It’s safe to say that most people didn’t know what to expect going into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s first, and potentially last, story-based downloadable content, The Champions’ Ballad. Positioned as story DLC, The Champions’ Ballad had a big task to accomplish: reinvigorate players’ desire to explore Hyrule and round out a lackluster story that was never the focus of the game to begin with. Unfortunately, the new content only partially succeeds at both of these endeavors.
The new journey starts with a promising conceit. After completing all four Divine Beasts, Link receives a telepathic message from Zelda telling him to return to the Shrine of Resurrection at the game’s starting area for a new challenge that will make him even more capable of taking down Ganon. Once there, players obtain a new weapon, the One-Hit Obliterator, that can…well, kill any enemy in one strike. The downside is that Link’s health is reduced to the point where one damage point from anything– fall damage, a Lizalfos’ tongue, or an errant Keese– will kill him. The following challenge to take down nests of enemies and work through perilous shrines filled with spiked balls and laser beams harkens back to some of the best survival challenges in the game like the Eventide Island quest. It’s a difficult yet satisfying gauntlet that tests your tactical awareness and the fact that it takes place on the Great Plateau gives the whole affair an air of nostalgia. After this excellently designed section, however, the DLC becomes predictable and slow-paced. The second act of The Champions’ Ballad DLC doesn’t capitalize on the game’s strengths, instead highlighting the weaknesses that stem from a feeling of repetition.
Environmental challenges populate the four primary regions in the game (Lanayru, Eldin, Hebra, and Gerudo Desert), all themed around Link pursuing the training that each of the other four champions accomplished. Discovering these challenges requires intimate knowledge of the overworld map to decipher clues hinting towards where they take place. That aspect of the DLC works well and underscores the game’s natural inclination towards exploration and discovery. What you’ll be doing at each challenge, however, is mostly uninteresting repeated tasks of what you’ve already done in the main game. The new shrines feature some of the best-designed interactions in the game, but they’re all brief and, again, nothing is presented that we haven’t already seen before.
This issue is exacerbated because the story rewards for progressing through these tasks are surprisingly small in scope. Unlocked cutscenes that feature each of the four champions don’t do much to characterize them, Zelda, Link, or the King of Hyrule beyond their already clearly defined archetypes. Breath of the Wild doesn’t care about story so these short scenes don’t even feel like they matter, they feel like some sort of anime filler. It isn’t very satisfying to complete tasks that feel mundane this late into the game only to be rewarded with so little.
Despite all this, The Champions’ Ballad manages a comeback in its final stretch with some tricky and intriguing puzzle solving and some truly engaging combat encounters. Fully completing the story component of this content leads to the highly publicized reward: the Master Cycle Zero. Which…is fine. I like that you can ride over rocky areas that a horse won’t go near and being able to summon it wherever you want (except Death Mountain) is definitely convenient. I just didn’t feel like I needed it so late in the game because I was already attached to so many of my horses. It is a truly fun inclusion but doesn’t add anything substantial to the game.
And that’s perhaps the best way to sum up The Champions’ Ballad. There isn’t anything new here. It’s a retread of most of the gameplay elements from the base game’s journey, a retread that takes place in the most expansive and engaging open world ever, but a retread nonetheless. That’s great in some ways because it gives players more reason to explore Hyrule and learn the game’s map. But the best part about this game’s exploration was discovering new things, exploring uncharted territory. I’d already seen everything The Champions’ Ballad had to offer aside from a few memorable shrines, and the rewards for going back over these same well-worn paths weren’t, well, rewarding. Yet I still can’t say that the content was poorly designed, it just doesn’t have the same touch of inspiration that the first 100 or so hours of play were filled with.
I went into The Champions’ Ballad hoping to reignite my love for Breath of the Wild. Maybe my expectations were too high. I hoped for new, complex dungeons, perhaps a new landmass to explore, and maybe new enemies to fight. Really, what I hoped for was something fresh, new. Given Nintendo’s unbelievably stellar track record this year, those expectations seemed reasonable. I enjoyed having a renewed mission in Hyrule for the 8-10 hours the content took me to complete, but I can’t help feeling like I wouldn’t have missed out on much if I had held onto my cash and refused this specific call to adventure. On the surface, the challenges are clever methods to get players to explore the game world in new ways and represent how thoroughly the game’s systems have been polished. But after spending 200 hours in Hyrule there weren’t any thrills left for me.