After a not-so-glowing first reception, Pokémon Sword and Shield just got its first DLC add-on, Isle of Armor. Players can now travel from Galar to the Isle of Armor, complete with new sidequests and a widened selection of Pokémon. Sadly, as lovely as the new location is, it’s a little like a Pidgey in a Master Ball: a missed opportunity, obvious the moment it unfolds.
When I first played Sword and Shield, I defended it from the mass incineration it received from corners of the fanbase — and I stand by that. This DLC, in turn, brought quite a few positives to the table. However, as the first major DLC in the history of the franchise (and a DLC applied to a game as controversial as Sword and Shield), the Isle of Armor simply didn’t go far enough in addressing the legitimate concerns raised about its base game.
The battle scene in the Isle of Armor was a joke. Trainer fights are limited, and most plot-relevant battles are a breeze, picking up slightly only at the DLC plot’s end. While this admittedly wasn’t helped by my playing through with my Hall of Fame team, players shouldn’t have to purposely switch to a weaker team to enjoy the content, especially in a game that explicitly includes level-matching opponents in its battle mechanics.
Worse were the sidequests, which mostly amounted to “travel from X location to Y and then report back to the home base.” You could tell that the intention was for players to explore the Isle of Armor and see the sights, but the DLC locale, for all its superiority to the Galar region, simply isn’t interesting enough to make these monotonous quests worth the walking. Pokémon has also failed to capitalize on the Switch’s graphical capabilities, and so its graphics cannot carry the game the way it seemed they’re supposed to do.
Even the storyline and characters of the Isle, like the base game’s plot, lacked substance. Once again, I found myself grappling with hollow exposition characters, a rival with no personality beyond being arrogant and badly dressed, and an incredibly low-stakes narrative. I won’t lie: I miss the Pokémon days where evil misanthropes were summoning deities of time and space to rewrite the universe. Today our biggest struggle is the League Champion’s inability to download Google Maps.
In sum, I confess myself disappointed. The Isle of Armor could have been the redemption of Pokemon’s Gen VIII, and it could have also set a positive precedent for what DLC could look like in the future. Instead, it simply took a half-baked game and turned it three-quarters baked.
Some things did get done well: many of my favourite Pokémon were added back in with the new Pokedex (Azumarill is an adorable king), we got some key new quality of life features (like the ability to turn any eligible Pokemon into a Gigantamax variant), and I am ready to buy the new clothes up for grabs. But this DLC codifies what Sword and Shield already proved: Pokémon is suffering for its rushed production timelines and newfound drive to keep its games simple and unchallenging. Until these games start getting the care and consideration they once did, we have little to look forward to.
Will I still play the upcoming Crown Tundra in the hopes of being surprised? I’m sure I will. But I wouldn’t waste a Master Ball on it.