We take a look at all the new features coming to the next iteration of Pokémon RPGs.
Ever since the Nintendo Switch first released over two years ago, Pokémon fans have been eagerly waiting for the next official RPG in the series. Last year, we saw Lets Go Pikachu/Eevee globally release and whilst it was a lot of fun, it was missing that iconic Pokémon RPG charm, which has become so important for devoted fans. A few months ago, however, a particularly interesting Nintendo Direct went live, bringing news of a new adventure in an unfamiliar region. Now, finally, after a rather long wait, trainers can strap back on their running shoes and prepare for another journey of a lifetime in Pokémon Sword and Shield.
Set in the Galar Region, which shares a great deal of resemblance to the United Kingdom, Sword and Shield brings the eighth generation of Pokémon to life. Developed once again by Game Freak, in this adventure trainers will have to travel across rolling hills, snowy mountains and sprawling lakes to catch brand-new and returning Pokémon in a land as dynamic as it is packed with life. To really get a feel for how this title is evolving the series, we've brought together everything new revealed at E3, from hands-on time with the demo to a look at the expansive environments.
The world of the Galar Region is unlike any other overworld in a Pokémon game. Sure, there are similarities shared, such as the Pokémon being visible when free-roaming (which was introduced in the Let's Go titles), however, this is just one thing that goes into making Galar so lively. The newly implemented Wild Area has elevated the experience of finding Pokémon, and this portion of the world is loaded with wild encounters that can be activated by simply walking into the desired creature. The impressive thing about this place is that it stretches across several towns, making for an area that's seamlessly explorable for hours on end.
One of the most unique features of the Wild Area will be its ability to bring new Pokémon encounters to trainers. Unlike previous games, the weather systems in Sword and Shield have a direct impact on the types of creatures you will find throughout the world. For example, if it's raining, you'll likely encounter water types, although if a sudden snowstorm appears, ice types will become more prevalent. On top of this, a new whistling mechanic will allow players to attract certain Pokémon, whilst also scaring away others, whether this system will attract specific creatures is yet to be determined.
Whilst exploring in this area, players have free control over their camera, making it easy to discover secrets. As well as this, Game Freak has brought back an old-school favourite allowing the bike to once again be used for easy traversal, only this time it has received some upgrades. It would seem as though not only will Rotom be influencing your mobile device in-game (similar to the Rotom-dex in Sun and Moon), he may also be assisting in powering your bicycle, bringing a new boost feature to the vehicle. However, perhaps the biggest update to the bike is its unusual ability to float and subsequently cross water, making even lakes easy to explore.
During the demo, we played through the Gym encounter at Nessa's Water Gym. Like most other gyms in the Pokémon world, before we got to take on Nessa herself, we had to solve a puzzle that would open a door to her. In this case, we had to manipulate waterfalls by using switches that could control the flow of water. As we moved around the newly named 'Gym Challenge', we also had to fight off several trainers, each using water types. As for each of these battles, aside from higher fidelity graphics and different animations, everything played very similarly to other Pokémon games currently available.
Up to this point, the newest feature we noticed was two more Pokémon which were previously unannounced. The first was an electric type corgi-dog called Yamper, sporting the traditional corgi body shape with very similar fur colour. It also had an eye-catching lightning bolt tail and a strange yellow bulge around its neck, likely something to do with how it utilises its electric ability. As this Pokémon was in our party and useable in the demo, we became quite adept with it. On the other hand, there was a second that we only had a brief experience with. Named Impidimp, this purple-pink creature resembled a monkey crossed with a pixie and used dark and fairy type moves in its kit. Unfortunately, this was about all we have to say about the Pokémon as it was absolutely no match for the overwhelming power of our Yamper.
After finally clearing the Gym Challenge, we arrived at Nessa. This leader battle was slightly different from others in previous titles, as it takes place in a large stadium filled with fans. This brought a new level of gravitas to the battle as it felt as though we couldn't fail, or rather, we had to win. Nessa herself used two Pokémon, water types Goldeen and new eighth-generation Drednaw, which is basically an armoured turtle with powerful biting jaws. Whilst Goldeen fell almost instantly to the power of our grass type starter Grookey, Drednaw was a challenge to say the least, even more so when Nessa Dynamaxed it.
Dynamaxing is a new type of mechanic, which is a replacement for Mega Evolution and Z-Moves. When it is activated, the desired Pokémon - there can only be one per team per battle - grows exponentially, making it deal more damage and more resistant to damage itself. This effect only lasts three turns before shrinking back to size in a traditional battle but if not handled with care, it could mark the end of your team, as it nearly did for us. Dynamaxed Pokémon have stronger moves (called Max Moves) which may have added effects such as drought and can sometimes use several moves during a single turn making them even more deadly.
After a staggeringly tough battle, where nearly all our Pokémon were defeated, we finally took down Drednaw and beat Nessa, claiming the badge for ourselves and ending the playable demo. As a summary of the whole experience, one of the most unusual changes we noticed was the difficulty spike. Each of the trainer battles before meeting Nessa felt almost frictionless, as though we could've defeated them with a type and level disadvantage. On the other hand, when Nessa finally pulled out Drednaw, we felt almost inconsequential to the Pokémon's strength in a situation where type advantages on our behalf seemed to do very little to the creature. For us, this seems to be quite a large change to the series, as lately titles in the franchise seem to be rather easy to crack, allowing players to become literally unstoppable.
Whilst we have seen a great deal of new and returning mechanics come to Sword and Shield, one of the biggest features Game Freak seems to have prioritised are the multiplayer systems coming to the title. Trainers will be able to interact with other players as though they are in the same lobby, allowing for potential trading, battling or just general socialising. They can do this by using the newly introduced Y-Com, which works both locally and online. To see whether someone is available, a stamp-looking symbol will appear on the bottom left of the player's screen, indicating the other player's intentions.
As well as the Y-Com systems, players can also look to participate in raid battles to obtain powerful Pokémon. Finding these encounters are as simple as looking for the gleaming red beacons in the sky, and then letting trainers know where a Pokémon den is located. In these battles, four trainers will challenge a strong wild Dynamaxed Pokémon, which will have unique abilities (such as a shield protecting it against attacks) and a hefty health bar requiring teamwork to whittle down. Once it has been defeated, players can opt to try catching it or just settle for whatever rewards are given for partaking in the challenge.
Overall, based on what we've seen so far, Pokémon Sword and Shield is looking to be the RPG adventure fans have been waiting for. With all the new mechanics and online features, the title is looking to contain enough content for even the most devoted of trainers, although it is a shame we won't see the return of the National Dex this time around. Sorry, Bulbasaur, it looks like you'll have to wait till next time.