The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s first pack of DLC, The Master Trials, holds a handful of goodies for fans willing to shell out $20 for half a set of content. This winter’s DLC pack, The Champions’ Ballad, is clearly the main event – it includes a new dungeon and original story content, after all. Still, this first set may just be worth half the price of admission on its own merits.
The Master Trials includes new features like the Hero’s Path Mode, which allows players to view two hundred hour’s worth of progression via the Sheikah Slate’s map, and the Master Mode, a hard difficulty that automatically boosts enemy levels, as well as impacts enemy group movement patterns to keep veteran players on their toes. It also includes new armor and items that players will spend an hour or so scouring across Hyrule to acquire. All-in-all, these inclusions easily could have been made free for fans to enjoy. But it’s the Trial of the Sword that makes this DLC almost worth the cost.
The Trial of Link
The main draw of The Master Trials DLC is the Trial of the Sword, a challenge dungeon filled with dozens of increasingly difficult floors of enemies to survive. None of the floors include any wholly original items, enemies, or equipment. But they manage to remind players exactly how exceptional the core of Breath of the Wild’s gameplay really is. By stripping Link of his weapons, champion powers, and armor, The Trial of the Sword forces the player to proceed with strategy and care, qualities that become unnecessary for players that had reached the endgame after beating the four Divine Beasts and conquering all 120 shrines.
There’s no exploration or puzzle-solving in The Trial of the Sword. Instead, it heavily incorporates mechanics like temperature resistance, weather variables, enemy visibility, cooking, and more to great effect. It takes much from the base game and concentrates it in a series of progressively more difficult floors to overcome.
[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]
Design of the Goddess
The design choices present on each floor are as masterful as they were in the main game. One of the first weapons available to Link in each set of trials is an axe. It’s not particularly useful for combat, but it’s invaluable for chopping down trees and breaking open crates. Instead of straining the durability of regular weapons to crack these open, the player can use the axe more efficiently. The wood gained from felled trees can also act as a heat source. If the player needs to roast some apples or other ingredients for some slightly more effective food stuffs to heal their wounds, they can.
But roasting single ingredients won’t get the player very far. Those items are better left for the resting floors, which always appear after five floors filled with enemies. On these floors, the Trial presents the player with three treasure chests, crates, ingredients, fairies, and a cooking pot. The cooking pot is, bar-none, the most important thing at the players’ disposal. By combining those uncooked ingredients, the player can craft powerful dishes capable of restoring Link’s hearts, grant him stat boosts, temperature buffs, and more.
In the main game, the player eventually fills their inventory to the brim with meals that can take their heart count to the max. They rarely have to worry about dying. But the Trial of the Sword strips the player of these and forces them to survive. It’s the Great Plateau all over again, and it’s a breath of fresh air.
Focusing on the Elements
The Trial of the Sword plays with weather often. For example, there’s a constant lightning storm for five floors to keep Link on his toes. By forcing the player to unequip metal objects for these, the designers push them towards wooden weapons temporarily. Though they’re typically weaker and less durable, they don’t shock Link. Inversely, if the player chooses, they can throw a metal weapon at just the right time to strike their enemies with lightning.
The next set of floors switches to lava. Here, the extreme heat will burn any wooden weapons Link had equipped for the lightning. The player is forced to switch things up again and change their entire arsenal on the fly to progress with metal weapons. On these floors, Link predictably accrues heat damage if he doesn’t equip the flamebreaker boots granted to him in a chest in the preceding resting floor. However, the next set of floors are covered in snow and Link has to keep warm accordingly.
Unlike the lava floors, there’s no armor to protect Link from the cold. Instead, spicy peppers grew on the previous resting floor. With a cooking pot at the player’s disposal, they can combine the peppers into a dish in order to gain a resistance to the cold. Or, if they don’t like being strapped to a timer, they can equip the flame spear or meteor rod found on earlier floors in order to keep warm by proximity. These mechanics are all present in the main game, but they can be ignored after a certain point. Once the player has acquired this equipment, they can keep in their inventory indefinitely; it no longer becomes necessary to eat foods or use heat sources to stay at a safe temperature. What’s old is new again in the Trial of the Sword.
Bits and Bobs
There are some sets of floors, like air tunnel floors, that test specific mechanics and player skills. By allowing Link to constantly be airborne, the Trial expects and encourages the player to use a bow and arrow, constantly lining up slow motion headshots like Legolas on steroids. Then, on a set of floors containing only guardian scouts, the player’s combat proficiencies are put on the line. Shield parries, flurry rushes, and runes are all in high demand here. Similarly, the last handful of floors throws exceptionally strong enemies at the player. If they aren’t careful, haven’t held on to enough ancient arrows, or cooked enough meals to stay alive, they’ll be in for a world of hurt.
Master the Sword
After surviving each set of trials, the Master Sword gets a permanent power boost. By the time Link finishes the final trials, the sword will be at full power at all times. Unfortunately, the Master Sword can still break for a short period, and the game remains without a single melee weapon that is unbreakable.
Though this isn’t a particularly exciting reward after going through the grueling Trial, that was never really the point. The Trial gives the player a bit more content to tide them over until The Champions’ Ballad releases. Still, by looking at all the smart design choices Nintendo put into this glorified challenge dungeon, it’s hard not to be pleased by the distraction. It adds nothing truly new to the game, but like Eventide Island, it challenges the player. It reminds them of the many reasons why Breath of the Wild was so great in the first place.
If anything, the Trial of the Sword is just the excuse for players to dive back into Hyrule for a few hours. And that’s certainly reason enough.
Did you buy The Master Trials? Did you love it? Do you completely disagree? Go ahead and post your thoughts in the comments! For everything gaming, keep your eyes on The Game Fanatics.