The release of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s second DLC expansion, The Crown Tundra, marks the first time in a long time I felt mildly challenged by a Pokemon game. It returns a little bit of difficulty to a series that really needs it.
For the last few generations, if you know how Pokemon is played, you can essentially sleepwalk your way through nearly everything the main Pokemon games have offered. The Crown Tundra isn’t a shift towards something exciting in terms of difficulty, but it does force you to use your brain, which is a nice change.
Unlike Isle of Armor’s tropical paradise, The Crown Tundra drops you in an icy tundra where one small town of Freezington exists. It’s filled with older people, who are the last of a generation trying to make living in harsh conditions work.
This sets the stage for the main story of The Crown Tundra. Upon arriving at Freezington, you’ll team up with an over-enthusiastic explorer by the name of Peony. He’s exploring the region and trying to learn about local legendary Pokemon, one of which is the legend of a Pokemon that was once known as the King of Bountiful Harvest, AKA Calyrex.
Calyrex, heavily featured in promotional material for The Crown Tundra, is that king. The legends are real, and it did once benevolently rule and support the people in this region with its ability to make crops grow no matter what, but over the years, the people have lost their faith in it, and thus, its power has waned.
You can see where this is heading. The people need help growing food, Calyrex needs people to believe in it, and that’s where you come in to help out.
What’s interesting about the structure of The Crown Tundra, though, is that it’s a bit more open-ended. Calyrex’s legend is just one of many that you can pursue in any order you wish.
If you wanted to solve the mystery behind all of the Regi Pokemon temples first, you can. There are also the three new Galar forms for the Kanto legendary bird trio, which are scattered all about the Galar region and are as elusive as ever.
Or you can go around and search for evidence for the Swords of Justice Unova trio, Cobalion, Terrakion, and Virizion, via footprints scattered around The Crown Tundra.
And, for the record, all of these Pokemon I just mentioned are tough to catch. I’m talking old-school legendary Pokemon battles. Bring your Ultra Balls, Timer Balls, and sleepers.
All of this makes the Wild Area of The Crown Tundra far more interesting and lively as compared to the Isle of Armor. Isle of Armor mostly just heaped a massive new Wild Area onto Sword & Shield without much do in it after beating the story.
I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed going underground in the new Dynamax Adventures even more than going hunting for legendaries above ground.
I’m not a fan of dynamaxing and Pokemon dens. Even when they were fresh concepts at the start of this generation, I was lukewarm towards them both, and by the time I finished Isle of Armor, I was completely over it.
Dynamax Adventures, though, is just the jolt of creativity Dynamaxing and Max Raid Battles needed to get people like me to give it another try.
Dynamax Adventures allows you to go online and team up with three other players to fight in a gauntlet of Max Raid battles, and at the end of the road will be a powerful legendary Pokemon that you can catch.
After each battle, you and your team will vote on which path to take, which decides what type of Pokemon you will fight. This gives you more control over your experience than just wishing at dens hoping you get something good.
What I really loved about this mode is that you can’t bring your own Pokemon. You must rent one from a list, and along the way, you can replace weak or weakened Pokemon with ones you catch while exploring the Den.
You only are allowed four KOs total before you’re thrown out of the adventure. Since the legendary at the end is usually a tough fight, you’ll want to head into it with no KOs ideally.
This restriction forces players to think and strategize. Let’s say your team is full of Fire types, and you can choose a path that is either Grass or Electric. The quick answer would be to pick the Grass-type for the easy win, obviously. However, if the legendary you’re up against is a Flying-type, maybe you consider going for the Electric-type instead to pick up a powerful new ally.
Dynamax Adventures is fun; it’s unique, it’s challenging, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s rewarding. It’s a home run game mode that The Crown Tundra really needed to add for Sword and Shield’s long term health.
Dynamax Adventures and the avalanche of legendary Pokemon all out and about in The Crown Tundra alone would have made this a pretty solid Pokemon expansion, but the cherry on top is the Galarian Star Tournament.
The Galarian Star Tournament allows you to team up with old friends and foes to compete in a series of doubles Pokemon matches structured like a bracketed tournament. Your reward is lots of Pokedollars and other assorted items which gives the event some value as a Pokedollar farming event.
It’s not quite what I wanted from a gameplay perspective. I had hoped it’d be more of a challenge, and it’s not. However, it makes up for that somewhat with the character interactions that are common throughout the tournament.
You can pair up with just about anyone from Sword and Shield’s story, and the ones you don’t choose will also pair up in unique ways. Seeing all of the characters interact with each other is a treat and is probably the most screen time story characters have ever received after a Pokemon game is complete.
In addition to all of the flashy new stuff, there’s of course the little things. The Crown Tundra is arguably the most beautiful locale in all of Galar. The music is absolutely fantastic, and of course, it’s always nice to see more older Pokemon be allowed to cross over the Galar border.
Does The Crown Tundra completely reinvent Pokemon Sword and Shield and right everything that has dragged the series down in recent years? No, it doesn’t do that. In fact, at its core, it’s still just more of Sword and Shield.
However, it does at least augment the core gameplay experience of Sword and Shield in some really interesting ways through Dynamax Adventures and with Wild Areas being packed with more things to do and see.
These efforts seen in The Crown Tundra make up for the disappointment that was Isle of Armor and leaves Sword and Shield’s expansion pass off on a positive note.
Reviewer: Ed McGlone | Award: Editor’s Choice
- Dynamax Adventures are rewarding and challenging.
- The Crown Tundra Wild Areas have far more to do and see.
- Music and visuals are on-point.
- Open-ended story format works out well.
- Galarian Star Tournament a bit of a letdown from a gameplay perspective.
- More Galarian forms would have been nice.
- With a significant chunk of Pokemon still being left out, it’s a bit of legendary overload.
Oct. 23, 2020