The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a finished story. But The Champions’ Ballad DLC adds just the right amount of context in its final gauntlet.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Version reviewed), Wii U
Release Date: December 7, 2017
I shouldn’t need an excuse to pick up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again. Since I reviewed the game back in March, I’ve often found short bursts of time here and there to revisit the gorgeous world of Hyrule and dig up another Shrine or two. Every time, it felt natural and enjoyable to settle back in, but work and life and other games always intruded and kept me from really sinking back in for days at a time. Now, with The Champions’ Ballad DLC, the talented Kass beckons Link back for one last adventure after the four Divine Beasts are all conquered. And I’m all here for it.
This review contains some spoilers for the ending of Breath of the Wild sans DLC. It also contains loose descriptions of The Champions’ Ballad content but will stay away from major story spoilers.
The Champions’ Ballad acts as a tour of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s key components: World exploration and combat, boss fights, Shrines, story, and a dungeon. At each turn, it tries to put a unique spin on the formulas those who reach this point are used to. For example, you’ll refight four familiar bosses, but you’ll be given specific tools the game wants you to use so you can’t just bust through with Bomb Arrows and a plucky attitude. You’re asked to clear enemy camps and Shrines on the Great Plateau, but you’re limited to a single weapon that one-shots anything you hit but reduces you to one hit away from death.
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We’ve seen this sort of crafted challenge before, of course. Areas like Eventide Island and the Master Trials do similar things by limiting your arsenal and asking you to accomplish tasks that would be easy … if you had a gazillion arrows, Ancient armor, and a flaming sword. There’s still some level of gaming the system at play in most of these trials, though. That one-shot weapon inherently trivializes your armor, but your bow is still a key tool in clearing camps. The boss fights give you specific armor, weapons, and limited arrows, but you can still muck about with Revali’s Gale and Urbosa’s Fury to trivialize certain mechanics, if you’re clever. The Champions’ Ballad remains gloriously true to the rule of the rest of the game: if it looks like it would work, it probably does.
But The Champions’ Ballad isn’t just a DLC about tying Link’s hands and asking him to perform acrobatics. It’s about digging just a touch deeper in his relationships and memories of the four Champions we met during the main story. None of what we’ll learn is integral to understanding the story of Breath of the Wild. Rather, it offers context to his other interactions and confirms some interesting fan theories about a few characters. This deeper dive might be welcome for those who felt Breath of the Wild’s adventure didn’t offer enough in the way of story and characterization, though I personally enjoyed the slower pace.
Some of the most notable areas of the DLC are the new Shrines (four that actually offer Spirit Orbs, and twelve that are related to other things), and boy, do I have mixed feelings about those. Some of them, like a memorable Great Plateau Shrine that looks like World of Warcraft orcs decorated the interior and the tongue-in-cheek Major Test of Strength+, are fabulous and unique challenges that build on the lessons we’ve learned up til now. But then, in a handful of Shrines, the developers saw fit to bring back the stupid Apparatus mechanic again. You know, the Shrines with the motion controls where you have to rotate your entire Switch or controller around randomly until you find a good position? Yeah, those are still garbage. Instead of solving the puzzle, you wrestle with controls randomly for about ten minutes. I have no idea why anyone thought bringing back the least-liked Shrine mechanic from the main game was a good idea.
Far better is the DLC’s dungeon, the Divine Trial. It simultaneously fits with the themes of the other four dungeons of the game, while also serving as a culmination of what we’ve done before with its own lore-related ties. It might be my favorite of the four dungeons, though it still suffers from the same issues that the Divine Beasts did in that it feels too short and simple. But it culminates in an excellent and unique new boss fight that melted any exasperation I felt from its brevity.
One of the greatest delights of The Champions’ Ballad for me was the new music from Manaka Kataoka and Yasuaki Iwata. I’ve gushed before about the tremendous work they did on the soundtrack for the main game, and my heart soared when I heard the new pieces. There are renditions on the little-used themes for each Champion, new songs from Kass, and a fabulous new theme for the final dungeon that combines the familiar Shrine music (itself a variation on the well-known Light World Dungeon theme) with the layering we’ve heard in the Divine Beasts before:
I’m walking away from The Champions’ Ballad with a strange mix of feelings about it, though most of them are positive. I loved most of the Shrines but abhorred a handful. The dungeon was excellent, if not a particularly strong improvement over the other four Divine Beast dungeons, but it also felt very much as though it belonged as a final dungeon to the main story over the highly-variable Hyrule Castle. The world exploration was good. The rehashed boss fights weren’t nearly distinct enough, though I saw what the game was going for. But the story was warm, wonderful, and sweet in its expansion on the personalities of the four Champions. I admit I wished there was something more substantial to it, but at the same time, this is paid DLC. Breath of the Wild already tied up its loose ends–it doesn’t need any more major story beats.
Put together, The Champions’ Ballad is a sometimes frustrating, but otherwise appropriate coda to everything that is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Its timing is perfect to remind those of us who played the game at launch of everything we loved about the game with some good-feel icing to top the cake. The Champions’ Ballad is the perfect excuse to return to the world of Hyrule once more, both for the new challenges presented, and for a chance to happily trip over all the Shrines and Korok seeds you missed the first time.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - The Champions' BalladNintendo
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