Hovercrafts. Mechs. Tanks. Space lasers. Robots with flaming… you know. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom online scene is full of just absolutely crazy things being done in the game by people who have torn through every aspect of it, pumping Link’s abilities up to 11 and unpacking as many secrets of a game where a person’s creativity seems like the only limit to it. It is incredibly impressive, but if you’re like me, it feels like you’re being left in the dust as parenthood / spouses / work / life gets in the way of your playing eight hours a day nonstop. Maybe you’re still struggling to get the map unlocked and your best creation was the time you figured out the shield rocket.
Well, I’m here to tell you (and myself) that it’s OK. It’s OK to ride your horse.
What does that even mean? Well, it’s both figurative and literal. In the literal sense, horses feel like second-class forms of transportation now given the myriad of options you can build in Tears of the Kingdom. Discounting the later addition of the Master Cycle, horses in Breath of the Wild were pretty much your fastest non-teleportation form of transportation unless you were performing complex Magnesis tricks that launched you into the air like a pinball. That’s not so in TotK, where despite the expanded stable system their inclusion feels almost like a sidenote as the game routinely pushes you towards building other forms of transport. Hell, you can’t even carry one of those backpack-wearing Koroks on a default horse.
Couple this with the onslaught of awesome vehicles popping up in videos online and it feels like riding your horse across Hyrule is something to be ashamed of, like you aren’t taking full advantage of what Nintendo is giving you. Then you feel even worse that you have to ride a horse because you haven’t even upgraded your Zonai battery level at all, so despite it being the worst way to travel, you’re stuck doing it.
Even if you do take the time to catch and tame a horse (assuming you didn’t carry any over from BotW), there’s no way of telling if it will be any good in its stats. You could spend a good amount of your limited gaming time getting a horse, taking it to a stable, and registering it only to find out it’s about as useful as that time you tried fusing an apple to your sword. Low speed, no endurance, or just a horse that’s a constant and total dick no matter how many apples you feed it are just some of the ways that can make them an utter waste of precious gaming time.
On the off-chance you land a great horse (tapped an amiibo to get Epona), horse riding feels kind of janky this time around. It may just be rose-tinted glasses, but it feels like TotK horses are far worse at following the designated path when riding, get caught on objects more, and control a bit clunkier than they did before. In fact, the only true upgrade is being able to attach a cart to them, but even that functionality seems second-rate when you can build a literal pickup truck.
Despite all that — or maybe because of it — it needs to be said that it’s OK to ride your horse across Hyrule in Tears of the Kingdom. For starters, it’s by far the easiest and quickest way to get around when you start the game thanks to both limited battery life and limited Zonai tools to use. So for those of us with limited time and other commitments the horse means there is no need to rush forward to build amazing contraptions; you can just hop on your horse and go from nearly the beginning of the game.
But even when you do have longer battery life and a range of Zonai tools, there is something more physical about riding your horse that lets you feel the breadth and scope of the world, not to mention actually noticing the plethora of tiny discoveries scattered all over it. Horse riding gives you a ground-level perspective that can run indefinitely. It simply feels more in line with the world itself. There’s also the oddly charming feeling you get from riding with a favorite horse that builds more personality and, dare I say it, emotion into your journey. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but Hyrule seems like a bigger adventure on the back of a horse.
There’s also something to be said for just being lazy. It takes time to put together a hovercraft, not to mention a level of creativity and thought that’s sometimes hard to muster after a day full of work, parenting, and life. Sure, overall, it may take less time to build a plane and fly to wherever I’m going, but just the mere thought of going through TotK‘s cumbersome Ultrahand to build it makes me hop on my horse. Of course, many of these complaints hammer themselves out as you progress through the game collecting more powers like the Autobuild functionality, a hearty collection of Zonai balls, and an extended amount of battery life. But even then, if your horse is around, it feels faster to just hop on and go.
But more important than the literal benefits of riding a horse in Hyrule are the figurative ones. Given that horse riding is still the fastest and most efficient method of travel early in the game, it often feels like using it is tantamount to being left behind by the Zelda zeitgeist as it plows forward into more jaw-dropping creations. There’s a palpable sense of not keeping up with the Zelda “Joneses” when you’re stuck riding on horseback; as if you’re not completing the game in time or the right way. The horse feels slow and antiquated just like your playthrough. But I’m here to tell you (or maybe just myself) that you don’t have to be creating “Flame Dong the Giant Zonai Robot” now. It’s OK to take months to finish this game and never, even once build some massive mech to destroy Ganondorf with. Tears of the Kingdom was built for everyone to play it exactly how they like, and if that’s by riding a horse, then that’s OK.
The idea that you need to be constructing vehicles and driving them around just because the parts are there and you can misses the point of what Nintendo has always stressed as the goal of this new breed of Zelda: adventure on your own terms. Hell, it misses the point of why we play video games: to have fun. If you’re having fun on horseback, galloping along the trails of Hyrule when you could have just as easily flown, driven, or teleported, then you’re doing it right. The beauty of these new Zelda games, especially TotK, is that you can do anything. It’s your adventure, your exploration, and your experience all at your pace. Take the damn horse.