The best game of the year gets its final, and largest, DLC expansion – but has Nintendo saved the best till last?
That Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is the best game of 2017 almost seems like the faintest praise you can give it. It’s already won game of the year at the Golden Joysticks and The Game Awards, and we’re sure it’ll pick up many other prizes over the next month or so. Amidst the game’s myriad of positive qualities Breath Of The Wild is incredible value for money, with a gigantic game world that takes hundreds of hours to see even a reasonable percentage of. But there’s always room for more, and that’s what this second and final DLC expansion is about.
Although it’s certainly not a given for their games, Nintendo is no stranger to either season passes or DLC in general. They’ve no standardised way of creating it though, and seem to tailor their approach to each game. In the case of Breath Of The Wild the first expansion was released in June and added a number of new features, like a hard mode and a super hard challenge trial, but no real story content. That has been left till now, in what is a significantly weightier offering.
Zelda has, of course, never really been a story-led franchise, and Breath Of The Wild less so than most. There weren’t really any loose ends to tie up either, but the idea here is that you’ve embarked upon yet another trial to prove your worth – while at the same time helping Kass finish his ballad about the four champions. Your reward is a motorbike that looks like the one from Mario Kart 8, but it takes a long time to unlock it…
In order to start the trial you have to have completed all four of the Divine Beast missions and defeated their bosses. Once that’s done you’re told to go back to Link’s resurrection chamber and pick up something called the One-Hit Obliterator. This does exactly what its name implies, with the downside that your health is reduced to one heart while holding it. Everyone having the ability to perform one-hit kills is a neat idea, and clearing out the indicated enemy camps is tense and exciting. Each time you do a new shrine pops up, until you’ve defeated them all and, just as quickly as it appeared, the One-Hit Obliterator is gone again.
There’s a very fragmented feel to The Champions’ Ballad, and you can certainly tell it’s not withheld content. Not just because of the release date, but because of how obvious it is that the developers were poking in new bits of content in the only gaps they could find for them; literally in terms of where the new shrines are placed on the map.
Each of the four champions has their own little plinth which, when you visit it, gives hints about three other locations that will reveal a shrine. Getting the shrine to appear involves either a fight with some powerful enemies, a race of some sort, or a puzzle or test of skill – in other words an abridged version of Breath Of Wild as a whole.
Most of these tasks are perfectly enjoyable, if rather short, but it’s the shrines that are the real stars. Rather than showing signs of running out of ideas they’re some of the best in the whole game, causing the utterance of, ‘Wow, that’s clever’ (or ‘Why didn’t I think of that an hour ago?’) with almost every new discovery.
Complete the full set of shrines for a champion and you’re then forced to replay their associated boss battle, but with strict limitations on your weapons and equipment. Which is an odd design choice, because there’s no real story context for it and it has the unfortunate effect of reminding you of what is perhaps the least accomplished aspect of the main game.
The Champions’ Ballad seems oddly keen to highlight the worst aspects of the original, since your reward for beating the boss is a new cut scene, which although nicely animated only underlines what an absolute wuss Zelda is in this game.
Your other reward is a faster-recharging version of the champions’ special power, and when you’ve completed all four you then get to play a brand-new dungeon and boss battle. It’s a pretty good dungeon too, rather short but with a neat gimmick all of its own. And then, finally, you get the motorbike and… find you’ve got no use for it. Or at least we did having long ago beaten the majority of the game (everything bar the rest of the koroks).
We assume many other players will be in a similar position, which is unfortunate. The motorbike is fun – much faster than a horse and good enough at off-road to give you a unique view of the game world. But it’s obvious the game was never made with the ability to go that fast in mind, and occasionally the game hiccups as you move faster than it can load in a new area.
As well as the main quest there’s also a lot of new nostalgia-themed clothing to search for, and some new horse gear that lets you teleport your nag straight to your location. It’s hard to measure time spent in Breath Of The Wild but there’s a good six or more hours of content here.
Value for money isn’t the issue, it’s that the whole thing seems so unnecessary. More Zelda is always welcome, but this is like eating the world’s tastiest Christmas cake and then starting on the mince pies straight after. They’re all very nice, but you would’ve been fine with just the initial offering.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild – The Champions' Ballad
In Short: As inessential as most story DLC tends to be, but despite a few unwanted encores this is still an entertaining, if unnecessary, story expansion.
Pros: Breath Of The Wild remains one of the best video games ever made and this highlights that fact in some interesting new ways. Lots of content and generous play time.
Cons: The boss battles (and Zelda’s wussy voiceover) are the last thing most people would’ve wanted more of. Disjointed structed, especially as you don’t get the motorbike till the end.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and Wii U
Price: £17.99 (including DLC Pack 1)
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Release Date: 8th December 2017
Age Rating: 12
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