For the first time ever there's an expansion pass for a Pokémon game. We've visited the Isle of Armor to check out the view.
Sword and Shield made some big changes for the Pokémon series, but fans seemed especially caught off guard when it was announced that they would be embracing a Season Pass model. No longer would fans have to shell out for a separate 'enhanced edition' as they did in the past with entries such as Yellow, Crystal, and Emerald. The Isle of Armor releases as the first DLC of the Expansion Pass and takes players to an Isle of Wight-inspired corner of the Galar region.
Something I really appreciated about the DLC is that it can be accessed no matter how far along your journey you are. The levels of Pokémon you'll encounter scale depending on the badges you have obtained, so you're guaranteed to find yourself a balanced challenge. It can be a good distraction for those burnt out on the post-game as well as for those just starting out who want to add to their playtime and increase the pool of catchable creatures. What is also good is that besides a change in rival, the DLC is pretty much the same across both Sword and Shield, so completionists won't have to fork out for an extra Expansion Pass.
The Isle of Armor should help appease those enraged by Dexit as it introduces 100 new pokémon that span the previous seven generations. It's a solid list of old faces too with fan favourites such as Luxray, Alkazam, and Skarmony making the cut. What is a little disappointing, however, is that it only adds four new Pokémon (five if you count the yet to be added mythical Zarude) and a handful of new Gigantamax forms. These new creatures can all be obtained in the base game through trading, so owning the DLC isn't a necessity.
The new island itself I found to be the highlight of the entire DLC. It's open in terms of its structure, just like the Wild Area, but its design is much less linear and it stitches together several biomes. As I charged around the island on my Rotom Bike I explored shadowy caves, sandy stretches of desert, and bug-filled forests. There were times where I genuinely felt lost and had to refer to my map, which pushed me to think and not just continue in a straight line. The pokémon in the overworld felt much more dynamic too. Sharkpedos chased after me as I entered the water and it was great to see a full-sized Wailord towering in the distance.
I have spoken highly about the DLC so far but easily the biggest misstep is its fleeting two-hour storyline. The story sees you travel to the island's Master Dojo and complete several trials to earn the approval of dojo head and former league champion, Mustard. These trails boil down to nothing more than typical fetch quests, and a very painless Gigantamax battle against your newfound rival is the disappointing conclusion.
After this, you are handed Kubfu, one of the new legendary pokémon, and embark on a sightseeing trip across the island to build your friendship. The next part, however, I can see being massively tedious for newer players. To progress and evolve your new friend, you need to get it to at least level 70. This wasn't a problem for me personally as I had a backpack full of EXP candy at this stage, but I can see this taking hours to complete for those with very few gym badges under their belt. With the DLC scaling to be accessible to all players, I struggled to understand why this roadblock may have been put in place.
Outside the story and filling up your new Pokédex, there's also a couple of other distractions to help keep you occupied. There's 150 Alolan Diglett hidden across the island to be found and returning these will reward you with previously unavailable regional variants. You can also spend time gathering Watts and upgrading the facilities back at the Master Dojo. You can even purchase a vending machine, for example, to receive a discount on healing drinks, and there's a hairstylist that lets you change your appearance without having to leave the island.
A long-requested feature that has now returned to the main series via this DLC is the option to have your pokémon follow you around in the overworld. The execution just feels sloppy though, as my pokémon trailed at a snail's pace and kept disappearing and reappearing. A new feature that I did appreciate, however, was Max Soup, which can be used to transform certain pokémon into special Gigantamax forms. Certain Gigantamax forms could only be found in raids, so it's great to have the opportunity to obtain those that you might have missed.
I found Pokémon's first venture into DLC to be a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, I did enjoy the island itself and its handful of new features, but the story felt short and underdeveloped. The returning cast of pokémon I found to be solid additions, but with Pokémon Home and trading in the base game available, the DLC just isn't essential for you to catch em' all. Let's hope that the upcoming Crown Tundra expansion doesn't stick too closely to its predecessor's template and offers fans a bit more to sink their teeth into.
6 / 10
Nice new environment to explore and solid new additions to the roster.
You don't need the new DLC to get the new additions, however, and it's also rather short.