For a creature named Slowpoke, you'd think that their movement speed would be inherently captured by their nomenclature. And yet, as three Galarian Slowpoke tear across the new Isle of Armor landscape, leaving literal dust trails in their wake, it's clear that this new expansion for Pokemon Sword and Shield isn't playing by all of the normal rules.
Arriving on June 17, the Pokemon Sword and Shield Isle of Armor expansion takes us to a new locale focused on growth, where battling and training are key to the story. Later this year, the Crown Tundra expansion will be the one to focus on exploration, dialling in on adventure and discovery much more than the Isle of Armor release will this month. In practice, what that means is that the Isle of Armor's story revolves around a Pokemon training Dojo, that looks like the kind of place I'd imagined trainers would learn the ropes when I was a kid growing up playing the original games.
The Isle of Armor is based on the British location of the Isle of Man, but from an overview of the game the brief for the new locale seems to be less authentically English, more Isle of Man, but make it Japan. At the centre of the island sits the imposing Dojo, where it seems most of the story will revolve around, and elsewhere you'll see the pagoda that Kungfu seemingly aligns itself with. Aside from these points of interest, Isle of Armor feels like quite a hollow place. There's plenty of variety in the landscape, but it's missing the kind of charm that makes the locations of the main game so memorable – from the glowing mushrooms of Ballonlea to the cutesy English countryside quirks of Wedgehurst. I did appreciate seeing a Wailord dominating the ocean horizon, but I think Isle of Armor may struggle to develop any of its own visual identity outside of the expansion's story.
Honey and Mustard
Speaking of story, you're welcomed to this place as the latest new recruit to the Dojo, although it seems (as there has a tendency to in video games) there's been a bit of a mixup. Regardless, Honey – the lady who keeps the Dojo running – encourages you to join up and introduces you to the Dojo Master himself, a wisened old gentleman by the name of Mustard.
You can already tell by the salad dressing-themed names that developer Game Freak has clearly had some fun with this expansion. If you've finished Pokemon Sword or Pokemon Shield, you'll know that after the credits roll, there's some hilariously bizarre endgame content involving two characters with seriously wacky hair. Even from watching a playthrough of the first 30 minutes of the Isle of Armor expansion, you can tell that this is a story that's going to learn more into the weird, wonderful world of Pokemon than almost anything that's come before.
Take your new rival for example. In our watch-through of Isle of Armor, we were seeing the Pokemon Sword version, and so the new nemesis is Klara, a poison-type trainer who might be one of the most annoying characters in Pokemon history. In terms of overall vibe and poise, she's 100% channelling the K-Pop scene, but underneath all the sickly sweetness, there's a little too much Shakespearean monologuing for my liking.
In fact, overexaggerated characters is a little bit of a theme for Isle of Armor. Honey and Mustard included, this is a strange gaggle of characters that you're going to love to see. The cast of Pokemon and people are definitely going to stay with us for quite some time.
But it's not all about the story, which I won't spoil for you here, as there are some new gameplay tweaks and improvements that you'll be able to take advantage of in the Isle of Armor too. On your journey to nab yourself the Dojo's secret armor, and whatever lies beyond you'll get some fancy new additions like an Experience Charm to focus XP gain into a specific, single Pokemon in your party, or unique Amorite Ore that lets your squad learn new moves.
Handily, you can dive into the Isle of Armor content from any point in the story in the main game, as long as you've reached the Wild Area. The game will scale battles and Wild Area 'mon accordingly, meaning you don't have to be post-Leon battle to get involved in what the expansion has to offer.
However, as much as offering an expansion pass is an interesting idea, and a novel one for the series as a whole, I'm not entirely sure whether the Isle of Armor will do enough to excite fans at this stage. I obviously haven't seen the entire story, but what I have seen is fun and very silly indeed. It's the repetition elsewhere in the Wild Area that may lack the dazzle and excitement you'd hope for in a new area – especially one that comes behind a paywall.