In the 3DS and Wii U era Nintendo slowly adopted some modern trends, embracing necessity in order to keep games active and - in the process - make some extra money. DLC emerged in ho-hum form as 'Coin Rush' packs in New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS, but then there was no going back. New Super Luigi U arrived as a standalone title that also worked as a DLC add-on, Masahiro Sakurai went positively crazy with plenty of extras for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, and there were various other examples (like Pikmin 3). In some cases add-ons were free and generous (such as Super Mario Maker and the necessary additions to Splatoon), while some were deliciously priced considering the content, as we'd suggest was the case with Mario Kart 8.
All of these examples show that Nintendo's been consistently revising what's acceptable and what isn't in terms of modern gaming trends and how they fit with its franchises. After all, Mario Kart 8 not only brought The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing into the series, but we had the infamous free Mercedes DLC; sponsored DLC crept into Super Mario Maker, too. For anyone that likes to hold Nintendo up as a bastion of old gaming values it's been an eye-opening time.
Nevertheless, confirmation of an expansion pass for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has still been a bit of a shock. Not many Nintendo treasures have escaped the modern trend for add-on content, but this 'main' series seemed like a safe bet to remain untouched. We doubt many saw it coming. Yes, Hyrule Warriors had a whole lot of DLC across its Wii U and 3DS versions, but that was a Warriors game from Koei Tecmo - if that didn't have add-ons there'd have been concerned visitors to the company's HQ to check everything was ok. That was an inevitable part of the package.
In Breath of the Wild, though? The initial reaction in our team was "oh no, what's happening". Then, after a few minutes, more context comes into play.
First of all, let's break down what you get in the DLC expansion pass.
To be blunt, the initial content - some items including a 'Nintendo Switch' shirt for Link - are the sort of cheap early cash-ins that get condemned when they come from Ubisoft, EA, Capcom and so on. It's the classic "quick, put something in" add-on that makes people cynical about expansion / season passes. On the surface, too, the Summer update isn't all that hot. A 'new Hard mode' (likely on top of one already in the game), a 'map feature' and 'New Cave of Trials challenge' may sound ok, but hardly worth splashing out money. The key, it seems, is really the new Dungeon and story content coming towards the end of the year - it's that final update where the potential value at $19.99 / €19.99 / £17.99 could come into play.
It wouldn't be unreasonable, then, for many to hold fire and wait and see what the final update brings in the Holiday season. Yet that's a little while away, so it'll be hard to gauge until then whether this counts as one of Nintendo's good value DLC add-ons - like Mario Kart 8 - or one of those head-scratchers that proves disappointing. The mixed reaction to the announcement surely reflects this, and there's discomfort that Nintendo is adopting the practice of announcing and pitching the DLC before the game is even on store shelves. As a practice that's long been a topic for debate in gaming, as it speaks to a development process distracted by the future; that said, the main game went 'gold' and was finished a little while ago.
The fact Nintendo isn't planning to offer each part individually - you need to buy the pass - is telling; it suggests an acceptance that the day one and Summer updates are rather tame and would struggle to sell on their own. As a result, though, Nintendo will have to accept the flak and criticism that comes its way from fans unhappy to see this sort of model applied not only to a beloved franchise, but one of its main entries.
It's not all negative, though, as there will be excitement about that 'Holiday' update - more Legend of Zelda is rarely a bad thing. This expansion pass, and how it's considered in 2018 or beyond, will live or die by its content. Anyone that's played broad, ambitious open-world games in the current generation - mainly on PC, PS4 or Xbox One - will be used to major add-ons and DLC. The fact is that, when done well, they can be more than worth the asking price.
From this writer's experience titles like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt truly benefit from add-ons when they've been produced with care and dedication. You play an enormous game, have a great experience, and then a few months later there's more to dive into. Dark Souls III is another one that generates hype with its add-ons, particularly for its upcoming concluding part. DLC doesn't have to be a source of all the evils in modern gaming - it can make great games even bigger and better.
Yet for every good example there are badly executed, lazy additions - in the case of Fallout 4 some of the new areas were praise-worthy, others less so. If The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fails to deliver an engrossing and high-quality story add-on at the end of the year, its pass will become infamous in the wrong ways. In most cases Nintendo delivers and maintains trust with the quality of its work, but the team producing that content will surely feel significant pressure.
Our feelings on this announcement, then, are decidedly mixed. On the one hand we're excited about more Breath of the Wild story and dungeon content later in the year - after all, we're eagerly awaiting the main game, so if it delivers on expectations more of the same can't do any harm. On the other hand there's disappointment in the nature of the expansion pass and the timing of its announcement, as it follows some of the less desirable modern-day DLC trends.
This expansion pass, ultimately, will be a big test for Nintendo. Few franchises command the loyalty and respect of the main-line Legend of Zelda series; maintaining that is a big responsibility.
Let us know what you think of this in the polls and comments below.