Don’t Sleep on the Zelda DLC, It’s Better Than It Sounds
I’m a lifelong DLC skipper, but “The Master Trials” and “Champions’ Ballad” have me wondering what else I’ve missed.
All screenshots courtesy of Nintendo
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Every year, I find myself with the same dilemma: Minutes after finishing a game I like, my cursor hovers over the a “buy now” button for the game’s downloadable content (or, often, for a “season pass” that will get me the title’s most important DLC once it’s released). When I’ve really loved a game, I go ahead and hit the button, but most of the time, I close the window or exit out of the console’s store.
And I’m right to do that, because if my track record is any indication I’m never going to actually play that DLC anyway. It’s just going to sit on a digital shelf and taunt me a year later. “Ah, shit, never did get to all that [checks note written on hand] Dark Souls 3 DLC.” It happens again and again, and I kick myself for it. Whether because of my own short attention span or because of the way my job keeps me focused on tomorrow’s big game instead of yesterday’s, I almost never return to a game after I first put it down.
But nearly a year after release, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild continues to surprise me. Every time the game is mentioned, every time I see a screenshot, every time I hear an anecdote from a friend who is finally getting around to it, I have an urge to return—my own version of the Deus Ex Effect. Never is that urge stronger than when I’m the one talking about the game, so after I finished my top ten list during the holiday break, I found myself compelled to revisit Hyrule.
I’m incredibly glad I did, because it gave me the chance to complete the game’s two big DLC packs which I had previously on skimmed the surface of, and which, on paper, looked like fairly disappointing releases.
The recently released “Champions’ Ballad” has a solid enough premise: Revisit challenges completed by the story’s lovable Champions, do some shrines, unlock a motorcycle. But it wasn’t what I wanted from DLC, which was either the ability to check in with the world after your final confrontation with Ganon or else the ability to play as Zelda.
So when I went into it mildly curious (and a little bitter) only to find a collection of interesting, open world puzzles, I was pleasantly surprised. Breath of the Wild is at its best when it leans into exploration and (light) environmental storytelling, and Champions’ Ballad does both, asking players to solve riddles and piece together maps (both of which are tasks I despise in most other games). It all concludes in a dungeon stronger than any of the main game’s (though it probably still won’t convert those who didn’t like the physics puzzles of the Divine Beasts).
And hey, the rewards ain’t bad either: The cutscenes featuring Zelda and the Champions aren’t anything shocking but the added characterization is appreciated, and the motorcycle you get at the end is fantastic. Zooming across the hills of Hyrule feels like cheating in the best way possible.
But it was my response to the first set of DLC that I was most surprised by. “The Master Trials,” is exactly the sort of thing that makes me close a store window in a hurry. While the higher difficulty “Master Mode” and the “Hero’s Path” map are fun enough, the major content addition is a quest series “Trial of the Sword,” which, by Nintendo’s own description, sounds like a chore:
“Link starts without any armor or weapons, and if he defeats all of the enemies in the room he can proceed to the next area. Trial of the Sword will include around 45 total rooms for players to complete.”
Even my permadeath-loving ass reads those words and feels tired. “45 rooms” isn’t a selling point, it’s an errand list.
But in reality, those 45 rooms feature some of the most interesting combat-puzzle design in Breath of the Wild. Trial of the Sword extends the ideas behind some of my favorite parts of the main game, where areas like Eventide Island and Thyphlo Ruins challenged player expectations with new rulesets and surprising limitations.
Those 45 levels are broken up into level sets, each of which explores a new design concept. In one set, the player is put into large, multi-layered rooms featuring a constant, central updraft that they can ride around as they fight well-equipped bokoblins. In another, players must use their limited resources to stave off the cold while they fight in the snow. One set of levels even plays out as a river raft battle.
Add to that the fact that you can’t bring in outside equipment and you wind up with something like a Breath of the Wild Danger Room. I constantly needed to use abilities in surprising ways, carefully ration the items I found, and make clever use of the environment to win. The final few levels were heart pounding in a way I never expected.
Obviously Breath of the Wild holds a unique and special place in my heart, but this experience has made me deeply curious about all the rest of that DLC I’ve missed over the years. Some of these are obvious and well regarded: I never went up against Bloodborne’s “Old Hunters,” or visited the vineyards of The Witcher 3’s “Blood and Wine,” or faced down Red Dead Redemption’s “Undead Nightmare.”
But honestly, even DLC from games I was sort of eh on is looking good right now. Maybe it’s my recent visit to a different post-apocalyptic NYC, but have y’all seen all this new DLC for The Division? I didn’t even like that game that much and I’m thinking of going back!
So, some questions for you in today’s open thread: What’s your favorite DLC, why should I play it, and have you ever had the experience of ignoring a piece of DLC or a game expansion only to later discover that it’s fantastic, actually? Let me know over in the forums!