After a relatively dark period for the series, Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Isle of Armor expansion is a welcome sign of better things to come for the world’s most popular franchise.
Pokémon Sword and Shield was an enjoyable game thanks to its expanded scope; that said, it was also underwhelming and divisive due to underwhelming graphics and several cut Pokémon from the game’s Pokédex.
Fortunately, Isle of Armor takes several steps to expand and improve, like adding more Pokémon, a bigger Wild Area, and other quality of life improvements. It also lays the groundwork for where the series can go after the Sword and Shield expansions with its seamless open world and new mechanics like level scaling and having Pokémon follow you at all times.
A Song of Darkness and Waters
Pokémon Sword and Shield had some of the most enjoyable writing and characters in the series yet, and Isle of Armor continues that trend. This expansion brings players to the titular island off the coast of Galar where they befriend a new Pokémon called Kubfu. You’ll also butt heads with Klara or Avery (depending on your version), a new rival who wants to be the top student at a dojo run by Master Mustard.
From chasing down speedy Slowpokes to a moment where you pretend to start Dynamaxing after drinking Max Soup, the writing in Isle of Armor is very funny. Klara was also a delightfully nefarious adversary for a series where rivals have become gotten more and more friendly over time.
The story does feel short and tangential to the main plot of Pokémon Sword and Shield, as it can be played both before and after you beat the game, but its tone and new rival set satisfying standards the series should follow in the future. That sentiment applies even more to the gameplay improvements.
What an Expansion Should Be
The best DLC or expansions don’t just give players more to do. They also add new mechanics to the core experience and improve some of the main game’s problems. Isle of Armor enhances everything, including the visuals, the environments, and the all-important Pokédex.
Pokémon Sword and Shield created a massive rift in the fan base when the developers confirmed that not every Pokémon would be available, or even usable, in the game. While the Pokédex still isn’t complete, longtime fans will be happy to hear that more than 100 Pokémon return in this expansion. More are poised to come back with The Crown Tundra.
I was always running into new creatures during my adventure on the island, and can’t wait to use these Pokémon on future playthroughs of the game. While it’s a shame so many Pokémon weren’t included from the start, Game Freak’s efforts to add more after launch is commendable.
Isle of Armor also brings several new moves into the fray, as well as easier ways to get berries, watts, and vitamins, which are all used to raise a competitive team. While casual players might not notice these subtle changes, they enhance the game’s competitive scene with features that make raising a competitive team a smoother process.
Some textures and graphics for environments even look improved and Pokémon will follow the player now, though the frame rate can still be abysmal in some situations, especially when weather effects are involved. Even if the game still looks behind the times visually, you can tell that Game Freak is starting to get more familiar with making games on Nintendo Switch with Isle of Armor.
Laying the Groundwork for the Future
While Isle of Armor is a solid expansion and evolution of what Pokémon Sword and Shield started, I’m even more excited about what it means for the future of the series. While Galar only had one Wild Area, the entirety of the Isle of Armor, with the exception of a couple of buildings, is a completely open world.
Isle of Armor proves Pokémon works in a more open setting and finds a nice tone for the narrative to settle in. The levels of Pokémon on the Isle of Armor also scale as players progress through the game. This is a feature that fans have been aching to see for years, and Isle of Armor proves that it works.
Pokémon Sword and Shield were middle-of-the-road entries for the series, and the transition to home consoles wasn’t seamless. It often felt like a testing ground that sacrificed pretty visuals and a complete Pokédex.
While it doesn’t fix all of Sword and Shield’s problems, Isle of Armor is a promising representation of what Pokémon games on a home console can look like. We now know open worlds, level scaling, and more dynamic interactions with Pokémon while exploring the environment are all possible.
Later this year, The Crown Tundra will introduce more Pokémon, explorable Dens, and likely some other still-unknown elements. These are exciting additions that future games can expand on, and we’ll have this Expansion Pass to thank for introducing them. 9/10.
Pokémon: Isle of Armor is now available in the Nintendo Switch's eShop.
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