“Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” launched in 2019 amid a boycott of the franchise for not including all of the series’ previous Pokémon. Along with criticisms around graphics and story, it was a whirlwind of issues for Nintendo. It didn’t bode well for Pokémon’s first mainline game on the Switch console; 2018’s “Let’s Go, Pikachu!” and “Let’s Go, Eevee!” were remakes of the 1998 Pokémon Yellow.
Despite this, “Sword” and “Shield” launched to critical and commercial success: They were the fastest-selling Switch games until “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” (2020) and are currently the fifth-best-selling Switch games ever. They were fantastic games, full of exciting battles and some of the franchise’s best new Pokémon. It all added up to make them the best games since “Black 2” (2012) and “White 2” (2012). Their recently released expansions build on their strengths while patching their minor weaknesses.
“Sword” and “Shield” have received two downloadable content (DLC) expansions, “The Isle of Armor” (2020) and “The Crown Tundra” (2020). The DLCs replace the remake games that Nintendo is known for. Pokémon games seldom exist for a year or two before an enhanced version is released (see just about every Pokémon game since 1998’s “Yellow” version). Usually, these remakes come so fast that they’re just focused on their predecessors’ major issues. “Platinum” (2008) fixes the slow gameplay of “Diamond” (2006) and “Pearl” (2006), while “Black 2” and “White 2” added more Pokémon to the smaller Pokédex of “Black” (2010) and “White” (2010).
The remakes provide (almost) instant gratification to fans who play the games with keen eyes for issues. We get to see the franchise respond and grow. But with “Sword” and “Shield,” the DLCs are much faster than any remake. Within a year of the game’s original launch, any problems fans might’ve had (graphics, smaller Pokédex, simple story) are fixed. “The Isle of Armor” and “The Crown Tundra” made “Sword” and “Shield” a larger, more immersive game without a need for a new release.
“The Isle of Armor,” released June 17, introduced islands off the coast of Galar, the home region of “Sword” and “Shield.” On the islands, the player trains through a Pokémon dojo and captures legendary Pokémon Kubfu and its evolution Urshifu. There is a lot going on: 108 returning Pokémon, tough rivals, walking with your Pokémon (a feature continued in “The Crown Tundra”) and Gigantamax forms for the Kanto and Galar starters. The latter comes with Dynamax, a new feature in “Sword” and “Shield,” which can involve special Gigantamax forms for certain Pokémon. The DLC also heavily influenced competitive battling, specifically with Drizzle ability Politoed and Swift Swim ability Kingdra.
It was an important first release of content for “Sword” and “Shield,” but “The Isle of Armor” still needed a larger story. That is where the second DLC, “The Crown Tundra,” comes in. The Oct. 22 release is a massive addition to the games, at some points seeming it could stand on its own. Set in a new frosty area of Galar, the player navigates an interesting story with the legendary Pokémon Calyrex (the series’ best legendary since Reshiram and Zekrom). There are also new additions like Regieleki, Regidrago and regional forms of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.
This all comes with the Max Lair, a strange location in the icy tundra where the player can travel with a rented Pokémon and catch Legendary Pokémon from the previous games. It’s pretty insane how many there are available, including monsters from Mewtwo to Dialga and Guzzlord. The battles require a much stronger approach than any other Max Raid and feature some particularly tricky Pokémon to beat, like Zygarde. But once the Legendary is beaten and captured, it can be used on the player’s team. This certainly might seem like a somewhat broken mechanic for giving everyone the chance to catch Legendary Pokémon in the game. But considering that Pokémon Home makes it easy for seasoned players to transfer Pokémon from previous games into “Sword” and “Shield,” what would stop players from bringing in all their Legendaries, anyway? With Max Lair, that opportunity is available to all players, new and old.
It all adds to make “Sword” and “Shield” better, more all-encompassing games. There’s something for everyone: new Pokémon to add to competitive teams, more Legendaries to make curry with and plenty of interesting stories to play through. The strengths of “The Isle of Armor” and “The Crown Tundra” question whether Nintendo should consider these DLC releases for future games (as opposed to releasing entirely new remakes). And if that turns out to be the case, we’d love to see it. It not only allows Nintendo to respond to criticism and bugs quicker, but it also keeps fans invested in playing.