The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a hard game before you figure out how each piece fits into the next. That difficulty is an education. But by the time I was roving the countryside in search of Lynel guts to harvest, the standard difficulty mode rarely gave me anything I couldn't handle. I was too stocked up with powerful gear and hearty food for anything to pose a threat, including the final boss. My last hours with the pre-DLC game felt tame compared to my enrollment at the Hylian School of Hard Knocks. I had finally climbed high enough to see the horizon. It wasn't until I played The Champions' Ballad (aka DLC2) that I finally took to the sky. And up there, I saw not just how all those pieces fit together, but why.
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It's unfortunate that Breath of the Wild's second DLC expansion starts off with a similar trick as the first, presenting a few combat trials where you might as well be naked for all the good your gear does you (consequently, it's the worst part of the expansion). Then it opens up into a victory lap of all the lands you visited in your journey to free the Divine Beasts. New quests encourage you to go shield surfing and Talus hunting again, and even fight through tweaked versions of the Divine Beast boss fights. They're fun, but in this case the destination is more important than the journey.
Yes, I'm going to talk about the motorcycle. I can't wait to talk about the sweet-ass motorcycle. But the bike was expected; what I didn't see coming was how powering up Link's Champion abilities (the reward for beating each boss again) changes the game just as much, keese-wing-powered hog if not more. Initially I was a little disappointed to find the only improvement for each power is a reduced cooldown timer. Then I realized the difference those cooldowns make in how I actually use them. I use Revali's Gale to fly constantly now. By the time I land, get into a fight (which I lightning-blast my way through with frankly unfair quantities of Urbosa's Fury), and pick up all the loot, Revali's almost ready to go again.
The same is true of Daruk's Protection and Mipha's Grace. If I ever manage to actually die now, despite the steady stream of force fields and resurrections, I know I've done something really wrong. Charging up these boons to the point that they let you circumvent significant portions of the game would be awful in any other context; all the pieces would stop fitting together. But for players who know all the rules like the back of their gauntlets, intentionally breaking them just enough is an invitation to run wild and be surprised by a world you thought you had all figured out.
Born to be wild
Clearly, the Master Cycle Zero is the coolest way to turn hours of convention upside down - and not just because it's a bitchin' chopper. It's an answer to one of the biggest complaints I've heard about Breath of the Wild: horses are kind of useless. The game intentionally makes traveling on horseback somewhat impractical; horses are vulnerable to monsters and easy to lose track of on the other side of a mountain, to name just a few sticking points. But upgrading to the Master Cycle revealed that those limits are intentional. Breath of the Wild really doesn't want you to move through new parts of the world that quickly (which is also the reason it's usually impossible to gain altitude while hang gliding). You're supposed to walk.
Padding along on foot, you won't just sail past all the hidden treasure, or korok puzzles, or wild game, or hidden treasure, or miniboss monsters, or wandering travelers, or everything else that makes Breath of the Wild so special. As you can probably tell, I approve of how the game handles horses. But at some point I mostly ran out of new hills to crest, and walking everywhere did finally lose its novelty. With The Champions' Ballad complete, Breath of the Wild knows that it's time to ride.
All those careful restrictions on speedy travel I mentioned before? The Master Cycle Zero throws them out. It can't die. It can be summoned instantly, almost anywhere. It can jump and power up steep inclines and pop wheelies. Again, this would ruin the exploration experience if you hadn't already left bootprints on every corner of the world. But arriving when it does, the Master Cycle Zero is the game's way of finally handing you the keys. Champions' Ballad also adds an Ancient Saddle that lets you call your horse from any distance, which serves a similar purpose for folks who prefer the equestrian way. But you don't have to go talk to a scary Horse God to revive your motorcycle if a Guardian shoots it, so I'm going with the bike on this one.
I took a long time playing Breath of the Wild (easily over 100 hours, from release day on March 3, 2017 to when I finally slew Calamity Ganon on September 10). I savored the experience of playing and, honestly, I wasn't ready to part with its world - even after I'd learned all the rules and knew how to exploit them. When I finally tried The Master Trials a few months later, it turned out to be a false beginning; a quick, enjoyable reset with ultimately little impact on the rest of the game. The Champions' Ballad is a true ending. It's letting me fully appreciate the interconnected systems I'd had such a delightful time getting to know, then happily soar beyond them.
With a game as wide and grand as Breath of the Wild, I know I'll never experience every last scrap - I just don't have enough time to play. But that thought no longer troubles me. I'm excited to dip back in a few more times to enjoy my not-quite-godlike powers, then light a campfire on a quiet hilltop somewhere and say goodbye to Hyrule. On my own terms.
Until I start over again in Master Mode, I mean.