After months of allowing my digital copy of Pokemon Shield to metaphorically gather dust in my collection of games, I have finally returned to explore the latest DLC release of Crown Tundra. And I have some thoughts about it.

To provide some context, I have completed all of the main quests and have filled the DLC Pokedex to the max of 210 entries (getting Glastrier for that last entry was a pain). Having spent maybe ten hours in this DLC, I can honestly say that this additional entry is *probably* the strongest improvement and accompaniment to the base game; some caveats aside.  

First thing’s first.

Game Freak have been kind of mediocre when it comes to being able to create an interesting, engaging, funny story and this DLC doesn’t really do much to improve that reputation. The characters it does introduce have their own set roles and hardly have a character arc but are at least sitting on the quirky side of annoying, in contrast to the main rivals in Isle of Armour, who were largely irritating. Former gym leader Peony and his daughter are the main additions to this story, which shortly after the latter bounces off to do their own thing, you set off on an adventure with the charismatic trainer to find the legendary Pokémon scattered across the island.

There are three main mysteries that we need to solve, equally spread across the land with clues hand drawn by Peony to lead us down the right path. They’re not the trickiest to complete but the presentation for each each task is actually very charming and has some offbeat humour. Some of the cutscenes are actually quite polished and I wish Gamefreak pushed the boat out more like this in the base game.

Just two dudes, hunting for mystical horses

Perhaps what truly helps instead of hinders this DLC is that none of the NPCs in this DLC hang around too much to bother you. They basically hand over the clues to solve each mystery and then basically ask you to get to it. This trust in the player to figure things out themselves and have some restraint in terms of hand holding is actually refreshing and made exploration of this new region very enjoyable.

The only legendary task that I felt was a bit slow and the antithesis of my previous point was actually the most dialogue heavy one, which involves catching the Legendary God of harvest, the grass-psychic Pokémon called Calyrex. It’s a long drawn out story about recovering the belief in a waning God and their dual type steed. It is a task full of unskippable monologues and constant fetch quests that slow down the pace of the game, and the dialogue written for Calyrex is really monotonous and a bit grating. What you get from it is the aforementioned Calyrex and one of two types of steed, depending on where you complete a task (one is ghost and the other is ice); both Pokemon are capable of fusing with Calyrex to make a new dual type.

Like with every God, we have to manage some big-headed egos.. (The new Legendary grass-psychic Pokemon, Calyrex)

The remaining two tasks are essentially a treasure hunt for two sets of three mythical Pokémon spread across the map. Those are the Regi trio, with one of two additional new Regi types, and the elemental bird trio of Zapdos, Moltres and Articuno. The latter group have been re-designed and provided new dual-types to match the Galar region (flying-fighting, flying-dark and flying-psychic). The birds are the trickiest to catch, only because you have to find them and then chase them down by cutting them off as they fly their pre-determined routes around areas of the map.

In companion to the main story, we are introduced to an expansion of the Dynamax battles in the form of Max Lairs, a series of randomised type-based branching tunnels that eventually lead to a big battle against a legendary monster from previous generations. There are a maximum of four lives (or KOs) per run in each raid and each partner Pokemon is chosen from a bank of pre-selected Pokemon types capped at the same level, so the barrier to entry is low for everyone involved. After each round, you have the choice to swap out your partner for the defeated Pokemon before you choose the next branch of the lair to advance.

I loved how it forced me to abandon the Pokemon that I caught and used in every battle and it made me switch up to use strategies that I may have never considered. Each Pokemon that I saw had a range of type moves taught to them, so they always seemed to offer different solutions to type disadvantages that you may find along the way. Status changes, PP usesage and HP carry over from battle to battle, so if you aren’t cautious and are trying to use an advantageous move in the final battle, you have to think two or three battles ahead. There had been some battles where my Pokemon had hardly any advantages over an opponent, so I had to change my strategy to a healing, stat boost role to help my teammates win.

