Following the success of Pokémon Sword & Shield, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company announced the first-ever downloadable expansions for the mainline Pokémon series. The Isle of Armor, the first part of the two-part Expansion Pass, launched last week, and now that I’ve played it all the way through, I feel secure in saying that while I overall enjoyed the new expansion, the experience stumbles in a few ways.
Check out my thoughts on what works and what doesn’t in the new Pokémon Sword & Shield: The Isle of Armor expansion below.
The Good: An Entirely New Wild Area
The highlight of The Isle of Armor isn’t the story or the creatures that inhabit it, but rather the island itself. Allowing you to travel to a remote island northwest of the Galar region you explored in Sword & Shield, The Isle of Armor expansion drops you into what is essentially an all-new Wild Area. Much like the Wild Area from the original game, that means you not only have plenty of Pokémon to encounter, but also diverse biomes, Pokémon Dens for Max Raid Battles, and, yes, full control of the camera. The weather also changes depending on where you are on the island and when, giving you new Pokémon to encounter. When players first envisioned a console Pokémon game, the Wild Area was likely close to what they imagined, and it’s great to have a new place like that to explore.
The Bad: Fetch Quests Galore
While the island is structured like the free and open Wild Area, more creativity could have gone into the structure of the quests themselves. Many of the missions in The Isle of Armor expansion center on completing trials for dojo master Mustard, and they aren’t the most thrilling or engaging. These quests range from tracking down some speedy Slowpokes to picking mushrooms in a cave. Even the most interesting quest, where you battle through a gauntlet of trainers using only your newly acquired Kubfu has problems (more on that later).
The Good: A Perfectly Annoying New Rival
In the base Sword & Shield game, you have several characters who could be considered rivals, but your main rival was Hop, who wasn’t so much as a rival as he was a friendly competitor. With The Isle of Armor, you encounter your adversary before you even make it to the island. Klara, a poison-type trainer, appears for Sword players, while Shield trainers clash with Avery, a psychic-type guru. While Klara will smile to your face, she hides a calculating and conniving nature that comes out when you stretch her to the limits or she decides she wants something. Meanwhile, Avery’s cocky nature perfectly complements his desire to be seen as a civilized trainer. Both are fun to dislike and defeat, and they both bring pretty awesome battle themes to listen to while your Pokémon duke it out.
The Bad: Boring Side Content
As I already mentioned, I’m not wild about the structure of the main questlines. However, since the Isle of Armor is a giant, open area to explore, I was hoping I’d find some cool stuff to get into while I poked around every nook and cranny. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, as the most meaningful side quests boil down to scouring the island for 151 hidden Digletts, rebuilding the dojo’s basic technology using Watts you receive from Pokémon Dens, or using a crafting machine to recycle your items. Tedious content like this makes even the most scenic island getaway feel like work. Thankfully, you can still partake in Max Raid Battles, but that’s not anything particularly new or novel to this expansion.
The Good: Lots of Pokémon To Add To Your Collection
Perhaps the biggest complaint the community had about Pokémon Sword & Shield was that many fan-favorite creatures were missing at launch. The Isle of Armor adds many of them back in, including outright giving you either a Squirtle or Bulbasaur. Not only that, but in addition to the myriad Pokémon that appear throughout the island, you can also interact with NPCs to either trade Watts for new Pokédex entries, trade Galarian forms of Pokémon for regular forms of that same monster, or collect Digletts for Alolan variations of Pokémon. To top it all off, the expansion gives you Kubfu, a fighting-type legendary, that evolves into either a dark- or water-type form of Urshifu by the end of the story. If you’re looking to expand your collection and Pokédex, the Isle of Armor gives you a lot to like.
The Bad: Most of the Expansion Is Too Easy
Those who found the main story of Sword & Shield too easy will probably be disappointed by the Isle of Armor. While my post-game save file found an island flooded with high-level Pokémon to catch and battle, my well-rounded party blew through them, often making quick work of the wild Pokémon I encountered. In addition, the rival battles posed little challenge to my squad of Pokémon from late-game areas, and the most interesting main questline, where you choose one of two five-story towers in which to train your Kubfu, is a simple task until you reach the top floor for a Kubfu-versus-Kubfu match.
The Good: A Worthy Final Challenge
After you complete every other task in the dojo questline, one final battle awaits you. Despite the rest of the expansion being largely a breeze, it’s here that your skills as a trainer are finally put to the test on the Isle of Armor. While I don’t want to spoil anything, the final trainer you take on has a host of powerful creatures that gave my post-game party full of Legendaries and powered-up Pokémon a run for their money.
The Bad: The Story Isn’t Contextually Aware
This may be a super-small nitpick, but while the dojo is home to Mustard, the former Galar League champion and the trainer of Leon, the story ignores the fact that anything else has happened with the Galar League. Even though my trainer has been plastered all over the region as the new champion, Mustard and all the characters seem oblivious to this fact. You would think that Mustard, a former champion himself, would at least keep a passing interest in what’s going on in the Galar League. Unfortunately, as you arrive, you’re treated as a total unknown, and later, it’s even inferred that Leon is still the champion. I understand that players can access this expansion content at any time once they reach the Wild Area in the story, but it would be nice if you had a save file where you were champion, if they would acknowledge it in some small way.
The Good: Learning About Mustard
Mustard might initially appear to be a goofy old man, but he’s a legendary former champion of the Galar League, and the man who trained Leon on his rise to prominence. Learning more about Mustard, his past, and his fighting style is enjoyable, and battling him to see what kind of power once ruled over the Galar region’s Pokémon League is exciting.
Pokémon Sword & Shield: The Isle of Armor is available now as a part of the Expansion Pass. The second part of the Expansion Pass, The Crown Tundra, is set to release later this year.
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