Flash your sparkling new ticket at Wedgehurst Station, catch the train and hail a Corviknight taxi to begin the next stage of your Pokémon adventure. Head away from the towering skyline of modern capital Wyndon and leave the towering castle walls of Hammerlocke behind. The Isle Of Armor offers a chance to get back to nature, a detox from the modern world, all for the same price as an off-peak single fare from London to Liverpool.
Expectation weighs heavy on the shoulders of ‘The Isle Of Armor’. Pokémon Sword and Shield were the most divisive games in the series to date, and players have been incredibly vocal about their grievances, especially online.
The Pokémon Company announced that the ‘Isle Of Armor’, the first of two DLCs available for Sword and Shield, would be focused on “growth”. The ‘Crown Tundra’, coming in autumn, will push exploration to the fore. You’ll get to traverse the icy, Scotland-inspired mountains of the latter towards the end of the year, but for now, you’re taking a trip to the Isle Of Armor. Or should that be the Isle Of Man?
Much like the small, British island it takes inspiration from, the Isle Of Armor is not densely populated. In fact, there are only three buildings on the entire archipelago, and Dojo Master Mustard hogs the only TV so nobody else even knows you’re the Champion. While the DLC is accessible to anyone who has played more than a couple of hours of the main games and unlocked the Wild Area, arriving as the unknown Champion gives you a drastic advantage.
As your Corviknight taxi sets you down and your feet first touch Armor soil, you’re pounced upon by rival Dojo student Avery – or Klara if you’re playing the Sword version. While the strength of wild Pokémon and trainers such as Avery scale with the strength of your party, there is clearly an upper limit. My team of maxed-out Level 100s breezed past Avery’s two measly Level 60s, and I had to quickly adjust my party to compensate for an easier ride than I anticipated.
It’s refreshing to have a rival spouting cutting remarks and bitter commentaries, but it would have been nice to face opponents who were as fierce as their chat. It’s a testament to the writing that Avery is such an unlikeable fool, but his gameplay and battling prowess could have reflected his skill with words.
Spoiler alert: Plot details ahead
However, challenge isn’t really the point of ‘The Isle Of Armor’ – it’s growth. The characters, the battles, and the short-but-sweet story are devices to help you, and sometimes force you, to explore. The story tasks are simple fetch-quests, a vehicle to foster your relationship with starring Pokémon Kubfu, a training montage as you grow together.
The real strength of this DLC comes in its natural beauty. While the graphics can’t touch the number of triangles on the PS5, and don’t even rival the quality of New Pokémon Snap, every new environment is completely accessible from the moment foot hits sandy beach. The most fun elements of the game are those of discovery, whether that be new biomes, Pokémon, or anything else.
Forest, marsh, cliff-face or sea – so much sea – are free to roam at your pleasure. That means free-cam and free roam, freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. The Wild Area of Pokémon Sword and Shield felt like the natural evolution of Pokémon games, and the Isle of Armor proves that single-file routes are a thing of Pokémon past.
It’s here where you can encounter all of the returning Pokémon, too, as they meander about the island overworld. Whether you find yourself dwarfed by a mighty Wailord or hunted down by a speeding Sharpedo that’s smelled blood, interacting with the Pokémon in the world never gets old. The Pokémon seem to live in the world more than in the base game, too. They interact with swamps and trees rather than just wandering around the long grass, seemingly pasted onto the scene. It’s an island getaway that builds on the best parts of the base game to create a believable, living island to explore.
Game Freak has created an island that you can believe Pokémon really inhabit, and it has been so successful in doing so that it is almost detrimental when you travel back to the Galar mainland. Narrow, one-directional routes and hard camera angles now feel restrictive compared to the open freedom of the Armored Isle.
The DLC, however, isn’t without its pitfalls; the framerate drops that plague the Wild Area still impact your play, especially when connected to the internet. But, it’s worth it for the feeling of being able to gallivant around a brand-new island with your favourite Pokémon literally by your side.
As well as introducing the fan favourite mechanic of your partner Pokémon following you around in the overworld, there are a lot of subtle additions that Pokémon players will enjoy in ‘The Isle Of Armor’. From powerful new Tutor Moves, to discounted supplements to power up your Pokémon, and a helpful woman, seemingly stranded on a tiny island, who will reset your Pokémon’s EVs, competition battling is only a small step up from the Dojo.
If you don’t know what any of this means, then it probably doesn’t matter too much. But for players aiming to compete in tournaments and ranked leaderboards, these additions are positively game-changing. The eighth generation of Pokémon games has consistently lowered the barriers of entry to the competitive scene, and the DLC is further helping players access competitions without wasting hours on tedious training grinds.
What’s more, between the new and returning Pokémon, additional Gigantamax forms, and host of new Tutor Moves, ‘The Isle Of Armor’ offers the biggest mid-season shakeup that competitive players have ever seen.
‘The Isle Of Armor’ is available within the Pokémon Sword and Shield expansion pass, available for Nintendo Switch now.
Battling has changed forever, but aside from the competitive metagame, there’s nothing revolutionary about ‘The Isle Of Armor’. It hasn’t reintroduced all the Pokémon, it doesn’t address infuriating performance issues. But that doesn’t stop it from being great fun to explore and enjoy. In a time when players are isolated from friends and locked down in their homes, a trip away to reconnect with the natural world isn’t just welcomed, it’s needed.
- Lots of quality of life improvements, especially for competitive players
- Over 100 returning Pokémon to catch
- Completely open-world and free roam, surely paving the way to the future of Pokémon games
- Your partner Pokémon follows you
- Story is both too short and too easy
- No performance improvements, especially when connected to the internet