I’ve always loved playing Pokémon. I adore exploring a region, catching every creature I encounter, battling, and chronicling the journey in my Pokédex. However, I’ve never had the motivation to do the grinding that completing a Pokémon game in its entirety often demands. My interest usually wanes around the time completing the Pokédex starts to feel like busywork, mostly comprised of taking laps around the nursery accompanied by a party full of eggs. The sheer number of Pokémon available in previous generations has made completing the Pokédex feel like an impossibly large task.
Many aspects of past Pokémon titles have felt overwhelming and grindy. I’ve never felt like I fully understood all the intricacies of IV training, egg groups, and a bevy of other things. I’m a casual Pokémon trainer, and Pokémon Sword and Shield is optimized to simplify the game for people like me.
For example, I don’t know every Pokémon type’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ve played Pokémon for 15 years, yet half of these interactions still feel foreign to me. With Sword and Shield, I don’t need to beat myself up about my ignorance. Instead, the Gen 8 games include a thoughtful new feature: after your first battle against a Pokémon, you’ll be able to see how effective a particular move will be in subsequent battles. While this might’ve been an unnecessary addition for other players, my experience has become far more enjoyable as a result.
Sword and Shield also streamline the franchise’s item system, and it’s a massive change for the better. Replacing Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves with the Dynamax system means I no longer have to worry about finding a specific item to achieve a certain battle effect. Instead, you’ll get them by catching a specific type of Pokémon during an event, which feels much truer to the series’ “Gotta Catch Em’ All” mantra of yore.
Sword and Shield are full of these little quality-of-life tweaks. You can still bond with your Pokémon through battle, but now you can bond with an entire party at the same time by camping. The Wild Area, where you can find the bulk of Pokémon available in the Galar region, also makes it way easier to fill any holes in your Pokédex.
Another notable improvement are EXP candies, which make the overall experience of Sword and Shield far less repetitive than earlier iterations, which some die-hard players might not love. These candies are obtained by trying to catch Dynamax Pokémon and can make your party a lot stronger quite swiftly.
There are tons of changes like this in the Gen 8 games. For a casual player like me, this is the first time a Pokémon game has felt accessible in its entirety.
Ahead of the game’s release, these changes — along with some other limitations — sparked outcry among longtime Pokémon fans. Even now, a vocal group still criticize Pokémon developer Game Freak for reducing the size of the Pokédex and making the game “easier.” But the changes that have made Sword and Shield so polarizing actually make it more inviting for casual players like me.
Besides, the so-called “cut” content isn’t just fading away. In early 2020, players will be able to transfer in all their old Pokémon via the Pokémon Home app, which still has an intact National Dex. There’s also sure to be limited-time events or fan-created challenges that test the mettle of hardcore players craving greater difficulty. So while the alterations may have alienated a portion of the fanbase, they’ve also created a game that feels more accessible for a broader audience. With these new changes, I might finally complete my Pokédex. For once.
Pokémon Sword and Shield are available now for Nintendo Switch.