Before I introduce the game, I want to mention that this article is a part of a collaboration with other content creators for the celebration of the Pokémon series, Creator’s Catch. If you want to read more Pokémon content on this 25th anniversary of the original Pokémon games in Japan, there a hub article with more information. In any case, one of my pieces for this collaboration is a review on the latest main series Pokémon games called Pokémon Sword and Shield which released in late 2019 and got two expansion packs in 2020. Now, should you play this game or leave this game at the wayside? Was the “Dexit” controversy right, when not all the Pokémon were going to be included, to boycott the game or shouldn’t they worry? Let’s find out in my review of Pokémon Sword and Shield. I have played the Shield version and most of the DLC for this review. So, what is your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article, let me know in the comment section down below!
Want some tea?
This game takes place in the Galar region. This region is based on a place that’s extremely close to me. I just have to cross the pond for it. Our above neighbors Great Britain were the inspiration for this game. In terms of story, the structure of the game is extremely similar to the original games. There is less focus on a more unique attempt at gyms like in Pokémon Sun & Moon.
So, you start out in your home town, picking one of three starter Pokémon to set out on a journey to discover the secrets and the evil lurking over the region by going to each and every gym and trying to defeat the Pokémon league.
I’m going to be blunt and honest here. While the story has some fun and quirky characters, it’s way to stripped down of anything that gives some tension to it. There isn’t even an “evil team” in this game. The motivations of the antagonist are weak at best. The biggest flaw is that the story lacked depth.
I finished these games last year and to remind myself what happened in the story, I had to take out my strategy guide and skim through it to get the gist of it. Now, there are a few moments that stood out during the story but these moments were far and few between.
It’s a shame really, since the writing and potential for a better story are in the game. I’m not going to argue that the previous Pokémon games always had a very in-depth story but I’m going to argue that the story was more engaging and gave a better atmosphere to the game. For example, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire tell a story about the climate in terms of the balance of land and water. Pokémon Black and White told a story about the moral of capturing creatures to help in work. Pokémon Sun and Moon told a story about how power can go and make you mad.
I can’t tell you what the moral or message of the Pokémon Sword and Shield games are. In a matter of fact, the actual climax and buildup is so see through that I’m quite sure that even a young child is going to see the twist at the end coming from a mile away. The DLC thankfully takes a step in the right direction, they feel a bit more fleshed out and still have a story to tell instead of something quite generic that the main story is telling.
I think I could ramble on and on about the story, but I think I should focus on review this game and talk about other elements as well, so let’s take a further look into this Pokémon game and let’s see why the fans of the Pokémon franchise are so divided on this game.
Some biscuits, please!
Even when a game doesn’t have an enjoyable story, the game can still be quite fun. Now, let me first tackle the “Dexit” controversy. There was a group of Pokémon fans who were quite angry when it was announced that not all Pokémon would make it over into the Pokémon Sword and Shield games. I can totally understand from where these people are coming from but I can totally understand the viewpoint of the developers.
It’s a bummer for the fans that they might be unable to catch their favorite Pokémon or carry their Pokémon over from older games. I can totally understand the fear that it’s now possible that Pokémon are going to be locked behind a DLC-paywall. I would totally agree with that fear if the developers implemented a pay per Pokémon scheme, but thankfully enough, they didn’t. Thankfully in the DLC we got 200 Pokémon that were returning to the game for a reasonable price.
Now, what do I personally think about the whole Dexit controversy? Well, to be honest, I don’t mind the fact that not every Pokémon is in the game. And I’m going to explain myself. I think it would have been a huge workload to make close to 900 new models and make them work in the new game. In addition to that, I think it’s a great way to force players to experiment with the new Pokémon. Since why should you catch or try out the new Pokémon if you are able to catch all the ones you know?
Just thinking about the workload that adding 900 Pokémon in one game is going to bring is making my head spin. Not only you need to make sure that there is the right balancing, but you also need to make sure that every Pokémon has it’s use and reason for existing. And let’s not forget the fact that you need to animate them in a large dynamax form as well. Also, just imagine that you had an extremely low chance to catch a certain Pokémon just because there are too many in one route.
It would bloat the game beyond belief. I think that it’s quite possible that when the next generation comes out, we are going to have close to 1000 Pokémon. So, you could start to argue that maybe we shouldn’t have new Pokémon in the next generation but discovering the new Pokémon is just half the fun of a Pokémon game isn’t it.
Anyways, I think it’s time to focus on Pokémon Sword and Shield’s gameplay isn’t it? So, how does this game play? Well, in terms of gameplay, nothing really changed. If you have played Pokémon games in the past, you know what to expect in this game. You train your Pokémon during Pokémon battles in routes and cities and try to defeat 8 gyms that specialize in a type to gain 8 badges to defeat the 5 strongest trainers in the region. Meanwhile you discover the truth behind the legend of that region’s legendary Pokémon(s).
