There’s a reason Eventide Island is one of the best parts of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sailing to its sandy shores strips you of everything you’ve come to depend on up until that point. Naked and without any real means to defend yourself, this drop of land plays host to the best showcase of Breath of the Wild’s gameplay, morphing your adventure into a rigorous (and dangerous) test of survival. It’s memorable for the experience but disappointing in its ending. Which only serves to make Trials of the Sword even more captivating.
Part of the first batch of DLC that Breath of the Wild will receive, Trial of the Sword is the meat of the package that sounded like the starter before the main course. It’s no secret that the second part of the planned DLC is the one everyone is waiting for, given that it’s set to add a whole new chunk to the story. A 45-level test of your combat skills doesn’t stand up to that on paper, even with the tantalising reward of unlocking the true potential of your Master Sword (a damage buff and unlimited usage, for those unfamiliar).
Except that Trial of the Sword isn’t simply a multi-staged combat arena. It’s a range of tests that are specifically designed to push your understanding of Breath of the Wild to the edge, culminating in some of the fiercest fights and conditions you’ll likely encounter in your time in Hyrule. And just like Eventide, you’re going in on the back foot.
Trial of the Sword strips you of all the comforts you’re used to from your hours and hours of travelling Hyrule. No swords, no shields, no clothing and no consumables. The only thing you’re permitted is your current value of hearts and (strangely enough) any current status buffs you might have active. Immediately Trail of the Sword puts planning at the forefront. You can craft and consume powerful defence potions or meals taking their effects with you before you even start, emphasising preparation that will only be further tested with each floor. Forethought is everything – a quality the beginning of Breath of the Wild emphasised a lot.
The Trials themselves continue pushing your understanding of just how Breath of the Wild’s systems work. Weapon durability, for example, becomes a much more malleable system to play around with. Standard wooden weapons which I had discarded only a few hours into the game suddenly became saving graces against the red bokoblins that were no longer pushovers. Getting the most out of damaged critical hit throws or weapons imbued with elemental damage became paramount. I kept lightning based weapons, for example, to disarm foes in a pinch, and then quickly ran around to gather the fallen armaments to further disadvantage my enemies.
These systems are all present in the core game, but they’re never really tested. You blaze through similarly styled weapons fast enough to not really give to thoughts about how you need to really use them, where as Trial of the Sword punishes you if you don’t. Simple skirmishes can become exponentially more challenging without the correct approach, forcing me to learn on both older and new strategies alike. Stealth suddenly became far more alluring with its damage stacking effects on unsuspecting enemies. Even utilising the death effects of Chuchu started seeping into my tactics. Nothing felt quite as exhilarating as disarming an entire camp of enemies with a well-timed arrow to a yellow Chuchu.
Even in its quieter levels, Trial of the Sword keeps asking you to focus. Each of the three stages features “downtime” floors after small mini-boss fights. On the surface it’s just a reprieve from the constant stress. You’ll have chests to open with new gear, a fire to cook food and some scattered resources to collect. An easy in, easy out you might assume – a breather until the next gauntlet ready to prematurely end your quest to greatness.
Except, that’s not really the case. Cooking becomes a test of your understanding of how ingredients go together, and how well you’re able to ration the limited resources you have to create status gifting delicacies. Knowing how much to use, what not to mix and the most efficient ways of maxing out health regeneration (hearty vegetables, praise) again reintroduce another of Breath of the Wild’s systems that may have fallen to the wayside in your layered hours of play. And that’s ignoring the stealthy antics you’ll need to pull off to catch those life-saving fairies that roam around the small room.
Breath of the Wild is truly a systems-run game. Its many moments of brilliance are brought about through the unpredictability of how these systems interact with one another. The opening moments are peppered with joyous discoveries, as you poke and prod and see just exactly how everything clicks into place. But by the end Link is too strong to take most of them seriously. Too many hearts makes cooking less important, while upgraded clothing makes combat trivial instead of heart-racing.
Trial of the Sword not only reminds you that all of these intricate systems and their existence, but challenges you to use them all in harmony to overcome some of the biggest challenges the game has yet to offer. And if it feels punishing, that’s good. It means that sense of discovery is about to lapse again, and soon you’ll find yourself in the exuberant state that the opening of the game washed over you. It’s absolutely some of the best Breath of the Wild content to date.
Last Updated: July 5, 2017