The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the greatest games I've ever played. The sense of adventure it provided was unlike anything else I've played this generation, emphasizing freedom and survival in a way that worked wonderfully within the context of a Zelda game.
Yet, for all the praise I've given it, I haven't spent time in its world in over two months, distracted by newer releases such as Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.
That changed yesterday with the release of Zelda's first ever expansion. Titled The Master Trials, it's given an excuse for myself and millions of other fans to return to the Kingdom of Hyrule. For that reason it's deserving of attention, but if you plan to similarly return, then proceed with caution, because this package isn't indicative of the reason the world fell in love with Breath of the Wild in the first place.
Trial of the Patience
The main course of the expansion is Trial of the Sword, a series of 45 levels spread across three difficulties. In this content, Link is tasked with conquering numerous obstacles, composed mostly of combat encounters and gathering, but also supplemented with a small number of puzzles.
For the sake of balance, you start with no armor, food, or any items for that matter. This is a fight for survival, one where you need to conserve any resources you find, and avoid damage in a way that Souls fans are familiar with. Your environment and light-footedness are your best assets in conquering each set of 15 levels to avoid having to start from the beginning.
In this sense, the content is successful, delivering an end-game level challenge that focuses on self-reliance. Controlling Link as he scavenges for any resources available, and carefully engages opponents utilizing the environment around him (rocks, explosive barrels, etc.) is neat in small doses.
The problem is that there wasn't much effort put into the design of Trial of the Sword's several dozen levels. They reuse assets you've seen before, copy paste configurations of trees and structures that are familiar, and pit you against enemies you've fought many times in the past.
Relying almost entirely on combat and scavenging, the mode becomes repetitive quickly. The only thing that will keep most players around for more than an hour is the pursuit for an upgraded Master Sword, a notable reward that requires full completion.
For veteran players, Trial of the Sword ushers a hardcore challenge that is distracting, but not often fun. It doesn't take advantage of Breath of the Wild's greatest traits: its sense of exploration, freedom, and non-linearity. For newer players, many won't be able to access it in the first place, while others will be disheartened quickly by its punishing and monotonous design.
Treasure Trove of Goodies
Thankfully, The Master Trials isn't just about Trial of the Sword. Along for the ride is Master Mode, which is effectively a hard mode that provides a much more difficult playthrough by upgrading enemies. Unlike Trial of the Sword, it puts in extra effort by adding interesting loot in the sky. It does just enough to make the game feel fresh, encouraging another 40+ hour adventure for players who are up for it.
There's also Hero's Path Mode, which visualizes your journey from start to finish. Looking back at your travels, and seeing every place you visited is neat, even if you won't necessarily spend more than a minute looking at it.
But the highlight for most players will be the new items. New armors, head pieces, and even a Travel Medallion have been included. These aren't just for vanity, either. In the case of the Korok Mask, you can much more easily find all 900 koroks in the game world. Alternatively, you can grab the Majora's Mask to make most enemies passive, a great addition for lesser skilled players and those who simply want to avoid combat at all costs.
Obtaining these items doesn't require much effort, but unlike Trial of the Sword utilizes the best qualities of Breath of the Wild by inviting exploration and discovery.
The Master Trials is a story of humble beginnings. In Trial of the Sword, you battle through 45 levels after starting with nothing but your fists and survival instincts. In Master Mode, you can play through the game a second time with a far greater challenge.
Chances are most of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's fanbase will find few reasons to bother with either of these new additions. For them, the new items will be the deciding factor for substantiating a purchase. While these items introduce clever new gameplay options, they probably won't be enough to keep players invested for more than an hour or two.
Because of this, The Master Trials falls into a difficult spot of being a potentially great addition for hardcore players, but offering little for everyone else. Zelda's first expansion is a tough one to recommend.
Jonathan Leack is the Executive Editor of GameRevolution. You can follow him on Twitter @JonnyBeoulve.
A Switch review copy was provided by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's publisher. The Master Trials is available on Switch and Wii U.