Is it a proper send-off for Nintendo’s GOTY?
Released without warning during last week’s Game Awards, The Champions’ Ballad DLC for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems set to close out the game’s post-launch period. While the critically-claimed open-air title took home the prestigious Game of the Year award, does this 7-10 hour campaign do justice for such a beloved game? Having spent six days with it, I’ve concluded it depends on a) what you particularly enjoyed about Breath of the Wild and b) if you’re looking for some challenge.
Let’s put it this way: if you loved wracking your brain over the game’s many shrines and desired more difficulty in the vein of taking on Lynels, you’re in for a great time. However, if you wanted a story-intensive adventure full of cutscenes and whatnot, you may walk away a tad disappointed. Granted, I’d actually argue it throws enough bones for those of us into Zelda lore, but make no mistake: despite the name, The Champions’ Ballad largely focuses on the exploration and puzzles that made Breath of the Wild such a success.
And whaddya know: I just so happened to dig all that, so I thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Champions’ Ballad. From beginning to end, it is a gauntlet of challenges, right down to initially arming you with a weapon that saps away all but a sliver of your heart meter. After a series of heart-pounding raids and newfound shrines within The Great Plateau, the trials the fabled Champions took upon 100 years ago pop up within their respective homelands, be they deciphering cryptic clues or taking down ancient beasts. Through newfound clues of the Champions’ descendants and family, as well as the travelling bard Kass, Link’s endurance of these trials uncovers the histories of his friends lost to Calamity Ganon.
The Shrines are front-and-center for this DLC, and yet as much as it makes sense to highlight them first, I struggle in properly discussing their genius. What I’m saying is that I really do not want to spoil their content, as these are some of the most arduous puzzles I’ve encountered in Zelda. Admittedly, this wasn’t always for good reasons — there were a couple infuriating ones involving motion control that fought every which way I turned my Switch, particularly one within the Eldin region — but the rest besides those had me experimenting with each and every Rune with every compatible object as I scrambled for clues to their puzzles. (And on that note: as someone who felt Cryonis felt far too underused, it was a welcome sight that its required presence was so frequent)
If I had to elaborate on anything, it would definitely be the concluding dungeon. I know many weren’t crazy about the dungeons’ compact size and whatnot, but I was far too captivated by their emphasis on manipulating the actual construction to pay that much heed, and the same holds true here. Like the rest of the game’s dungeons, it’s organic in that every manual shift changes the every last mechanization, be they conduits, rotating passages or even the cogs of a gear. Echoing the best of Zelda dungeons in the fun of having everything click into place, cataloging every observation is crucial to reach an unexpected, yet spectacular boss fight. And I must not forget the accompanying theme: an actively foreboding arrangement of the Shrine theme that grows ever more grand as you progress.
However, many would argue the One-Hit Obliterator section as being the hardest part of all, and it certainly makes a tough case: at the beginning of The Champions’ Ballad, Link is armed with a weapon that deals death within one blow…at the cost of the same holding true for him. Needless to say, just reaching the provided shrines is an arduous task in itself, as even foregoing the actual Obliterator and instead executing stealthy tactics through arrows and explosives are risky ventures in themselves. And yet, for as much as I enjoyed the newfound challenge for The Great Plateau, I can’t help but wish the Obliterator had a lifespan beyond the DLC. That it’s only for the opening act renders its end rather abrupt, and I would’ve liked to witness how it’d provide a different brand of challenge for the actual overworld (provided that it’s ineffective against “boss” monsters like Lynels and Hinoxes, of course).
I mentioned a defense for the new story scenes earlier: while I understand the disappointment for those who wanted more frequent story-intensive cutscenes, I take no fault with how Nintendo approached them here. Breath of the Wild is, first and foremost, a game about exploration and discovery, and we witness that firsthand in each and every one of the diaries left behind by the Champions. Whereas the cutscenes introduce pivotal or defining moments of all four legends, it’s within these tragic mementos we discover the motives behind how they came to be, be they the lamentations of Urbosa and Mipha or the growing hubris of Revali. Not everything’s doom-and-gloom, of course — as far as cutscenes go, I nearly died laughing at Daruk’s greatest fear — but they are riveting supplements one must discover for themselves. (That there’s even more hidden dialogue only cements this direction)
(As an aside, I am one of the few defenders of Breath of the Wild‘s voice-acting and consider it tied with weapon durability as the game’s most head-scratching complaint. My comments from before still stand for the DLC: the voices are fine barring instances of “rushed” lines jammed within the constraints of dialogue length. Just faulty scripting, really.)
Could The Champions’ Ballad could have been more? Perhaps, and yet, I can’t help but be satisfied with what we got here. Yes, maybe there was more potential to be mined with the One-Hit Obliterator and the Champions’ backstories, but the beating heart of Breath of the Wild remains strong in its emphasis on exploration and individual challenge. Even now, nine months after launch, it continues to stun me by reinventing what Zelda is about, right down to the awe of witnessing motorcycle headlights illuminating the forests of Hyrule. And really, what more could I want after that?
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) ; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo; Players: 1 ; Released: December 7, 2017; ESRB: E10+; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild purchased by HeyPoorPlayer.