Pokémon Sword and Shield officially released for the Nintendo Switch and after a full week of battling and collecting my favorite Mons, I’m ready to give you some of my thoughts.
How Does The Game Look?
Pokémon Sword and Shield is the second mainline Pokémon game to launch on the Nintendo Switch. And like Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, the games are rendered in beautiful 3D graphics. The game is inspired by the land and cityscapes of the United Kingdom: featuring rolling countrysides, sprawling metropoles, and of course, its fair share of rainy days.
It’s clear that a lot of thought and detail went into designing the Galar region. Every town and route you travel through is unique in one form or another: whether it’s the steampunk vibes of the city of Motostoke or the radiantly glowing forest town of Ballonlea, you’re sure to be amazed at the level of detail you’ll come across as you explore the region.
The one issue with these designs, however, is that it’s very easy to get lost. In truth, there’s very little in the way of signposts to guide your way. One notable example is the city of Wyndon which, while impressively large, requires the use of an in-game monorail system if you want to fully explore it.
What About The Pokémon?
It’s fair to say there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the designs of the Pokémon in Sword and Shield. You know what I’m talking about – the decision by Game Freak to exclude a large portion of the National Pokédex from the game had the Pokémon fanbase up in arms. Game Freak cited the fact that there were simply too many Pokémon to design and animate, and given that there’s over 1,000 individual Pokémon, it’s not hard to see why they’d want to limit the number of Pokémon they had to redesign. And yes – according to an article posted by Eurogamer earlier this year, Game Freak did redesign every Pokémon from scratch.
But, if Game Freak is finding it harder and harder to keep up with the amount of Pokémon in the game, why the hell do they keep adding more new Pokémon? I love catching Pokémon as much as the next person with too much free time on their hands. Still, at a certain point, it becomes a chore just trying to remember where some of the more obscure Pokémon come from, and let’s hope nobody ever works to do an updated Pokérap because it’d probably be about 20 minutes long.
Overall, the designs of the Pokémon in Sword and Shield are, for the most part, fine. But, there is a lack of depth to some of the 3D designs, most notably to me, the new Pokémon Cufant. Seriously, its eyes look as though they were glued to its face. But, perhaps that’s just because of its design, as most of the rest of the games still impressive roster of Pokémon do look beautiful in 3D on the Switch.
The new Pokémon introduced in Sword and Shield are a very mixed bag. A lot of the designs leave something to be desired, but quite a few don’t feel like they fit in a Pokémon game. The most notable example is the starters, which, as quite a few people have pointed out, look far too human to be considered Pocket Monsters. That being said, I will admit that as I played through the game, the designs did grow on me little by little. However, I do stand by my stance that Game Freak needs to limit the amount of new Pokémon added in future titles.
The Wild Area: How Wild Is It?
One of the most significant changes from previous Pokémon games within Sword and Shield is the addition of the “Wild Area”. The Wild Area is a vast expanse of wilderness located between two of the major cities in the Galar region. Within this unique area, a wide variety of Pokémon spawn. This includes Pokémon that you’d only be able to get from trading with other players or by using special methods (i.e. evolution stones). To start with, Pokémon in the wild are relatively low-leveled. However, as you progress further into the zone, you’ll start to come across more powerful Pokémon, including the likes of Gyarados, Rhydon, Claydol, Gardevoir, Seismitoad, and many more. However, don’t go thinking you’ll be able to get lucky and capture one of them. While these higher-level Pokémon can be battled, you’ll need to defeat the Pokémon Gyms to catch them. Each badge you earn boosts the level of the Pokémon you’re allowed to catch, right up until you get the last badge, which gives you free rein to catch Pokémon of any level.
But it’s not all bad. If you do want a reasonably powerful Pokémon that’s guaranteed to be on your level, you can always try the Dynamax raids. The raids are another new feature added to Sword and Shield that allows you to battle a significantly more powerful Pokémon, with up to four other players or AI trainers.
These raids get progressively harder as you advance through the game. Fortunately, before committing to one of these raids, you have the option of selecting from any Pokémon in your boxes. Be sure to keep your party stocked with a wide variety of Pokémon types to give yourself the best chance at catching a powerful Dynamax Pokémon.
But there’s also another reason to complete Dynamax raids: the rewards.
If you complete a Dynamax raid, then regardless of whether or not you decide to catch the Pokémon you’ve just battled, you’ll get a slew of rewards that make these encounters more than worthwhile. The best of these is the EXP Candy, which can be used to give your Pokémon a serious level boost. These far outweigh the gains provided by Rare Candy (though you can also earn them from these raids too). Indeed, using these candies can make your journey through the Galar region a hell of a lot easier. Moreover, the fact that Dynamax raids are instantly accessible to you from the first time you enter the Wild Area means you never have much trouble with any of the gyms (so long as you take the time to defeat a few Dynamaxed Pokémon).
I was initially skeptical of the Wild Area after seeing it in trailers. Still, after having taken the time to explore it fully, I can say that it’s an exciting and fun addition to the Pokémon franchise. It brings back fond memories of the Safari Zone from older Pokémon games. But don’t go trying to throw rocks at any of the Dynamax Pokémon you run across. My only real complaint is that there are far too many invisible walls inside of the Wild Area, blocking your path incredibly often. I can’t help feel that Game Freak should’ve taken a leaf out of Breath of the Wild‘s book and provided you with a little more traversal command, even with the added addition of the Rotom Bike.
The Rotom Bike is one of the quicker ways to zip through the game, and especially the wild area. With its boost mode, you can upgrade as you earn “Watts,” a unique currency you’ll accrue as you partake in Dynamax raids. Not only that but you battle “Radiant” Pokémon, which glow yellow and drop a small number of Watts when defeated. That’s not all, you can scavenge Watts from semi-active Pokémon dens, which will appear red when active and grey when inactive.
But, by far the biggest problem with the Rotom Bike is that it doesn’t get a significant upgrade until very late in the game, namely, the ability to ride on the water. This might not seem like too big of a deal at first, but the majority of the game’s water-type Pokémon dwell in the water and can’t be battled unless you’re lucky enough for one to approach you on the shoreline. Even then, it’s tough to initiate that encounter before they run back to the center of their bodies of water. This is important as chances are, you’ll have to face off against two gym bandleaders weak to water types. I do feel as if the water walking function of the Rotom Bike should’ve been available from the start.
The Map: Too Small? Too Accurate?
With the Galar region being based on the UK, it was always a given that the region was never going to be huge. However, the actual scale of the Galar Region is still surprisingly small compared to previous regions.
All in all, there are ten towns/cities in the Galar region, with the small town of Wedgehurst being the only one not to feature a gym or arena of some kind. But the towns aren’t the problem – it’s the lack of adventuring spaces between them.
Aside from the Wild Area, there aren’t many big open spaces in the Galar region. Most of the routes between towns are relatively straightforward, with barely any branching paths or entertaining side areas to explore. It’s hard to say whether this was a conscious design choice or merely the limit of what Game Freak could create with the development time they had at their disposal. This isn’t to say that these areas are dull or empty. They do look impressive, and you can usually find new Pokémon or trainers to battle wherever you go. Still, if you’re looking for unique or fun encounters along the way, you’ll be left wanting.
Curiously, countries like Scotland and Wales don’t have any real representation in the game. The only town inspired by a real-life location in the city of Wyndon which, as you’ve probably guessed from the name, bears a striking resemblance to London. As someone from the UK, it does leave me a little disappointed that we couldn’t get some more geography inspired by its lesser-known parts.
New And Old Features Alike