Pokemon Sword & Shield Review: A Fun Entry in a Stale Series

Dive into the UK inspired Galar region of Pokemon Sword & Shield and capture and train hundreds of Pokemon, both old and new. While it doesn't reinvent the wheel, the latest entry in the franchise brings enough to the table to be fun experience and meaty experience that promises to become even bigger with big DLC's coming down the line.

Pokemon Sword & Shield Review 2

Pokemon. The word says it all. It’s probably one of the most known intellectual properties in the world and with good reason. It crept its way to just about any medium and found great success in most, if not all of them. Games are particularly held in high regard with many games flocking to check out each and every new entry despite each pushing the boundary of what came before ever so slightly. The situation is not much different with Pokemon Sword & Shield which we absolutely drained of content to deliver you this super-late review that will hopefully, at least be a good introduction to all those looking to buy DLC’s that will expand the base game.

Both the Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield versions of the game are available for purchase on Allyouplay

Nintendo Switch – Pokémon Sword & Pokémon Shield – The Next Big Pokémon Adventure!

STORY

The story of Pokemon Sword & Shield takes place in the new Galar region. The locales, the characters and even some Pokemon seen there are inspired by the United Kingdom to a humorous degree. For example, the capital city is named Wyndon and it even has a Big Ben and a big Ferris wheel akin got London Eye right next to each other. The Galar region aside from having its own Pokemon ecosystem has a unique phenomenon where Pokemon can become giant or “Dynamax” thanks to a curious substance called wishing stars. 

Pokemon Sword & Shield Review Galar Region

Who knew a UK inspired locale would work in a Pokemon game?

Even though the crafty Galar residents managed to harness this substance to Dynamax their Pokemon at will, much of the story revolves around the mysterious origin and usage of these stars for various purposes. The most notable one is that these Pokemon are used in televised stadium battles reminiscent of huge sporting events or the Olympics. 

The story of your character, as with most Pokemon games, begins in a small town with your mom seeing you off on a big adventure of becoming a Pokemon champion. This is done by collecting 8 gym badges from across the region which are required to participate in the ultimate championship event. You, of course, have a friendly rival named Hop, who’s big brother is the current “unbeatable” champion that encourages you along the way. There are a couple of more notable characters that you get to meet and fight along the way, but everything will ultimately feel very familiar, even if you skipped a couple of games.

Pokemon unbeatable Champion

Beating Leon is your ultimate goal

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention a couple of more serious and dark story beats that try to push the usually bright and dandy formula. Unfortunately, the game never goes all-in on these moments that would have brought much-needed nuance to characters and very soon reverts them back to their optimistic selves. Now, I’m not saying that Pokemon should go all dark and gritty on us, but I feel more mature themes, at least in some aspects, would do wonders for the franchise.

Most notably, your rival Hop goes through a psychological crisis of sorts brought about by a devastating loss brought about by another prominent character midway through the story. But, after only two pep-talks from our character, he goes back to being all upbeat and quickly forgets about the whole ordeal. The main villain gets the Thanos treatment of doing bad things for good reasons but ultimately fails to be sympathetic or intimidating. While he isn’t obvious right from the get-go, suffice it to say that if you’ve played any Pokemon game before this one, you’ll know exactly who will ultimately be the Giovanni of Sword & Shield.

Visiting a restaurant

Interiors are very warm and filled with detail

As with previous entries, the world only truly becomes open only when you finish the very linear and short main story. After that, there’s a substantial endgame that also has a somewhat of a story element to it, but it ultimately feels like an excuse for another set of Dynamax boss fights that, at that point, won’t be all that exciting which will leave you with online content as your main source of any substantial gameplay going forward.

GAMEPLAY

Sword & Shield takes some of the best aspects of previous Pokemon games for a wholly satisfying hybrid – at least in terms of the catching game. The first, great thing, is that the game allows you to skip cutscenes and the long-winded tutorial to quickly get into the meat of things. This will be your standard fare of traveling from location to location, battling trainers and scouring the tall grass to capture new Pokemon. Luckily, here you can actually see the Pokemon going through the grass, enabling you not only to pick and choose your battles but avoid them altogether.

Aside from the roads, caves, villages and cities, Sword & Shield also has the much talked about Wild Area. This is essentially a part of the game world that switches to a true third-person view with full camera control and is all about capturing Pokemon. While small, in the grand scheme of things, it represents the distilled formula of what makes Pokemon fun and is an area that you’ll visit many many times over the course of the game. It’s here that you’ll encounter unique Pokemon but also the raid caves where you’ll fight and be able to capture Dynamaxed and Gigantamaxed wild Pokemon. If you have a Switch Online subscription the Wild Area will also be a place where you’ll be able to see and interact with other players which is a great addition that makes the world feel a lot less static.

Wild Area Raid Battle

The Wild Area is a great addition to the franchise

The only problem is, you can’t exactly capture all Pokemon encountered there without almost finishing the story. You see, the Wild area is populated with very strong Pokemon, often out-leveling your team and your ability to capture them is tied to how many gym badges you have. If you encounter a level 60 Gengar, you literally can’t capture him until you beat all the gyms in the game. Previous games had the “Pokemon won’t listen” mechanic, but here, it feels very constricting and a poorly implemented way of preventing you from becoming over-powered too early.

