Pokemon Sword and Shield - Isle of Armor Impressions
Maybe it might not seem that way, considering the review score I gave Pokemon Sword last year - but I did enjoy my time with the game, despite all its faults. While I still stand by my impression that Sword and Shield deserved more time in the oven, with both a lack of content and technical faults plaguing the game even today, it still tried many new things. The Wild Area, while in my opinion felt more restrictive than it could've been, was a new type of experience for the series - and one that I had hoped might be expanded upon with a sequel. Dynamaxing, although I greatly enjoyed Mega Evolutions from Generation VI and VII, was inarguably a more balanced system, while allowing the utilities of both Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves to be accessed by every Pokemon. Gigantamax Pokemon offered an endgame for players to grind, and helped make the loss of unique Mega Evolution forms sting just a little bit less.
Y-Comm was and still is a trash fire, an absolute embarrassment of online functionality that somehow manages to be worse than Gamefreak's very first attempt at it back on the Nintendo DS. Outside of exploring the Wild Area, Galar lacked any sort of optional routes, and besides for a few linear caves - the game lacked any sort of dungeons entirely. Whether those things mattered to you of course was all subjective, but at the end of the day, I left Sword and Shield behind feeling ultimately mixed about the whole endeavor. When the Expansion Pass finally got announced earlier this year, I wasn't yet sure if I was willing or ready to return to the game, and it wasn't until shortly before Isle of Armor's launch that I decided I would give it a try.
While Isle of Armor certainly doesn't fix every problem that I've had with Sword and Shield, it does alleviate a bunch of them - and gives me renewed hope for the series moving forward.
Let's start by putting things into perspective - Isle of Armor is the first half of the Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass, a $30 purchase on top of the $60 price for the base game at launch. The Isle of Armor takes place on a new Wild Area located to the east of Galar, and is accessible to those that own the DLC and have updated their game via the Armor Pass when used at Wedgehurst Station. The expansion features a short and sweet story that revolves around your trainer taking place in a training school at the Isle of Armor's Master Dojo, including a short rivalry with an aspiring Poison-type Gym Leader and a new legendary Pokemon Cubfu whom you train and then use to challenge one of two towers in order to evolve it into one of two split-form evolutions.
The story itself isn't all that deep, but neither was the story in Sword and Shield to begin with. It's short and sweet - you'll finish the DLC's campaign around or under 5 hours - but the island itself comes with a variety of things to do before and after you've finished its story, as well as a few new and returning features from the series' past. Arguably the biggest upgrade present in the DLC is the scope and scale of the new Wild Area.
The Isle of Armor itself is made up of one huge Wild Area, segmented much as the Wild Area was in the basegame - but with one major difference. While the Wild Area in the original game was generally very wide open, with very little exploration involving hidden paths or multiple layers of verticality, Isle of Armor's offers both exploration and a reason to do so. Not only is the island host to over 100 Pokemon new to Sword and Shield, but you've also got 151 Alolan Digletts dotting the place, hiding for players to find them. With the twists and turns, proper caves, and more making up the new Wild Area, players actually have to properly search for these little guys - and certain milestones for spotting them will award players Alolan Forms of existing Pokemon.
It really can't be understated just how much of an upgrade the DLC's Wild Area is compared to the one in the original games, and considering that Crown Tundra was always billed as the expansion with the focus on exploration - it leaves me excited to see just how far Gamefreak might go, considering the glow up we've received here. Isle of Armor is larger, features more biomes, and these biomes feel like they border each other much more naturally than they would have if they had been placed in the original Wild Area. It's a game-changer, and I don't see myself willingly subjecting myself to the original Wild Area much again if I can't help it.
Besides the major new additions, Isle of Armor also includes a variety of smaller features - such as the return of Pokemon following behind your trainer. I was shocked to see this return, especially since it hadn't been teased or announced prior to the DLC's release. It's always been something that the fanbase has wanted to return for years now, and while Pokemon Let's Go had it - that just wasn't the same. Competitively minded players can try to tackle the new Restrictive Sparring, which forces you to choose 3 Pokemon that share a typing while trying to manage against your opponent. Maybe a small distraction in the grand scheme of things, but it's something new and I certainly won't bemoan any new optional content when one of my largest complaints was a lack of such originally. There's not much in the way of truly new Pokemon, here, but we do get access to a few new Galarian Forms, as well as Cubfu and Urshifu - most of the truly new Pokemon seem to be relegated to the next DLC.
I don't think that Isle of Armor might make those that hated the original release suddenly love Pokemon Sword and Shield, but for those of us that did enjoy the game - maybe even despite its faults - it's hard to argue that it's not a massive step in the right direction. It's certainly not worth a full $30 as of yet, but the second DLC is yet to come, and if Crown Tundra can meet or exceed what we have in Isle of Armor, I'd be hard-pressed to find any reason for Pokemon fans to skip on the Expansion Pass. We'll have to see when that launches later this year!
Disclosure: A DLC code was provided by the publisher.