We are the champions.
If The Champions’ Ballad is indeed the last new content we see for Breath of the Wild, it doesn’t feel like much of a send-off. This web of new overworld trials and Shrines is strung together by some fairly throwaway backstory, and its rewards are minimal. And yet, as it came to a close, it was what I’d played, not the story I’d been told, that shone through. I’d just been given 8 more stellar hours of one of the best games ever made. This isn’t a goodbye from Hyrule, it’s a nudge to return there.
While it’s teed up as story-focused DLC, The Champions’ Ballad feels much more akin to the first DLC pack, The Master Trials, in structure. It’s definitively endgame material, focused on challenging players who think they’ve mastered Breath of the Wild’s beautifully tessellated systems.
That quest starts out by taking you back to where it all began: the Great Plateau (a.k.a. the most beautiful tutorial yet conceived) and transforming it into a much more dangerous territory. Handing you a new weapon, the One Hit Obliterator(!), the quest suddenly becomes a neat survival challenge – you kill everything in one hit, but everything kills you in one hit, too. And I mean everything – I spent five minutes running away from bees at one point.
Once you’ve cautiously dispatched new nests of monsters, you’re given four sets of new quests, each loosely themed around one of the four Champion characters. This is the best of what The Champions’ Ballad has to offer: a mixture of new boss monsters to fight, inventive time trials (brush up on your shield surfing), and some gratifying treasure hunts – all relying on your intimate knowledge of the world’s map to even find them in the first place. The only real downside here is how each Champion’s questline is topped off with repeated boss fights from the main game, only made minutely more challenging than they were in the first instance.
Every single quest objective rewards you with a new Shrine to complete, offering over a dozen more of BotW’s gratifyingly frustrating, “How did I not think of that in the first place?” one-shot puzzles. Add on a slightly unexpected final quest that I won’t spoil, and there’s around six to eight hours of new material in the main story quest alone.
Sadly, only around 20 minutes of that – made up almost entirely of flashback cutscenes invoked by nomadic accordion musclebird, Kass – amounts to actual, you know, story. It makes for an odd feeling, because the hope was that this DLC might round out the story in some way, or offer a further glimpse at what’s next for this Hyrule. And yet vanquishing Ganon still sends you back to your last save, Zelda remains a voice in your head, Link will always remain on his hero’s quest. There’s none of the resolution I’d hoped to see. I’m not necessarily sure Nintendo wants to make a “true” ending beyond the teasing, open-ended one it already gave us – a point possibly proven by its final gift.
But what Nintendo has made is, once again, magnificent. The Champions’ Ballad questline is Breath of the Wild in microcosm – a supremely made set of brilliant and surprising overworld encounters, peppered with satisfying miniature puzzle-dungeons, and overlaid with, yes, a slightly underfed approach to storytelling.
Alongside the main quest, there are yet more treasure hunts for new armour, mostly recognisable from previous games – Toon Link’s lobster shirt, Zant’s helmet from The Twilight Princess, and more. Like The Master Trials, all of this armor is wildly underpowered by the time you come to the endgame, serving more as fan service than utility. Horse armour that allows you to warp your horse wherever you are on the map is more useful but, again, would have made more sense earlier. But there’s one more addition.
The improbable addition of a Sheikah motorbike – awarded for finishing the Ballad storyline – wouldn’t have made much mechanical sense in the context of the main game, but as I realised I had no more quests to complete, it was the Master Cycle Zero that I summoned. It’s the perfect tool for exploring the Hyrulean nooks and crannies you’ve failed to visit over the course of your journey. I’m sure that – apart from the sheer, dumb delight of giving Link a weird old hog to zoom about on – this is the point, because I’ve played at least another two mindless hours since I finished the quests simply because of how effortless it makes travel.