The Nintendo Switch is a neat little console -- but its debut was almost overshadowed by its flagship launch game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game was lauded as a long overdue evolution on the Zelda formula, and it deserved the praise, too -- it's an objectively excellent adventure game that brings the classic Nintendo franchise into the modern era.
Still, fans were worried Nintendo would stumble when it came to the game's DLC packs. Rest easy, Hylian hero, Breath of the Wild's first DLC drop is light, but actually pretty good. Mostly because it focuses on what made the game great in the first place: survival, exploration and problem solving.
It's not completely apparent when you first install the DLC, but the updated Breath of the Wild content seamlessly fits in with the world of the original game. Yes, upon downloading the update the game will give you a list of new items, tools and quests available to pursue -- but it doesn't make them available to you as soon as you boot up the game. Instead, it tells you where to look for hints for finding the new items in the game world. Want to wear Majora's Mask or Tingle's silly green tights? You'd better find Misko's journal in the Outpost Ruins. The DLC scatters books with rumors and riddles throughout Hyrule, each pointing you in the direction of the new items.
Thankfully, the riddles aren't too hard to figure out, but they're vague enough to make the task of redeeming your DLC feel a little bit like an adventure. It's just the right balance of difficulty, offering enough of a challenge to scratch the player's itch for exploration without making them feel like they're working too hard to get an item they already paid for with real money. Sure, Nintendo could have dropped the DLC items out of the sky like an Amiibo-activated treasure chest -- but making them part of Link's adventure fits the theme of the game so much better.
Exploration is the true theme of the game's new "Hero's Path" feature, too. Calling up the in-game map now gives players the option to see the exact path they blazed across the open-world of hyrule for up to the last 200 hours. It's more than a simple overlay -- it has a playback function that draws the player's footpath on the map at various speeds. Not only is this a little nostalgic (Apparently, I had forgotten some of my adventures until the map reminded me), but it's incredibly revealing.
Before using Hero's Path, I was certain I'd explored almost all of Hyrule... but it turns out I'd only looked at most of it from high vantage points. Entire valleys, fields and mountain ranges were untouched by Link's boots. Maybe that's why I can't find the last few dozen shrines. Like the DLC's new items, the paid update's new map mode encourages exploration -- now that you know where you haven't been, you're driven to see what's there.
That's all nice, of course, but by far the biggest selling point of the DLC is the new Trial of the Sword mode: a punishing dungeon segmented into 45 different challenges. Starting the trial strips the player of all of their items, forcing them to complete the dungeon with nothing other than weapons and armor they find within the challenge itself.
It's like a much bigger, unforgiving version of Eventide Island, the core game's survival challenge. It's also great for the same reason: completing each segment of the Trial of the Sword is like solving an in-game puzzle. Figuring out how to survive and make the most of the limited resources feels like an accomplishment -- much like how completing the game's many physics-based shrine puzzles leaves the player feeling smart.
That said, the trial isn't easy, and features some of the hardest gameplay Breath of the Wild has to offer. Worse still, failure hurts -- there are 45 floors, but you can't save until you've beaten at least 12. Fail before the first dozen, and you have to start over from the beginning. It's not completely unfair (there are a few floors that offer rest, weapons and a cooking pot to create healing items with), but it's not for the faint of heart, either.
If that's not hard enough for you, the DLC update also adds a Master Mode -- basically a new "hard" difficulty for the game's main story. I only played a little bit of it, but what I did try was significantly harder. Thought weapon durability was frustrating in the early game before? Well, now it's hard to defeat even the starting area's enemies without at least one weapon on hand. Still, if you're looking for a survival challenge, Master Mode has it aplenty -- and thankfully, it has its own save system, too. Starting a new game on hard mode won't erase your first adventure.
Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's first DLC pack seems to hold a lot of value. It's genuinely fun, has great challenges, and fits right in with the rest of the game without feeling tacked on. Better still, it's only half of the game's total DLC -- this holiday season, the game will be getting a new dungeon, a new original story and a few other surprises. We've only just scratched the surface of the first pack, but between the two, Nintendo's first major Zelda DLC effort seems to be worth the $20.