Unfortunately, aside from the Wild Area, the Galar region is as linear as they come. Linear pathways are nothing new in Pokemon games but it’s astounding how little there is in terms of exploration. Forget about getting lost in caves, illuminating the dark and solving puzzles in order to get out. Forget about alternate pathways or small lakes that separate you from a patch of grass with unique Pokemon. Instead, you get a divergent road or two at most with a lackluster item as your reward for taking the 3-second detour.

New Pokemon are great

An electric poison type that looks like a punk rock star? Yes please

When it comes to the Pokemon on offer, Sword & Shield allows only about half of the 900 existing Pokemon. Now, while that’s still a lot of Pokemon, you’ll be surprised that many old favorites from previous generations are painfully absent. If you were hoping to get Dragonite, Mewtwo, Alakazam, Blastoise or Totodile on your team, you are not in luck. Sure, some of them can be transferred into the game from previous ones using the Pokemon Home app but that’s an external solution to an internal problem. Luckily, the two upcoming DLC’s and some in-game events are promising to alleviate the issue by introducing the missing Pokemon in whole new regions.

While some of the old guard are missing in action, there are around 80 new Pokemon exclusive to the Galar region to help fill in the void. While I was often rolling my eyes at some of the more obvious UK inspired names and puns, they are generally a whole lot of fun to discover. This is mostly due to their imaginative design and type combinations that really bring something new to the table when going into battles. 

Battle animations

Battles are well animated but they aren’t quite there yet

When it comes to that, Pokemon Sword & Shield brings as many new things as it takes away. Gone are the mega-evolutions and Z-moves and instead we have the Dynamax and Gigantamax mechanics. While every Pokemon can become skyscraper-sized by going Dynamax, only a select few can Gigantamax which, in addition to making them giant and more powerful, also changes their appearance. In order to bring some balance to the mechanic, this can be done only once in select few matches, and only lasts for three turns. 

While I was initially much more inclined toward mega evolutions seen in Sun & Moon, I ended up really liking the Dynamax mechanic. While it’s still somewhat unbalanced, the designs and sheer presence of Gigantamaxed Pokemon really elevates them to another level. Plus, the act of acquiring them through often hard-fought raid battles makes obtaining them really special and rewarding.

Gigantamax Machamp

Dynamax and Gigantamax is ultimately a fun mechanic

However, one thing that remains the same as in previous installments, despite the Dynamax mechanic is the lack of any challenge – at least until the late game. Not only do all your Pokemon gain experience once you defeat an opponent but XP candy are handed out like candy, pun intended. Sure, it makes the game less grindy but it means that, by the end of the campaign, you’ll steamroll through most enemies even if you are at a type disadvantage which can get really anticlimactic. I sincerely encourage you to change Pokemon often in order to give yourself more of a challenge unless you want your championship battle to be your starter one-shotting each and every opponent. 

The endgame does provide you with a bit more with both raid battles in which you can participate with other players, tower challenges and, of course, online battles against other players. While creating your perfect team for online play still takes time, you can now train specific stats and even change the nature of a Pokemon. This is great because not only does it reduce the grind of capturing the perfect Pokemon, but it also makes your starting team able to become viable for online play if you invest the time in training them.

GRAPHICS AND AUDIO

We’ve come a long way from pixelated Pokemon and NPC critters of the first Pokemon games. Despite that, I’m very glad that the 3D transition of newer games retained the recognizable personality that exudes a great sense of nostalgia for older players among us. Pokemon Sword & Shield is no exception. The new region is very well crafted and really makes you feel like you are visiting a small version of the United Kingdom, both in terms of locations and dialogue. The cities, in particular, look great and are very distinct from one another to fit with the theme of the Pokemon type that will be encountered in the local gym.

Great visuals and sound

The game looks and sounds great but is too linear

Still, Sword & Shield is no Breath of the Wild and the game world mostly feels very static and receives only a resolution bump in terms of graphical fidelity when compared to the predecessors. The performance is fairly stable and only falters slightly in the Wild Area and in some of the more effect intense Dynamax battles. There are other issues, however. The Wild Area itself is plagued with Pokemon and object pop-up while many of the Pokemon animations are reused or outright missing for certain attacks.

As expected, the sound and the music aspect of the game is great and on par with previous entries. There’s a fair selection of happy melodies for simple exploration, high-energy battle music and nostalgia-inducing little tunes for visiting a Poke-center or ending a battle. One track that I found to be particularly awesome was the gym trainer theme which made the battles against them feel like a real epic stadium match. Sound is also used to great effect in Dynamax battles and makes these Pokemon really feel imposing and their visually impressive attacks very impactful.

Summary
Pokemon Sword & Shield is definitely not the final evolution but more of a middle form that still needs plenty of work to reveal its true potential. It definitely didn't fulfill all the Dynamaxed expectations that were being placed upon it, it brings plenty of things that the long-time fans of the franchise will love, all the while becoming much more approachable for new players.
Good
  • Quality of life improvements
  • Fun core gameplay
  • Audiovisual presentation
  • Dynamax mechanic
  • The Wild Area experience
Bad
  • Lackluster and predictable story
  • Lack of challenge
  • Missing plenty of fan-favorite Pokemon
  • Pokemon catching limit
  • No optional areas to explore
7.7
Good

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