The limitation of lives and with hardly any places to heal up in lieu of rare randomised Pokemon swaps, brings a lot of jeopardy and strategy to each game. I found that in comparison to a lot of the AI teammates in the past from Dynamax battles in the base game, I thought my teammates in the max lair often made competent decisions each turn and rarely spammed stat boost moves in tight pinches. So for people whose internet connection may not be the most stable to look fight online, it’s actually not a terrible idea to fight in a local battle crew.

At the end of each raid, even if you didn’t catch the legendary Pokémon, there was always a reward in the form of exchangeable ore and an ability to take note of any legendaries you faced and take home one Pokémon you used along the way. On top of selecting from a list that includes some Pokemon that can be found in the wild area, there is also a chance to find an evolution of one of the three Hoenn starters as a potential partner, which is a nice surprise to any raid.

Another set of bird Pokemon to add to the skwaaa-d

Putting aside the narrative elements of the DLC, Crown Tundra provides arguably the best iteration of this generation’s wild area and extends the pokedex to allow for a large chunk of fan favourite Pokémon to join your journey. While there were some Pokemon I didn’t have any familiarity with due to skipping some generations, the vast majority of the Pokemon they have added are the ones that I missed the most, and I can confidently say the same for a lot of other fans too. With the exception of Gen 4, almost every standout is accounted for; almost all of the powerful dragon Pokemon from each gen have been carried over, the Metagross evolutions, and three sets of fossils have been included in this update, among many others.

The geographic region these Pokemon occupy are varied and have interesting and distinctive themes, with the Crown Shrine held inside a cavernous snowy cathedral in the steep north and the vividly colourful Dyna tree residing at the tropical foot of the map. Rivers twist and turn into spidery caves and sombre graveyards add gloomy atmosphere on the slopes. When researching information for this review, I discovered that the map is supposed to be based geographically on Scotland, which I suppose tracks because the weather is pretty terrible 75% of the time.

The aforementioned Dyna Tree does a lot of the heavy lifting for adding a touch of colour to the new Crown Tundra region

As much as I have complimented the region and the overall design of the wildlands, it does bring to focus a pretty glaring issue with navigation: the map is so inaccurate in comparison to most open world games. Due to the nature of the terrain that has many forks in the road to split off to the various regions, it would seriously help if the map told me exactly where I was and I how I was to navigate to these road turns. I’d look at the map and it would suggest I would need to cycle to the top left edge to turn to go up the slope for example, but after five minutes of roughly moving in that direction, I’d find myself at a completely different end of the map. With such verticality to account for, the map also does a poor job of explaining what part is inaccessible due to a cliff or not – if Gamefreak are committed to an open exploration map, they need to improve navigation. Thankfully, most of the pain in the latter stages of the DLC is eliminated once it adds fast travel points in each of the main corners.

As I wrap up this review, I’m not even including the 6+ additional hidden Pokemon you could find during exploration as part of the DLC quest, or the partner duels that have been added to Wyndon stadium. There’s loads of small things to keep ticking you over.

Looking back and comparing this DLC to the one before, a lot of what I said in the first DLC review largely holds true. I think similar to Isle of Armour, Crown Tundra moves Pokemon Sword and Shield closer to the vision of what fans and the developer wanted, with some minor issues still left standing. If you genuinely wanted to find some reason to play Pokemon Sword and Shield again, this will probably offer something to keep you going, at least for a little while. While cumulatively the DLCs have two pokedexes that total 420 entries (blaze it), probably about 300 of which are returning additions, there’s still plenty of hours to sink into catching, evolving and training Pokemon. If you liked the Dynamax raids, they’ve offered something which is a lot of fun and adds some strategy to spice things up. They’ve introduced four (or seven if you include the Galar variants) completely new Pokemon to this universe too. The wild area is great, if not a bit hard to navigate, and the story has enough charm to paper over some underwriting.

Should you buy the DLC pass right now, is the money worth it? That depends due to the reasons that I have given above. Neither DLC drastically improves the things that people hated, but they do provide plenty of what people loved to tempt a return.

FINAL SCORE

 

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