Dated Review - Pokemon Shield: The Isle of Armor

Dated Review - Pokemon Shield: The Isle of Armor

This week (and a little of last week) I've been taking a look at the downloadable content for the Isle of Armor. Pokemon represents a challenge to review fairly, on account of my personal biases of really enjoying turn-based tactics and having thick nostaglia goggles for Pokemon as a franchise.

When I reviewed Pokemon upon its release, I provided the game with some unashamedly soft press. If anyone had read it, there would've been plenty of online backlash (maybe) about ignoring the game's flaws and lavishing the game with undeserved praise. I knew it was wrong - and with the DLC on the horizon, I re-wrote the piece to try and present a more evened out review. I was critical, but fair.

The Isle of Armor is the first of two planned downloadable content chunks for Pokemon. The Crown Tundra is promised for late this year. Whatever that means. The two content packs are consolidated into a single forty-five dollar expansion pass. If you hate the Isle of Armor, maybe the Crown Tundra will bring you around.

I've often tried to conceal my opinion to bait my readers into consuming my entire wall of text. But I want to be very clear from the outset - this DLC does not deliver. It's overpriced, light on story content and the quality of life upgrades aren't enough to outweigh those flaws.

To be clear, $22.50 (the cost of just the Isle of Armor, in case math is a bridge too far) is almost the price of Firaxis Games' "War of the Chosen" DLC for XCOM 2 - which comes with new classes, new gameplay mechanics and is an entirely new game - almost. Pokemon doesn't get a look-in.

Special mention to the fact that Nintendo is selling two expansion passes - one for Sword and one for Shield. So if you're a maniac who bought both games (I know a few) you're now on the hook for $80 of DLC. At that point even a triple-A season pass looks better value. Absolutely disgusting. That's without mentioning the fact that it is possible to buy the wrong expansion pass, which some sources have suggested that Nintendo won't refund. That's closer to theft than providing a service people will want to use.

But if you're like me (a guillible sheep) and bought the double-pack anyway, what did you get? You got a new wild area filled with new pokemon, you get a chunk of new story, a new legendary pokemon and some quality of life changes for breeding mechanics. Twenty-two fifty.

Let's start with the good. The new wild area is well designed and laid out, but does require suspension of disbelief when in one part of the island it's raining and in the other there's a sandstorm. But I've always argued that the constant pursuit of realism in video games is a bit of a pisser. There's a wide open ocean area, some small caves, a lagoon - there's a variety of terrain to run around and explore. Again, it is a little small - I do wish there was more territory to run around in, as it's easy to have explored the entire area in maybe fifteen minutes.

Inside the wild area are approximately 200 pokemon from previous generations, reinserted into this area to be caught and traded. There's also some customisations for your rotom bike, so you can look like you're on your way to the BMX track and a minigame where you find 150 diglett, scattered over the island.

Just on the subject of Pokemon being re-added via DLC, I want to be very clear here. Nintendo are not selling old pokemon back to their audience. Yes, the DLC is expensive and yes, I don't think it justifies that price tag, but the suggestion that Pokemon are being sold back to consumers is a lie. At the time of the Isle of Armor update, Pokemon Sword and Shield were patched to allow the Pokemon in the DLC to be traded to those who didn't purchase the additional content. If you don't want to buy the content, you will still be able to acquire the additional Pokemon. They don't have to come from the Isle of Armor, either - if you had them in Pokemon Home, you can transfer them into Sword and Shield now.

Forgive the small diatribe, but I feel obliged to make sure that Nintendo is only on the hook for actual mistakes and poor decisions they make. I have had several correspondents with varying degrees of smugness, attempt to peddle that narrative. So yes, Pokemon.

In addition to a new wild area and access to two hundred pokemon from previous generations, there's a new small chunk of story. I say small, because it is exactly that - the whole thing can be polished off in a few hours. It's got the same middling writing as the main titles and has about the same level of satisfying payoff. That is to say, nothing. The story concerns the martial arts dojo on the Isle, where the former champion Leon once trained under another former champion, Mustard. The story isn't well written enough to be compelling and not long enough for you to become invested. The only thing I really remember is how far Master Mustard punches above his weight.

Your reward for completing the story is a small martial artist bear pokemon called Kubfu. It eventually evolves (depending on which tourist destination you visit) into a different pokemon with a style inherited from whichever tower you visited. The differences are minor. You're also not allowed into the other tower - not like it would've padded the game much anyway.

So we've explored the new wild area, met Master Mustard, got our legendary pokemon and completed the story. What's next?

Well, for those of you who are interested in mutliplayer, there's a little more. A new battle tower format, ways to clear your pokemon's hidden stats, secondary currency generation mechanics and cheap peptides for your pokemon, cutting down on time taken to make a pokemon 'perfect'. There is also the ability to give any compatible pokemon a gigantamax factor which significantly cuts down on fear of missing out - again, primarily for multiplayer. These are all good ideas, but they add little in terms of value to the core experience.

The Isle of Armor is a handful of good ideas packed into a small space. I enjoyed my time with it - but I enjoyed it because I like Pokemon and more Pokemon is something I like. It had an impossibly high bar to meet with such a significant price tag. So I'm not surprised that it didn't come anywhere near it. But this begs a philosophical question - would Sword and Shield still have been universally panned as a game if the two content packs promised this year had been included in the base game? Somehow, I don't think so.

Either way, we'll have to see what the Crown Tundra shows us. Or hope that Pokemon gets a better run in generation IX.

Catch you next time,
Vulkan

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Rowan Naveau

About Rowan Naveau

I'm Rowan (Vulkan) - and this is my blog. Here you'll find a stream of consciousness about video games, wargaming and just about everything else.