For the first few hours of Pokemon Sword and Shield, it looked like Game Freak had made the Pokemon game I'd always dreamed about. As my trainer took his first steps into Galar, I couldn’t help but grin as I got stuck behind a flock of waylaid Wooloo, guffaw at the screen-filling new battle animations or marvel at the stadium crowds cheering on each gym match. It all felt refreshingly cinematic - and for a Pokemon nerd like me, genuinely exciting. Was this the Pokemon RPG that would finally live up to the rich world of the anime?
Sadly though, as this British-inspired journey started to unfold, Pokemon’s first HD outing swiftly started to lose the charm its opening salvo so gleefully exuded. Gone was any pretence of an open world, replaced instead by an ‘exploration’ loop so linear it would make Final Fantasy 13's creative director blush.With little exploration on offer and disappointingly easy battles, it soon became clear that Sword and Shield were lacking the most important part of any Pokemon game – its sense of adventure.
Now, a year after Sword and Shield's release, Pokéfans find themselves presented with a two-part peace offering. While some players weren’t exactly wowed by the middling first expansion, The Isle of Amor, thankfully, this second DLC largely atones for the unholiest of the base game's sins. How? By finally bringing the series’ sense of awe and adventure to the Galar region. While I don’t want to spoil everything that awaits you in the Crown Tundra, I do want to give lapsed players a little taste. Without further ado then, here are five things that any Pokemaniac absolutely needs to do in Galar’s very own winter wonderland.
1. Take the time to explore
The first thing that becomes apparent as you trudge through the snowy fields of the Crown Tundra, is that wandering across these chilly locales feels genuinely exciting. This time around, trainers are free to roam a surprisingly large and well-connected region fairly early on.
In fact, it's the first time in Sword and Shield where I've really enjoyed (and felt able) to take the time to explore. Tasked with tracking down various legendary Pokemon littered around GameFreak’s take on Snowcapped Scotland, this is an adventure where you’re almost always left to your own devices. With only small clues to guide you and little interruption from dad-joke-totting NPCs, this frozen fairytale plays host to all manner of hidden items, a delightful selection of cross-generational ‘mon and even a few smidgens of interesting lore.
The Crown Tundra is a surprisingly diverse and well-populated region too, making a refreshing change from the wild area in the first game, which can only really be described as a woefully bland safari park. As you roam the (undoubtedly Breath Of The Wild influenced) Crown Tundra with little human contact, it really feels as though you are exploring a strange and untamed region. The best part about these new snowy surroundings? This region is so large and interwoven that I actually found myself getting lost en route to a quest several times. Take THAT, linear paths.
2. Rediscover the joy of catching Pokemon
This may sound like an incredibly obvious tip, but I rediscovered my love for catching Pokemon in the Crown Tundra. Home to a diverse selection of ‘mon from every generation, for the first time in a console generation, I found myself actively wanting to catch as many Pokemon as possible - an itch that I couldn't be bothered to scratch in the dull wild areas of the base game.
Unlike the dojo-led Isle of Armor, the Crown Tundra has barely any trainer battles to be had. Instead, you will find yourself engaging in some of the most exciting and varied wild encounters in the series to date. I found myself regularly wanting to explore every corner of a cave or small unassuming bit of grass, wondering exactly what weird and wonderful creatures were waiting for me.
It helps, of course, that the selection of Pokemon on offer in the Crown Tundra is absolutely brilliant. The creatures you'll encounter roaming the frosted paths of the Crown Tundra are many of the type of badass Pokemon that die hard trainers would want to see. From Kabutops to Riolu, Milotic to Tyrantrum, this winter weirdoland features many ‘mon who frustratingly didn't make the cut in the base game, letting you catch some of the franchise's coolest and cookiest creatures. And that is before we even start talking about all the legendaries that await. TLDR: Pokemon are actually brilliant, and now catching them is genuinely a ton of fun again. Who’d have guessed?
3. Don’t forget to follow the footprints
As you travel across the land, searching far and wide (for those sweet legendary Pokemon and the power that’s inside) it’s incredibly easy to look across the horizon and miss what’s happening under your shoes. No, we’re not talking about frostbite. If you do take the time to look at every dirty footprint beneath your feet, you may just be rewarded with the chance to catch a tasty trio of legendary Pokemon…
OK, I know that tracking footprints isn’t nearly as exciting as the mainline legendary quests, and I won’t blame you for doing it last. But trust me, you won’t want to miss out on these three mysterious ‘mon. Plus finding all the footprints keeps Professor Sonia happy, and I feel like she kind of deserves that in 2020, don’t you?
4. Solve the clues and track down the legendary Pokemon
As I’ve already alluded, this DLC is all about celebrating the big bads of the Pokemon universe – the legendaries. Catching them is, of course, the main event in the Crown Tundra. While I don’t really want to give away what Pokemon you’ll be tracking (or how you’ll meet them), it’s all pretty cool stuff. Admittedly, some of the ‘puzzles’ that initially need to be solved are embarrassingly simplistic and feel a little half-baked, but when this DLC takes you across such wonderfully untouched and comfortingly calm surroundings, it’s hard to complain.
As I’ve mentioned, this is very much a story-lite DLC when compared to its predecessor, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any cinematic moments here. Let’s just say that there is one absolutely incredible cutscene involving a giant tree that wisely puts the Pokemon front and centre in a display so epic you’ll be thrusting your Zapdos plushie in the air. More of this in the future please, Game Freak.
5. Do at least one Dynamax adventure
OK, I’ll level with you – Dynamax adventures make the list largely because I’m struggling to find five points, and because technically, you do need to do at least one. For my money, this DLC’s main selling points are the brilliant new Pokemon you get to catch, and the appealing new open spaces to explore. In other words, these raid-esque challenges are fine, but weren’t a highlight from my visit to the Crown Tundra. Still, they’re a major new addition, so I’ll explain them anyway. Building upon the fairly dull Dynamax battles littered across the base game’s wild area, Dynamax Adventures reimagines raids as a mini multiplayer dungeon crawler.
These missions see you forming a team of four trainers (with either fellow humans or NPCs) to explore a cavern known as the Max Lair. In an interesting twist, each trainer can only take one Pokemon with them – and that lone ‘mon won’t be one of your own. In a bizarre ‘borrow my doggy’ style twist, you will have to choose a partner from a random selection of ‘loan’ Pokemon. Once you’ve picked your companion, you and your team will venture into the cavern, voting on which different branching path to take. Why does it matter? Well that all comes down to what you want to battle, as one path may contain a ghost type Pokemon, for example, the other a grass type, etc.
It’s a bit of an odd set up, really, but it does allow you to step outside your Pokécomfortzone. It’s a mode that forces you into battling with Pokemon that usually stay imprisoned in your boxes - and most importantly, a legendary ‘mon awaits at the end. These little raids also happen to have a surprisingly high shiny Pokemon spawn rate, so there’s always that going for them.
Dynamax Adventures are an interesting new addition then, but more of a side dish than the main event. Yet when you’re guaranteed to get a legendary every time, you will really want to return to these once you’ve beaten the main story.