And so a new generation of Pokémon comes out, the 8th and the moment it was announced the national dex weren’t in the game and thus you couldn’t get all basically 1000 Pokémon. Many choose to hate the game and just find every little thing to hate it more. But those people are the kind that compare it to Fallout 76, at which point they lost all credibility ( at no point can people steal everything you have in Pokémon due to a bug, or any of the other many MANY issues 76 has and keeps getting more of). So let’s look at the game and make a fair assessment at the first time a main line Pokémon game has been on home consoles.
Sword and Shield is the 8th generation of Pokémon so is coming in with a good chunk of brand new Pokémon around 80 in fact, plus continuing on from gen 7 are new regional forms. You have a very large chunk of new content all with the best graphics Pokémon has ever had (maybe not counting Pokkén but that’s a fighting game).
The Game is set in the Galar region which is based on the British Isles so while I was playing I was constantly looking out for references I recognized from all over. I was not disappointed. Very early on the female protagonist (default name Gloria) was shown wearing Scottish clothes and the internet fell in love with Scottish Pokémon trainer. We see a city built with red bricks and an industrial revolution look. Even the Pokémon reference these isles. We have ravens with a knight look. The mythical legendaries are wolves a species now extinct here, and how can we not mention Wooloo the most beloved Pokémon in years. At no point in the history of this franchise has a single Pokémon been so beloved so instantly as Wooloo.
The games plot revolves around you completing the Gym challenge to earn the right to face the so far unbeaten champ Leon. Gyms here are large stadiums all complete with their gym trainers and leaders having uniforms for that gym (even if you notice some have sponsorships) so another nice little reference to our sports stadiums.
The two big additions to this generation are Dynamaxing with all that’s related to it and the wild area. Dynamaxing is this generation’s equivalent of Mega Evolution and Z moves. It makes the Pokémon go gigantic for 3 turns and use special Dynamax moves. However this can only be done in special areas such as the gyms (all the gym leaders dynamax their final Pokémon) and in max raid battles. These are found in the wild area and have you and 3 other people (or npcs of… questionable quality) fight a dynamax Pokémon that you can all capture if you take it down. Certain Pokémon are also capable of Gigantimaxing which gives them a special form and different attacks when dynamaxed. However finding a Gigantimax Pokémon that isn’t currently part of a event is extremely rare so don’t get your hopes up (in fact it’s so rare its probably better to use an exploit to find one, and even then the catch rate isn’t great)
The wild area is the part of the game you will most likely spend most of your time in. This is a wide open area where Pokémon will just roam about and where you can find the dens that contain the max raid battles. The wild area is split into many different areas each of which will have different weather patterns and certain Pokémon will only appear in set locations during set weather patterns. I would often lose track of how long I would spend in the wild area, sometimes running back and forth between max raids sometimes just running about hunting. Oh and it’s not just the wild area Pokémon walk about in. As well as the classic long grass method Pokémon will now walk about in the Overworld too. This means there are in each route 2 lists of Pokémon from Grasses, one for Overworld, one for Random. All this makes the Pokémon world feel more alive than it ever has.
The human characters are much improved upon. Your player character has more customization options than ever before (though not size sadly) . There are many choices for hair both style and colour, and even different kinds of eyes you can give your character. The amount of clothes and varieties you can mix and match with. Each of the gyms give you their gym uniform after you beat them and can buy the ones that aren’t available in your game (Sword and Shield have some gyms only found in that game).
The NPCs are also at their best. Your rivals (of which there are 3) all have their own character arcs. The gym leaders are given more life than most previous gens and you’re able to find out more information about them from your trainer cards (a small collectable thing, you can make your own in the game too) . Some of the gym leaders have gotten a lot of attention in the fandom, especially Nessa and Bea. Some like Kabu have just so much personality in how they move (he walks like an old time footballer and even walks out onto the field with you like one, it’s the little things).
The post game is also a lot kinder to people as getting IV breeding or good natures isn’t as punishing as you can buy items that change the nature of Pokémon and raise stats if their IVs aren’t max. These items are acquired using battle points or BP that can be earned from the battle tower after becoming champion. This can be frustrating as you normally need a great team for these sort of things but you can get fairly far with just rental teams this time, meaning you can get the items needed to make your best team and go to those stages that even the well built rental teams can’t reach (FYI you need 6 consecutive wins in the tower to get the ability to check IVs so make sure to do that once you become champion).
The game is however not without its flaws. For the most part the story is really good thanks to the interactions with the rivals and gym leaders. A story of you trying to reach the top of a sport, a much more simple plot than others but very effective… UNTIL (spoiler warnings) someone clearly felt they needed to cram a villain into the plot and the most idiotic villain plot I’ve ever seen in a Pokémon game happens to lead us to the climactic battle against a legendary.
The battle against the legendary Eternatus is actually really good and vastly superior to many other climatic battles in the franchise BUT the explanation to get us there was so moronic. The other main issue comes with the online features. While yes you will see a drop in frame rate using online while in the wild area as you can now see other trainers going about, the main issue is the notifications not updating nearly enough. So many times did I suddenly see an interesting max raid battle being advertised only to find it got filled out ages before I was even notified it was available. This is made more annoying if you’re going after Gigantimax Pokémon that have a low chance to appear only on specific raid dens on rare encounters and even then have a low catch rate (as mentioned can’t blame people for using an exploit given they’re that rare).
However some interesting things happened while playing the game. Events both in game and manmade happened. For Christmas a bunch of people got together and made sure in surprise raids to trade rare or version exclusive Pokémon for new people that got the games for the holidays. Max raid event over New Years occurred which had a higher chance of finding a Shiny Magicarp (a reference to some Japanese custom no doubt) which also gave away a large number of nuggets. Even ongoing events that make certain Gmax Pokémon more likely to occur including some like Snorlax that don’t normally appear at all in game. Indeed I’ve had more fun with this Pokémon game than I have had with the franchise in a long time (plus first time I ever got a Shiny Pokémon outside of events, no it wasn’t the Magicarp one I mean a proper Shiny).
Is this the best Pokémon game? No I would say gen 5 is still the best. Is it the worst though? Erm.. no not by a long shot, it has its flaws yes and some people are right to be upset that a Pokémon they grew very attached to isn’t in the game. But it’s not a bad game, it could be better but it’s still a very enjoyable one, but come-on, is the lack of Bidoof really a bad thing?