For some veterans, the formula is getting a bit stale. I still enjoyed going through the whole game but I’m a bit disappointed that they are returning to the old school gym design. The trail challenges in the previous Sun and Moon games were such an amazing breath of fresh air. In this game, it’s a strange mixture between the old school gym design an a sort of challenge based design. It’s a step in the right direction to make gyms more fun but something that did surprise me is the fact that there are differences in the gym depending on the version you are playing. Finally, there are more differences between the versions then just the Pokémon you can catch. For example, in Circhester, you fight Gordie who uses rock Pokémon for the 6th badge if you play the Sword version. But in the Shield version, you fight Gordie’s mother Melony and she uses ice Pokémon to challenge you. Sadly enough, this happens for one other gym. I would love to see more in the future. More differences between the versions instead of just the Pokémon you can catch and/or some minor visual/text differences.
There are two unique mechanics in this game. The first is dynamaxing. With this mechanic, you can dynamax your Pokémon in certain criteria. You can use this mechanic during special battles basically. When you dynamax your Pokémon, they grow quite large and they can use extremely strong attacks. I could explain it in detail, but if you want to know more, Bulbapedia has an amazing in-depth article on it. This mechanic really puts an interesting twist on battling but I feel that this doesn’t scream Pokémon to me. It feels like just a spin on Mega Evolution which is basically Dynamax Lite now.
The second unique mechanic are the wild areas. These areas are basically quite open routes where you can do just a little bit more than just battle trainers, battle wild Pokémon and go from one place to the next. If all the routes were more as open and as large to the wild area, then I would applaud the developers. Now, the wild area feels painfully underdeveloped. You can camp and cook in these areas but that is just a small distraction at best. The things you can do while camping feel extremely limited and the cooking mini game is enjoyable but I rarely came back to it.
In the cooking mini game, you have to combine berries and a core ingredient to create all sorts of curry. You can find these ingredients in the wild area. These curries can give a boost to the friendship you have with the Pokémon and other very minor boosts. One of these boots can be to experience gain.
There is a multiplayer aspect to camping and cooking but to be honest, I haven’t used it nor have I experimented with it that much so I’m not going to comment on it. Feel free to talk about it in the comments since I would love to know if it’s fun or not.
Something I feel rather mixed about is the fact you can easily access the boxes anywhere in the world. So, that means you can easily swap your team members on the fly. Thankfully, they don’t fully heal if you switch them in and out of the box during your adventure, since that would have broken the difficulty of this game even more.
This brings me to the point of the difficulty of Pokémon Sword and Shield. Balancing a game just right is something quite tricky to do. I have written a lengthy article about it in 2019. Now, I’m sad to say that this game doesn’t deliver in that department. You have to go out of your way to make the game more challenging. There are various video’s and articles floating around on the internet to give you tips and tricks to make the game more difficult. I’m just going to give some examples: TheGamer and NintendoLife.
Now, it might seem that I’m ripping this game apart. Complaining about the story, the unique mechanics and the difficulty of the games. I think I’m going to run ahead of the conclusion of this article but I feel that Pokémon Sword and Shield could have been so much better, miles better in fact. The potential is there in the game.
The game controls amazingly well. It’s the first mainline Pokémon game on a console and it made the transformation quite well. While I got some minor slowdowns during some intense senses and during some battles after selecting a move, they weren’t too bad and the framerate got stable again quite fast.
Something I really liked in this game is the soundtrack and the audio design. Some tracks in this soundtrack like the battle theme of Bede or the battle theme of Marnie are absolute bobs. I also listen to the soundtrack from this game from time to time while at work and while writing articles. I enjoy it just that much. The sound effects add to the atmosphere of the game as well. For example, you feel that moves having the impact it should have to draw you in into the world of this game.
I can totally understand that some people are somewhat disappointed with the visual presentation of this game. Especially since some attacks have a 2D animation while some attacks have a grand 3D animation. To be honest, I didn’t mind it that much. I rather have a generic animation that can be used for every Pokémon that can learn or execute that move instead of the developers having to create a separate animation for each and every Pokémon that can learn the move.
This game is quite colorful and detailed. The visual presentation of a steampunk Great Britain is rather well executed and well done in my opinion. I really like the fact that battles with gym leaders are in a grand stadium, it’s something I always imagined as a kid. Then again, I wonder every gym battle can draw those huge crowds if this region where real. But that’s nitpicking beyond belief.
In terms of visuals, I have been comparing character models of Pokémon from Sun & Moon and Sword & Shield. I have to say that it’s a huge improvement and they look a lot better with better lighting and details in Sword & Shield. Now, you can clearly notice during the game that the developers hit the limits of the 3DS in Sun & Moon, so we should only get better models in the future. It’s also amazing to see that you can see the first Pokémon in your party to follow you in the overworld.
