Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Isle of Armor Review

Release Date
June 18, 2020
Developed By
Game Freak
Published By
Nintendo
Genre
RPG
Consoles
Nintendo Switch

As the first downloadable expansion for a mainline Pokémon game, The Isle of Armor is a fascinating experience. It builds upon the Pokémon Sword and Shield experience in relatively subtle but substantial ways. With more diverse and dense locales, The Isle of Armor will primarily engross players who enjoyed exploring the base game’s freeform Wild Area. The new non-playable characters are expressive and full of charm, too. However, the expansion is light on story, so its replayability highly depends upon players’ desire to explore. 

The Isle of Armor is a flight away from the main Galar continent’s Wedgehurst Station. Players immediately meet the poison trainer Klara in Sword or the psychic rival Avery in Shield and soon study at a dojo alongside a family of trainees. Players will battle, capture, and explore to complete trials and uncover the dojo’s secret. The journey is ultimately straightforward, familiar, and lighthearted, but it is nonetheless entertaining.

The journey is aesthetically pleasing as the island is more diverse than the base game’s Wild Area. There are dense forests, marshlands, and wonderful cliff-side vistas. These environments lead to non-linear exploration and discovery that allow players to stray from the objective. I immediately deviated off the designated path and rode my bike out into the ocean in a hunt for loot. The base game is comparatively restrained at first, so this is a welcome difference. There are plenty of captivating audio tracks as well. The new battle songs are quite moving, and you can freely select them later on.

The Isle of Armor also features over a hundred returning Pokémon, which is an all-star selection spanning the previous seven generations. A few rotate with the daily changing weather in a sensible fashion. Randomly respawning NPCs helpfully point players towards Pokémon they have not seen, so they will never feel lost as they hunt for new Pokémon. In comparison, sometimes players had lasting Pokédex gaps in the base game. Pokémon descriptions in the Pokédex are usually pretty over-the-top and sensationalist, but these new entries go really over the edge. They are practically worth the cost of admission. Sometimes there are some fun references to other members of the same evolutionary line.

Being an expansion, The Isle of Armor can occasionally feel oddly integrated into the main game. The game has a separate Isle of Armor dex with its own numbering order, which is handy. However, these new Pokédex numbers do not show up in the storage boxes or on the save screen, which feels strange. The game balance is seemingly based off end-game levels from the main adventure. Players have likely leveled up their team over the past few months, so the general expansion balance may feel a bit odd if players seek fair fights with enemy Trainers.

The island provides replayability even after players wrap up the story. There are 151 Alolan Digletts to locate across the entire map. These can be tricky to find as their little hair tufts blend into the surrounding environment. Reaching thresholds allows players to receive some pretty solid rewards. However, completing the entire scavenger hunt is a bit of an endurance run, and some additional pointers may have mitigated some of the haphazardness along the way.  

Another expansion highlight is how it expands Pokémon mechanics. Some new moves take advantage of terrain, which leads to some new team compositions. More treasure hunting digging NPCs are also present. They can dig for Armorite Ore, which allows players to teach moves, reset Pokémon training, or find more Watts. These Watts are an existing currency that can be used to acquire items, and they can now be used to expand the expansion’s Dojo. The process of acquiring and spending Watts is now more of an empowering diversion than before.

Players can also combine items into a new one, but the implementation is a mixed bag. Players can talk to an NPC to acquire new recipes, but these are shown one dialogue box at a time and there is no way to “recall” earlier recipes. Combining resources can also result in random Poké Balls too, which can be a bit underwhelming. However, a handful of recipes lead to some astronomically powerful items that allow players to really tweak their team much easier than ever before. 

 

As one would imagine, the expansion will primarily please those who enjoyed the base game, especially those who enjoyed the Wild Area. The overall Pokémon Sword and Shield experience provides a “light” take on open-world mechanics that seamlessly fits Pokemon’s battling and catching formula. However, the execution still feels a bit dated. The lack of an on-screen minimap and compass make navigation a bit difficult. Furthermore, the few new Pokémon and Galarian forms are a bit of a downer, but the new inclusions like Kubfu are quite distinct and memorable. The length might be a sticking point for some, too. The main story scenario will likely only take players approximately 2-4 hours. However, catching everything and finding all of the collectibles can easily take over twenty hours. Ultimately, we wholeheartedly enjoyed The Isle of Armor expansion, and we are looking forward to seeing what the Crown Tundra brings next.

 

Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Isle of Armor Review
Pokemon Sword and Shield: Isle of Armor Review
The Isle of Armor compellingly builds on top of Pokemon Sword and Shield's experience, even if the main story scenario is rather brief. The new areas are diverse and fun to explore, and they will enthrall anybody who thoroughly enjoyed the base game's Wild Area.
Pros
Diverse areas to explore
Colorful roster of helpful NPC characters
Useful new features and moves for further tweaking players' Pokemon
Cons
Short story content
Relative lack of new Pokemon and forms
Process of exploration can feel a bit dated
3.5
3.5
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