Last week Nintendo got into the Hollywood spirit at The Game Awards and dropped the second DLC pack (and final part of the Expansion Pass) for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For many it's been the addition we've been waiting for, offering new story content and a fresh dungeon in addition to the now-standard add-ons in the forms of outfits and items.
For those that like collecting every outfit for Link there are some new goodies, following a similar pattern to those in DLC pack one. You receive the quests and they start off by telling you to find clues in a specific location - you find the book, get more clues and then hunt for special 'EX' treasure chests. These extras certainly do no harm, and play into the simple joys of exploring and navigating Hyrule, including some of its most tricky and dangerous areas. It's collect-a-thon busy work, which is pleasurable within this game's world; there's little more to say on that side.
Whereas DLC Pack 1 brought us 'Master Mode' and the Master Sword Trials, now we have 'The Champions' Ballad', which is the focus of this review.
The Champions' Ballad
As those that have beaten the game know, every time you defeat the end boss you revert to your save point just before that showdown, meaning you can replay it many times or - potentially - meet more requirements to clear it and then get the 'true' ending. The Champions' Ballad is only available once you have freed all four Divine Beasts, and then kicks in as a 'final trial' to prepare you for the ultimate confrontation. It's a smart narrative trick, though those that have cleared the game long ago will need to tune into the placing of the plot.
In reality, what this truly delivers is additional treats from the development team that follow the patterns we've already enjoyed, comprising of plenty of challenges along with some utterly charming new cutscenes. You work your way towards learning the 'Champions' Ballad' from Kass the Bard, which takes the form of story scenes portraying Zelda's recruitment of the four regional heroes. They give a little more insight into each character, are beautifully produced and reach a 10 on the charm scale during the final scene. For fans immersed in the world and its cast, this DLC delivers on that score.
Structurally, however, we're still within the same Hyrule and playing as Link; there are no ultimate curveballs in the experience here. It starts off with a return to Great Plateau and the Shrine of Resurrection - we'll be spoiler free as far as possible here, but we will say that this kicks off the first part of this DLC in the form of a tricky set of challenges called 'Divine Beast Tamer's Trial'. You have a weapon that can kill any foe in one hit, but the flipside is you can be killed in one hit. Your goal is to clear enemy camps one-by-one, each taking in a different part of the Plateau and some varied enemies. The camps all offer a different challenge, and 'Game Over' is to be expected - we found it interesting to try different approaches and tactics after failed attempts, utilising a mix of stealth, ranged attacks and frantic close-up fighting.
Tackling these camps is tough, and will certainly prove particularly tricky for some less experienced players. The reward for each cleared camp is a new Shrine, and these maintain the trend of keeping players on their toes. These first four are a nice reminder that the new Shrines are on par with some of the best original examples, offering tricky and generally decent-sized puzzles, and various spins on ideas we've seen before. All told it took us a while to clear this Plateau segment, before the new weapon split into parts and triggered new monuments in the four corners of the world.
The structure then goes the same way for a good few hours of play - you track down a monument at which Kass talks of writing a ballad for the Champions, and you can view three maps showing the locations of challenges. You find the spot and your task typically involves defeating some enemies, solving a puzzle or doing some smart manoeuvring through a course (in various ways). Once you do that a snazzy new Shrine begins - often themed on the area you're in - and you clear three of these to trigger a notable fight. We won't spoil that final part here, but it's an interesting approach to sections you'll have played in the main campaign.
We enjoyed working through these areas, particularly due to the quality of the Shrine designs, which have clearly been given plenty of effort and attention. It takes a little while, and then you get the new 'Divine Beast' dungeon that was promised. Nintendo's been completely upfront about the fact this unlocks the Master Cycle Zero, and it's a clever twist on the idea of that unlockable. Like other Divine Beasts you're aiming to access terminals, and though it's not the biggest in terms of pure size it's well implemented, especially for fans of engineering puzzles. Once you 'beat' the dungeon there's a final surprise that is rather enjoyable, and from start to finish most will be looking at 6-9 hours to work through Champions' Ballad, potentially more depending on skill levels.
As for the motorbike? Well, it does eventually need to be refuelled with materials, and it's silly fun. That's it - in truth - when it comes to the bike, but that's also fine. If you've played right through the game and the DLC it's a fun addition to goof around with, and though some may get wound up about lore we feel there's enough video game silliness in Breath of the Wild- in a very Nintendo way - to make it a suitable addition. Your mileage will vary (apologies), depending on how much you like to mess about on virtual vehicles.
Overall we were left satisfied at the end of our playthrough, and spending more time with the game (after 100+ hours previously) with new challenges was a treat. Though the story additions (through cutscenes) are pleasing and the new Shrines and Dungeon are of a high quality, it's also not the content of our wildest imaginations. Various 'triple-A' DLC story add-ons in other games introduce new characters and even entirely new areas of the world, which this does not do. The add-ons in The Witcher 3 still set the standard here, and others deserve nods, whereas Nintendo has opted for small contained challenges within the same world. We had ideas in our head (pre-release) of playing as the Champions, or perhaps continuing the story as hinted by the 'true' ending. In hindsight some may say those were unrealistic hopes, but they wouldn't have been unprecedented additions.
That said, what is here is still fantastic Breath of the Wild gaming, additional refined content for what some (including this writer) will argue is the best game of the year. On that score it delivers.
Is the Expansion Pass Worth It?
Split into two packs, the Expansion Pass certainly offers a lot of busy-work in terms of collectible outfits and items. In the first pack the significant and more important additions were the challenging but addictive 'Trial of the Sword' and Master Mode for tough second play-throughs. We got a lot of mileage out of this - the bid to max out the Master Sword was particularly tough in the third set of levels, while a Master Mode playthrough can feel very different as caution trumps all-out bravery. We wrote about it in detail previously.
With this second pack we have the various collectibles and The Champions' Ballad, which is probably a dozen plus hours at least for most players. Combine the two, along with the fan-service and added functions and goodies (like the travel medallion and ancient bridle / saddle) and there's solid value for €19.99 / £17.99 / $19.99USD. As extras on top of a core game that can last a long time when seeking to clear all shrines etc, the expansion pass certainly turns Breath of the Wild into an even more engrossing and sizeable adventure.
As we close the book on the Expansion Pass, then, we're generally very positive. The Champions' Ballad doesn't fulfil our breathlessly wild fantasies, but it is fun and full of smart design and charm - not to mention some notably tricky areas. Overall, then, it's mission accomplished.
We feel pretty confident in saying that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild plus the Expansion Pass is utterly glorious and unmissable gaming - it's a lot of a good thing, combining to deliver one of the greatest games of all time.