the franchise, as well as theories about how Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom fit into the multiple timelines of Hyrule.

What’s the TL;DR?

No! Just start playing Tears of the Kingdom. You’re good. If you end up needing some help, whether it’s lore or gameplay help from guides, keep your eyes on Polygon. From release day onwards, we’ll have wall-to-wall coverage to answer literally any question you could think of.

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