RELEASED: June 17th 2020
PUBLISHED BY: The Pokémon Company & Nintendo
DIRECTED BY: Shigeru Ohmori
PRODUCED BY: Junichi Masuda, Hitoshi Yamagami & Takanori Sowa
WRITTEN BY: Toshinobu Matsumiya
ART BY: James Turner & Suguru Nakatsui
MUSIC BY: Minako Adachi & Go Ichinose

In years past, Pokémon would release their main games, then follow them up with a special third edition. Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Crystal, Pokémon Emerald, Pokémon Platinum. The ultimate versions of the core games; where you could do anything the base games offered up, and more. However, in recent years, that’s fallen by the wayside.

Generation V gave us sequels to Black and White, rather than an ‘ultimate edition’. X & Y‘s generation never really seemed finished. And Sun and Moon released two new editions, which defeats the point in some ways.

Now, it appears, the ‘ultimate’ edition is dead. In it’s place? Expansions.

As far as we know, the expansion pass for Pokémon Sword & Shield will only have two DLC batches, the first of which; The Isle of Armor, released on Wednesday just gone.

I started a new game in anticipation of this, and fortunately, that paid off, because one of the main things The Isle of Armor has going for it is that the levels of the Pokémon you encounter and the trainers that occupy the island scale (albeit crudely) to your progress. So if you’ve completed the game and you want to jump back in, you can, or if you’re starting fresh, and want to play the expansion alongside the main game, that is also possible.

The new story chapter, while brief, is a fun little detour from the happenings on mainland Galar, inviting you to meet kooky characters like Mustard, Avery and Klara. Alongside them, you’re also introduced to the new legendary Pokémon Kubfu, who you’re tasked with training up to his powerful evolution Urshifu.

Outside of Kubfu, Urshifu and the new Galarian variants of Slowpoke and its evolutions though, that’s it for new Pokémon, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Instead, the position of ‘new Pokémon’ is taken up by returning favourites who didn’t quite make the cut in the main game, and while it’s great to be able to explore this island where forgotten Pokémon roam, it does act as a bitter reminder of what the original game left out.

Similarly, exploring the titular Isle of Armor – the entire island a giant ‘Wild Area’ – reminds you of the failings of the main game. The best addition to Generation VIII is these vast open-world spaces, where wild Pokémon roam freely, truly making this feel like a world full of life. Watching Pokémon randomly potter about, fly through the air or swim through the water is a joy unto itself. Similarly, the ability to let your own Pokémon follow you around the Isle of Armor (a la Yellow, HeartGold, SoulSilver and Let’s Go!) is welcome, and exploring the different subsets of the island with you partners really helps nail that feeling of being a Pokémon trainer… a feeling that should have come in Sword & Shield.

I’m not saying Sword & Shield or the Isle of Armor is bad. I enjoyed (/am still enjoying) both experiences.

But with the Isle of Armor expansion pack, Game Freak shows that they are perfectly capable of delivering a game closer to what Pokémon should be, given time. Open world. Free-roaming Pokémon. Partners who feel like partners. A complete roster.

But due to their weird development choices (rushed production?), we instead have to settle for something lesser.

Sure, this game – both the expansion and the base game – are fun. They make the Pokémon world feel alive and full of endless possibility. But at the end of the day, the expansion serves as a reminder of why the franchise continues to suffer in the eyes of its longtime fans.

(Bringing some more of my old teams back to play with online is pretty dope though. One day they’ll all be with me again).

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