The Wild Area Brings a Whole New and Refreshing Experience
Max Raid Battles are Challenging and Rewarding
Enough Catching Content to Keep You Playing for Hours
Lack Of A Proper Story
Could Do With Some Voice Acting
Since Red and Blue up till Sun and Moon I’ve played at least one of the two main line Pokémon games. I skipped Ultra Sun and Moon mostly due to franchise fatigue, so getting back into Sword and Shield was a little worrying in terms of whether I’d complete the game. Especially with all the negativity plaguing the game pre-release.
And all I can say is after 50 over hours of playing, I really do love the game and am reinvigorated to continue following the ever so popular Pocket Monster collecting series.
After spending some time in the region of Galar, which takes architectural and cultural inspiration from England, roaming the Wild Area, having a few Max Raid Battles and taking on gym battles in straight up soccer stadiums, I can safely say Sword and Shield is a very refreshing take on the series and one of the best Pokémon games I’ve played in a while–although it does have its own set of issues.
The biggest ‘issue’ was the removal of the National Pokédex. This meant that out of the 890 Pokémon that currently exist, only 400 are available in the games with no way to obtain the other 490. I get that this would tick off a lot of people, especially because they might not be able to use their favourite monster from previous games. But that said, I really love the fact that they cut the roster. This opens up the opportunity for casual and semi-casual players to actually try completing the Pokédex.
Previously, completing the Pokédex was such a daunting task that you were required to have played previous games, caught all of those Pokémon, and traded them over to ensure you have each and every one of them every time a new game came out.
With the removal of the National Pokédex I definitely had a lot more fun catching them all knowing that I could get every Pokémon within these two games.
The Wild Area is also a very wonderful new addition to the series with various Pokémon roaming around an ever-changing weather landscape. You can also encounter Pokémon way stronger than you that might just obliterate your current team altogether.
The Wild Area brings a sense of actual Pokémon hunting as some Pokémon only appear during specific weather conditions and only in certain parts of the Wild Area. The fact that you can also see them roaming around brings a greater sense of immersion to the game.
The Wild Area also brings Max Raid Battles which are like the Pokémon GO raid battles (but with 4 players) and it isn’t just tapping your phone screen repeatedly. In the Max Raid Battles, you fight a Dynamaxed Pokémon (essentially a giant Pokémon) and try to take its HP down to 0 to catch it. The interesting thing is that you, too, could Dynamax one Pokémon in your party for 3 turns. These have certain benefits but need to be timed properly to optimise its use.
Max Raid battles definitely bring a strategic element to gameplay and encourages more team play with friends. On top of this, you can catch rare Pokémon through these raids and, if you play online, you could also get version exclusive Pokémon from the opposing game. This would mean you might not even need to trade all the version exclusive Pokémon to complete the Pokédex!
The over-the-top gym battles in soccer stadiums is also a plus point to the game. Much like the scene in the Detective Pikachu movie, Gym battles take place in front of all the fans with chanting and the ability to amaze the crowd by Dynamaxing your Pokémon. This changes the status quo of “fight and defeat gym leader in enclosed building with no one to watch your achievement” to a more epic and dynamic one.
Camping is also now a thing to get closer to your Pokémon with the option to cook curry for them to eat which, again, enhances the immersion.
The graphics of the game to me is very much the style of Pokémon and I have no issues with it although it does have some weird texturing and occasional frame rate drops when you play online.
But I feel like these points are negligible as the Pokémon and the overall world still look great either way.
Gameplay is also very much streamlined, continuing with the removal of HMs and also allowing you to access your Pokémon Box from anywhere rather than just the Pokémon Center.
All that being said, the one thing really lacking in this game, surprisingly, is the story. Much like the previous games you go on an adventure to become the Pokémon League Champion and there’s some fishy business going on in the background throughout your journey. As for this game the fishy business is almost permanently in the background without having you to side track off your main quest right till the very end of the game where you’re hit with minimal exposition and you beat the ‘bad’ guys. There’s some post game content too, but it’s also very much lacking in story.
There’s also a surprising lack of Pokémon trainer battles. But that could be because the game wants you to move towards the ‘catching them all’ aspect to train your Pokémon. Especially since there’s an addition of the ability to gain experience points for your whole team when you defeat OR catch a Pokémon.
Moreover, I also think Game Freak should’ve added voice acting for the characters rather than watching them move their mouths with the same expression while you read the speech box.
Even if voice acting was out of the equation, they could’ve at least added a commentator for the gym battles like they did with the Nintendo Wii’s Pokémon Battle Revolution.
I mean with the already English theme and the soccer stadium motif set up, wouldn’t it be appropriate to have your Martin Tylers or Ray Hudsons going ‘What a perfectly timed Hydro Pump!’ or something like that?
Personally, I feel like Sword and Shield are great first entries to the console world and honestly most of the gripes I have are relatively minor other than the lack of story. But that being said, it feels like they’re probably going to release a second and more ‘complete’ version of the game in the near future–much like its predecessors.
These games are very much a definite pick up for those long time fans and even a great jumping on point for new players with the streamlined mechanics and ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ focused game play. I can honestly say it was a truly wonderful experience playing through this game.
Note: This review is mostly based off the gameplay of Pokémon Shield.