After putting 20 hours into The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, I’m still coming to grips with the fact that the playground of Hyrule in this sequel is substantially bigger than the already massive kingdom we had in Breath of the Wild. Thanks to the addition of the floating islands high in the sky and the dark, dangerous Depths down below, there are constant unexpected surprises to be found, even for someone who’s put hundreds of hours into the original game. One of those surprises came the first time I found one of the Skyview Towers, and in doing so, I realized that it might be my favorite implementation of the now familiar “Ubisoft tower” mechanic in any game ever.
When I say “Ubisoft tower,” you probably know the drill – find a tall thing in the environment, climb to the top of it, initiate a cutscene where the camera flies high into the air and circles around you, and then watch as a portion of your map’s fog of war is removed. What may have gained steam in Assassin’s Creed bled over into Far Cry and then quickly moved throughout seemingly every open-world game on the market. Shadows of Mordor, Arkham Knight, Horizon, Dying Light, and Spider-Man all use some form of that familiar loop to flesh out your in-game maps and scatter points of interest every which way.
2017’s Breath of the Wild also used this idea with the Sheikah Towers, but with the additional wrinkle of giving the player a sense of agency in filling out the map. While the tower became a warp point and sketched in the surrounding topography on your map, it was up to you to scout out points of interest in glowing Shrines, cozy stables, and mysterious events like shooting stars and dragon sightings. It kept the secret of what was out there close to the vest, which made the act of discovery all the sweeter.
Cut to six years later, and Tears of the Kingdom is here with its Skyview Towers to once again breathe life into old traditions. If you follow the main questline for a bit after finally landing back down on Hyrule after the divisive Great Sky Island tutorial section, you’ll likely come across Lookout Landing Skyview Tower first. As opposed to BotW’s ancient and mysterious Sheikah technology, the towers in Tears of the Kingdom are clearly man-made in a joint effort by Hudson Construction and Purah.
Right from unlocking the very first one, these towers feed into the game’s sense of community and rebuilding. While BotW gave us a lonely world for our Link out of time, Tears of the Kingdom’s Hyrule is brimming with hope, optimism, and ingenuity. That theme is reflected in the towers themselves, as tools built by the citizens of Hyrule. Once you activate Lookout Landing, the rest follow suit by launching their own fireworks into the air, beckoning you to come and explore. This moment has heavy “The beacons are lit!” energy from The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which is always a good thing.
The entire ritual of finding a new tower remains satisfying every single time I stumble across one. The platform you step upon is the underbelly of a recommissioned Guardian, and seeing those familiar Doc Ock tentacles sprout out and grab Link is sure to trigger some latent PTSD of anyone who braved BotW’s Hyrule. But instead of hunting you down, these appendages strap you into a long cable, connect it to your newfound Purah Pad, and then send you soaring hundreds of feet into the air in an act that’s equal parts Fyer’s cannon in Twilight Princess and diving off your Loftwing in Skyward Sword.
The swell of music as you rise into the sky builds to a crescendo as the wind rushes by our hero. When you finally reach the zenith of your flight, you’re met with an awesome quiet that allows the spectacle of the view to take center stage. Link then pulls out his Purah Pad, scans the vast expanse of Hyrule around him, and sends an orange stream of data down through the cable, and it returns with the familiar Sheikah blue, filling in the map of the skies and ground area around you.
The sheer exhilaration of this sight then transitions directly into gameplay and player choice. You can pull out your scope and tag Shrines, Chasms, Geoglyphs, or anything of interest you might spot from this height. You can dive straight back down to where you took off from, or sail across the kingdom and through the various sky islands. These towers are the perfect melding of fashion and function, and taking a ride up them is something that I never see myself growing tired of.
As I progressed through Hyrule, I found some towers that were locked behind a puzzle, like needing to enter it from below using Ascend or from high above through a hole in its roof. Nothing that ever left me stumped, but I appreciated how the game keeps throwing curve balls. Solving these all fed into the idea that filling out the map in Zelda is a point of pride, not a tedious chore like in so many other open-world games.
Of course, we’ve only spoken about the sky and the ground, two of the three facets of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s Hyrule. What sleeps below in the dark Depths is an entirely different beast, built around its own unique form of exploration and cartography, but we’ll save that for another time. For now, it’s just good to know that there are developers out there like Nintendo EPD who are afforded the time and resources to create a game that truly feels special, even when it’s using some of those familiar mechanics of the past.