The Speedrunners Trying to Break The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
For the average player, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will take upwards of 50 hours to beat--that is, complete the game's main storyline and save Hyrule. In the speedrunning community? Slightly more than 60 minutes. For regular players, conquering Tears of the Kingdom is all about diligence, patience, and creative crafting. For speedrunners, it's about using every tool at their disposal to push the limits of what the latest Zelda will allow. Theirs is a game of strategy, where each player is competing against themselves to work faster and smarter.
The first to claim victory, Carl Wernicke, who goes by Gymnast86 online, hails from the US and set the record for his community with a time of 1:34:33. He's got a decade-long history of trying to beat Zelda games as fast as he can. "It's a completely different experience than playing the game casually, and it is possible to do both," Wernicke says. "I enjoyed my casual exploration of the game very much and will likely continue to enjoy it when I get around to [completely] finishing it."
In a video posted May 12, which he (correctly) surmised will quickly be outdated, Wernicke gives players a brief explanation of how he pulled off his record. He explains what weapons he sought out, which parts he needed to join using the game's Fuse tool, and how he defeated each boss. The familiar glitches of the last game, Breath of the Wild, aren't present here, meaning Wernicke whips through his run without playing off any glitches or using Amiibo to unlock helpful rewards, like weapons or the trusty steed Epona. Instead, the time he spent refining his route was mostly about boss fights--how to tackle each one "in a way that would yield decently consistent results without sacrificing too much time."
But there's one thing Wernicke wants to clarify. "The biggest misunderstanding by far is that somehow I must've done this run right when the game released with no prior practice or forethought," he says. "While that would be very impressive, that's just not the case."
Wernicke had already sunk 35 hours or so into Tears of the Kingdom by the time he pulled off his run. Not only did he play a leaked version of the game, he also purchased it via the Australian eshop to get it ahead of some players, and he bought a physical copy to figure out load times between formats. The fact that the game is a sequel also worked in his favor. "I didn't have to get used to a fundamentally different system to move around well in this game," he says. The basic mechanics and controls were already old hat.
Tears of the Kingdom director Hidemaro Fujibayashi says the team anticipated players would try to circumvent the path laid out for them. If a player found a way to dive straight into Hyrule Castle, for example, that could break the game. While it's possible someone might pull that off, Fujibayashi says, it's "still within the realm of what we had expected as a potential outcome. We made the game so it doesn't break it completely, but that is, I think, a potential spot."
Players have already figured out how to crack the game in smaller, yet wildly useful ways. In one example posted to Twitter, a player tricks the game's system into transforming a plank with an apple into a sort of magic carpet transport that can zip across the map at high speeds. Glitches and the advantages they provide are generally welcomed by the speedrunning community. They're fair game, Wernicke says, with rare exceptions for extreme examples that would allow you to override code and write your own. "Currently, there isn't anything like that in Tears of the Kingdom though," he says.
It's still too early for players to have discovered all of Tears of the Kingdom's secrets, and many will spend the months to come combing through everything the game has to offer. It'll have to tide them over until Nintendo begins to even consider its next Legend of Zelda game. "They're wonderful to play and deconstruct in unsuspecting ways, and I hope they continue to bring new creativity--both casually and for speedrunning--in the future games," Wernicke says.
For the development team, they're excited to see how players skip past their own imaginations and expectations. And yet: "I have to admit there is a little part of me that's a little bit scared," Fujibayashi says of speedrunners' talents for cracking games open. "But of course we did create this game in a way that is meant to be broken, that is meant to really push the envelope in terms of how people express their creativity."
But in the speedrunning community, victories are lost as quickly as runs themselves. As of this writing, Gynmast86's best run is only enough to earn him fifth place. A player called Zdi with a time of 1:09:55 holds the world record. For now. Zdi's entry includes one note: "bad run."