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Forget Ultrahand, Fuse, and Recall, the best skill in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is Ascend

Going up?

Like a lot of people I've spent the weekend poking through the early moments of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. It's a dauntingly huge and complex game, filled with riches, so I've been taking it slowly, working my way between sky towers to unlock the map and stopping at any shrines I can find.

Something's really surprised me, though. It's something I noticed early on, and then have noticed again and again in the ten or so hours that have followed its introduction. It's this: Ascend is absolutely my favourite of Link's new skills.

This is unexpected. Ultrahand is clearly the star in this game, allowing Link to cludge together all sorts of vehicles and machines whenever the situation calls for it. It's a little fiddly, but it also benefits from Tears' general attitude to building, which could be summed up as "good enough". If a build is just good enough to get the job done, that's a win. It's quite forgiving, and additional elements, like fans and - just found these - genuine rocket motors, only makes Ultrahand more fun to play with.

10 Things We Wish We Knew Before Starting The Legend of Zelda Tears of the KingdomWatch on YouTube

And yet when I enter a shrine and learn that it's a building challenge, why does my heart sink a little? I think it's because personally I know my good enough will not be good enough. I have shaky hands and a very basic brain - I see the parts of a machine scattered around and rather than feeling enthusiasm, I feel anxiety and a sort of weariness. I get through in the end, and I often discover that I've really enjoyed myself, but it's just not what I came to Zelda for.

Same stands for Fuse, which is basically Ultrahand for weapons and shields. It's fun, but I always feel that my imagination is deficient and the real fun is out of reach for me. Recall, meanwhile, which is the ability to rewind time on certain objects, is fantastic, but so far has had very specific uses in a handful of puzzles. Jury's still out on Recall.

Ascend though? Ascend wasn't on my mind at all when I went into this game. And yet I absolutely adore it. I can't wait to use it. I think of ways I might use it all the time. I woke up last night and put a pin in the map just so I could go back this morning and use it somewhere new. This is playing a Zelda game, innit?

Ascend is super simple. It allows you to position yourself under an overhang or a ceiling and then jab a button and go up through the layers above you and emerge on top. That's it. That's Ascend.

A couple of theories on why I love it so much. The first is that it feels extremely good to use, and compared to the relative fiddliness of Ultrahand and Fuse, that's very welcome. There's a lovely sense of chugging through rock when you Ascend. Link gets wedged in the underneath of a surface and then he gets wedged in the top too, and I feel that sense of being stuck, due to some Nintendo magic, though my fingers as I play. (It's genius, incidentally, that you have to press a button to end Ascend and pull yourself free.) Not only that, Link swims through the rock itself - you get a little animation of him powering upwards. Swimming through rock. It's a lovely thought in its own right.

Another thing: I was fascinated to learn that Ascend emerged from a developer debug mode, and I think you see something of that in the final implementation. It feels a bit too good to be true. It feels like wish fulfilment on a different scale to Ultrahand and Fuse, because it feels like you're breaking the geometry of the game, and going behind the curtain a bit. It has that immediate sense of results that debug modes often have. It's a skill in the Zelda universe, but it still feels like a programming hack, and there's a pleasure to that.

Ascend skill in Tears of the Kingdom
Ascend skill in Tears of the Kingdom
Ascend in Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

The last thing I love about Ascend I think is that it changes the way I see the world, and ever since Link to the Past this is always something I look for in a Zelda. Link to the Past had different dimensions, but it encouraged you to hold them both in your mind at once, in a sort of superpositioning. So you'd be somewhere in the light world and you'd be thinking, if I slipped into the dark world here, where does that get me?

Ascend works the same way. I'll be on the ground and I'll remind myself to look up and see if there are possibilities overhead. I'll look at mountains and read their structures differently, seeing the overhangs not as hurdles but as possibilities, shortcuts. Last night I made a huge breakthrough in thinking about this Zelda when I realised that every cave in the game is simultaneously an elevator! Caves are now elevators! What could be more Zelda than that?

All of this is such a delight I think because, on some level, I had dreaded Tears of the Kingdom. It was Zelda, which I love, but it was also Minecraft, also Valheim, a game about harvesting and constructing, two things which I always feel are a bit beyond me. But here's Ascend, a forgotten treat in the mix, encouraging me to play around with impossible geometry without even having to understand it. I love it.