HM moves are a thing of the past in this game. This is something I really feel mixed about. It’s something that could be used to gate players from progressing too fast in the game in more unique ways instead of just blocking the road with various people. It also created more interesting puzzles by sliding blocks or having to dive under water. It’s something I’m going to miss to be quite honest yet I totally understand why it has been done. This way you don’t have to have a Pokémon in your party that’s simply your HM slave and make the world more open to exploration.
A huge positive in this game is the fact that they finally fixed the random battle system. You can finally see all the wild Pokémon in the overworld and avoid them if needed to catch a certain one. In addition to that, you can see which moves are effective against the Pokémon you are battling if you have fought the Pokémon before. If only there was an option to turn it off for more veteran players, that would be awesome. Like an option to disable the always on experience share or turn it in another mode would have been great as well.
This game also has a few online modes like raids and versus battles. But I’m not that big of an online gamer so I’m going to comment on those very much because I haven’t experienced them enough to talk about them. Now, you can do raid battles solo and those are fine but you feel that these are more enjoyable when you do them with friends or strangers online.
Something I’m totally forgetting to talk about is the fact that there is a way you can ease of the griding of your Pokémon! Since you can send them on jobs. In the Pokémon Centers you have a machine where you can play the Pokémon Lottery but more important, send your Pokémon on certain jobs. The better they preform on a better, the more experience and rarer items they will bring back. You can also choose for how long you will have to miss your Pokémon. It’s a sort of free daycare system.
That brings me to how content is somewhat locked in this game. The further you get in the game, the more items unlock. So, even if you were to cheat and go out of bounds towards another city’s Pokémon Center to go to the market, you won’t be able to buy more powerful items. It’s the same with collecting the League cards, which is just an immersion mechanic in the game.
Something new in this game is that there is an autosave feature. So, the days of manually saving are over. Surprisingly enough, there is an option to enable to disable the autosave feature. Now, I have mostly played this game without the autosave feature since I felt that my game ran a smidge better with it off.
The last things I want to talk about is the postgame and the DLC’s. Let’s start with the postgame. There is a minor silly additional story you get after becoming the champion. I’m sorry but I can’t take the characters in this story chapter seriously, I find it a bit ridiculous and silly. Apart from that, you can learn unique moves and do various other things. A nice list has been created by gamewith.net. Personally, I find the post-game content rather enjoyable apart from the silly story of course.
So, the DLC. I honestly have to say that it’s totally worth a purchase. The base game provides around 30 to 40-ish hours of content if you want to play the main story and the extra’s. If you add the two DLC’s on top of that, it’s another 10 to 20 hours on top of that. If you want to fully complete the game, you are looking at an adventure that takes close to 130 hours to complete.
The DLC is also amazing postgame content. It adds unique mechanics and is a step in the right direction when it comes to game difficulty. So, if you enjoyed the base game, I think that the additional 30€ is worth it for both DLC’s. They might be a tad bit on the expensive side but they add more then enough content to justify the price in my opinion.
To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to talk too in-depth about them, but one DLC is a whole new island to explore with a fun quest to find all the Digletts and to train a Pokémon to fight in one of two towers to choose between which legendary Pokémon you want in addition to the biggest wild area in the game. The other DLC gives a whole new boss rush rouge like mini game for legendary hunting and another new wild area.
And with that said, I think it’s high time for my conclusion. Since this review is getting rather lengthy isn’t it?
-Rather underwhelming story.
-The game is too easy.
-Some parts of the game feel underdeveloped and underused.
+ Amazing visual design.
+ Interesting new spins on the gym battles.
+ Amazing soundtrack.
After I had beaten the main game and played parts of the DLC, I started a review of this game multiple times and scrapped it each and every time. This game has so many underdeveloped good and fun elements it hurts to see them dragged down by the two biggest downfalls of this game and that’s the weak story and the game being too easy for it’s own good.
I still enjoyed my time with the game but sometimes I felt that these games are becoming a shadow of their former selves. I honestly think that if the story had more depth and there were difficulty options, this game wouldn’t have divided the fanbase so much. Of course, you have the whole Dexit controversy thing, but as I explained before, I don’t find it too big of a disaster.
The game is still a blast to play with an amazing soundtrack, new and fun mechanics like the wild area’s and a lot of accessibility features like seeing the effectiveness of moves. Also, we are finally seeing more differences between both versions that just simply the Pokémon you can catch in the wild.
This generation took a few steps back and a few steps forward and I’m quite curious to see what we are going to get in the future. What games are we going to get in this anniversary year of Pokémon? Since I would love to see the franchise continue and thrive since this game proves that the formula can still be quite a lot of fun if it’s handled well.
So, should you pick up this game? I would recommend it but I would warn players that they shouldn’t expect an expansive story and a lot of challenge expect they create their own challenge. But, it’s still a great and enjoyable Pokémon game where you can sink a lot of hours into.
And that’s everything I wanted to say about this game. Thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!
Remember, this article is part of a huge collab of content creators to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Pokémon in Japan. Want to read more articles and content? Click here to go to the hub article where we all take a look at the main line Pokémon games and various spin-offs.