When Nintendo announced the Expansion Pass for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild there was understandable concern, especially as the company fell into the much derided strategy of announcing the plans well ahead of the game's release. The case wasn't helped, either, by the somewhat tacky initial add-ons in the form of three chests with special items, include a Nintendo Switch t-shirt for Link to wear. On top of that you have to buy the full pass for the content, there's no option to buy individual parts.
In any case The Master Trials is here, the first real part of the Expansion Pass. It's an interesting package, so let's take a look at each part.
Trial of the Sword
Disclaimer, your humble scribe hasn't yet cleared this personally, but has let out a sigh of anguish in the early hours of the morning when dying rather late in the final areas of the challenge. Over an hour of careful play in a run for nothing - well, not nothing, it was engrossing gameplay.
Trial of the Sword is the most substantial new content available in DLC Pack 1 and offers up a good number of hours due to the level of challenge, and a good 2-3 hours even for cocky speedrunners that make it look easy on Twitch; in case you missed the memo, you need the Master Sword to play. It's rather like Eventide Island on steroids as you start in your underpants and with no weapons or resources of any kind. You scavenge items and defeat every enemy in various rooms and environments; you simply kill all of your foes and then move onto the next room (there are more than you might expect, too...).
You retain your rune abilities but cannot scan amiibo to get free items, and you also lose your Divine Beast abilities. It's truly down to basics, and if you die during an attempt that's it, game over, back to your last save before entering the challenge. There is some mercy, however, in that the reward of levelling up your Master Sword is split into three sets of challenges, each progressively harder and with more rooms. Even the easy set may take a few attempts but is relatively short, and once you stop playing like your in-game Link - with all that powerful equipment and terrific resources - and start to think back to your early days in the game, progress becomes steady. Unlocking the next set and mastering it, right up to the tough final batch of rooms, is a satisfying difficulty curve.
What's fun about this mode, and is likely to draw this writer back despite the painful memories of that late-run death with glory in sight, is that it does strip the game back to its basics; you can regain an appreciation for elemental attacks, utilising runes, outsmarting enemies and making use of the game's physics engine. If you can use the environment to kill an enemy rather than use up precious arrows or weapon strength, that's a way to go. Conversely, you may deliberately position a killing blow so an enemy is flung back away from a pit; after all, you don't want their weapon to fall into an abyss with them. In some rooms we'd spend a while sneaking around scouting the terrain, looking for high spots or potential explosions to set off. For many hours in the main game our Link has been a powerful killing machine with amazing weapons and armour; this mode reminds us of the skills that got him to that point.
As the showcase feature of this DLC, then, Trial of the Sword does a good job. For all but the most skilful players it'll offer a stiff challenge, sharpening the senses and encouraging a more careful, strategic approach. Many of the rooms are attractive and smartly designed, the drip-feed of resources is clever and impeccably balanced (in normal mode, at least), and it's a showcase of how well Nintendo mastered movement and combat in this game.
We move to this next as, actually, The Master Trials seems like a good warm-up. To start with the admin, you get an entirely new save file and set of autosaves in Master Mode, which is the 'Hard' difficulty setting that should have arguably been there since day one, and some feel should be a free update at the very least. In any case when you select it on the front screen the game essentially offers a whole new set of menus; it all looks the same, but partitions off the save data. You also have a small Triforce in the bottom left of the screen to remind you that you're in the harder playthrough.
Unlike New Game+ modes this is a fresh start, with no items or abilities to help out early on (unless you opt to put amiibo to work). The enemies are not only different colours and tougher from the start, but their health also regenerates slowly when you're not hitting them. This is an interesting choice as it forces you to be pretty aggressive, taking the initiative while trying to trigger flurry attacks at every opportunity. Even right at the start you're only a couple of hits from death, too, so fights feel high stakes right away.
Having kicked off a save in the Great Plateau we've also discovered that managing weapons will become even more important; the enemies are stronger, take more hits and therefore break more weapons. Initially our tactics were the same as in our first playthrough - attack camps for their loot - but after being reduced to two weak weapons our approach shifted. Now it's about avoiding camps and enemies, scavenging the land and making a note to come back and dispense true Hylian justice once weapons have been accumulated.
Beyond the tougher enemies we've also seen the floating platforms, on which enemies reside and protect item chests. Early on they may be avoided while we gather the initial rune abilities, but they'll add an extra challenge; likewise the fall from shooting out their platform's balloons will likely do much of the work.
For players that want a challenge and to approach the game in a different way, playing more as a survivor in nature than a rampaging warrior, this should be a terrific option. Revisiting the game from scratch is pleasing in itself, but the steep difficulty will likely mean playstyles change a fair amount. It seems fair to question why this wasn't included at launch, or at least whether it should be a free update; those are valid points, but ultimately for those that do have the content it's a tempting option.
Masks, a Medallion and the 'Hero's Path'
Moving back to the extras to be found regardless of standard or Master Mode save choice, this DLC Pack adds a range of new armour items, masks and some other features. In terms of the presentation they're relatively nicely woven into the game, with a minor cutscene introducing a series of side quests (including the Trial of the Sword). For those that don't want to use guides the game does structure the quests properly, giving you clues to find notebooks which then point you in the right direction. They're not headscratchers or riddles, as such, but they at least give the collect-a-thon a bit of purpose.
Some have rightly pointed out how handy the Travel Medallion can be, which allows you to set your own custom fast-travel point, handy for those gaps between shrines and towers. This can tie-in nicely with the 'Hero's Path' mode, which allows you to see - through a primitive graphical overlay - the areas you've visited on the map.
Beyond that we have the various masks and outfits that deliver nostalgic series references. They all have buffs on offer though, frankly, players that have spent a lot of time playing will already have those bonuses in more powerful armour. There's something alluring about running around as Tingle or while wearing the Majora's Mask, however, and on top of that we have the Korok Mask. It alerts you to nearby Koroks and facilitates the game's almighty busywork of collecting Korok Seeds. For some that'll be a wonderful prospect, for others it'll likely go largely unused.
The outfits are neat additions, and the quest to get them is relatively fun. Due to a narrative quirk a number of them are found around one of the most dangerous parts of the world, tasking players with a bit of a challenge. In some respects it's a shame the items aren't located in context-appropriate locations - such as Tingle Island - but it is fun rampaging around an iconic part of the world to retrieve most of the 'EXP' treasure chests.
In this writer's experience the quest for the outfits actually introduced a few specific towns / ruins that had been skipped past in general play, so there's some discovery in the activity. It's a minor part of the DLC, though - a fun diversion but not the main attraction.
Is it worth buying the Expansion Pass right now?
It's all about opinions, of course, but our suggestion is that the content does make the Expansion Pass worth a purchase, just about. The premiere additions are surely still to come with the Holiday content to include new story gameplay, so a purchase likely has "The Champions' Ballad" in mind.
For those that have beaten the game and are still interested in braving the world, DLC Pack 1 does offer some delightful gameplay. Trial of the Sword is well designed and an enjoyable challenge, taking the Eventide Island concept and turning it up to 11. While hunting for outfits and the Travel Medallion is also a decent diversion, the other selling point is another run through the challenging Master Mode. Not a New Game+ but rather a difficult remix (albeit relatively minor in its differences), it'll give players an alternative run with Calamity Ganon's forces evidently having the upper hand.
In summary, DLC Pack 1 gives us more gameplay in one of the truly great video games; we may be waiting for the bounty of the second pack, but this will certainly tide us over until then.
For the purposes of this article we played the Expansion Pass content in the Nintendo Switch version of the game.