Announced in February 2019, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, the newest installments of the Pokémon main-series games, have arrived. Having spent a few hours playing through the game, it's very reminiscent of the traditional style of Pokémon that many of us know and love, mixed with a number of next-gen updates and improvements. As someone that's been a fan of the series since as far back as I can remember, I was extremely excited to get started with this brand new adventure.
The first big change that players will see is how wild encounters are handled. There now exist two types of encounters per route, with two separately handled lists of the types of creatures you can encounter. In addition, most of the wild encounters you can have will comprise of Pokémon appearing in the over-world, allowing you to see which creature you'll encounter. This way, you can tailor your catching experiences to certain Pokémon for whatever reasons you see fit. This adds life to the world, something that's been lacking in recent installments.
The main meat of this game and the part that fans are most excited for is the Wild Area. The Wild Area is a massive, semi-open world section of the map, brimming with both new and familiar Pokémon for you to encounter. The Wild Area is divided into a number of zones, each with its own independent weather. Going from one zone that has constant snow and hail, to another zone that experiences near-constant thunderstorms feels a lot like living in Michigan and I appreciate this added touch of realism.
This area is also home to the new Max Raid Battles, which act as opportunities to add new and powerful members to your team early in the game. These raids can be challenged either alone or with a team of up to three friends and puts on full display the game's new Dynamaxing feature, which just makes the Pokémon bigger. It's not too in-depth but it can increase a Pokémon's power immensely, which adds to the fun and excitement of battles.
Even the gym battles, one of the main story elements of most Pokémon games, have received overhauls allowing for a number of new experiences. The first gym you come across begins with a herding challenge, requiring you to spend time herding sheep Pokémon in order to challenge the Gym's leader. These challenges have been consistently fun, however, the gym battles themselves aren't nearly as fun or interesting, especially as the Wild Area produces more experience points in the early game than your team can handle, almost guaranteeing that every player will be over-leveled by the third gym.
As mentioned before, the game is brimming with new features and it's no surprise not all managed to deliver. One huge issue I've encountered with the Max Raid system is that these Raid Battles only refresh after all currently active Max Raids have been cleared, which makes the process of hunting for specific ones feel tedious. In addition, having the Switch connected to the internet while playing (something the game recommends you do) causes the game's performance to drop, especially in the Wild Area where the game displays other players who are in the Wild Area as you in real time. For this reason I spend most of my time with the game set to "local communication" to mitigate this weak performance.
The game also restricts the player from catching Pokémon over a certain level in the Wild Area, however, the game does nothing to prevent these higher-level monsters from spawning. This gives you the option of battling these extremely powerful Pokémon, furthering the over-leveling issue mentioned earlier.
Overall, the game is a pleasant return to a franchise I've enjoyed for years. The Wild Area, despite its many issues, provides a unique experience for fans old and new and places on display the full power of the Nintendo Switch console. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are available now, wherever games are sold.
Echo grade: B+