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Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra Review

A snowy vista with a huge tree and an ancient ruin are joined by a logo reading "The Crown Tundra"

The second wave of DLC for Pokémon Sword and Shield (2019) released last Thursday with little fanfare. Crown Tundra brings with it a number of exciting and successful new features. While it is not devoid of issues, the content of the expansion bodes well for future entries in the franchise.

New Story Content

Fans and leakers expected more story from Crown Tundra than its predecessor Isle of Armor. This prediction was mostly correct, although it is perhaps misleading. Crown Tundra sees the player team up with the charismatically goofy Peony, a brand-new character. In preparation for family vacation, Peony has exhaustively researched a number of local legends surrounding the wintry tundra. His daughter, Peonia, has other ideas however, ditching her father and enlisting you to keep him company instead.

Peony sends you on your way with three major rumors to explore, each tied to a set of anticipated new legendary Pokémon. Two of these missions—those focusing on the legendary birds and golems—are practically devoid of story. Apart from some short text boxes and one brief cutscene, these quests are up to the player to tackle in any way and order they choose.

The third mission—which focuses on Calyrex, the bulbous-headed mascot of the DLC—is where the real story content of the expansion comes in. This quest is far more involved and story-driven. Calyrex enlists the player’s aid to restore their former power and reputation. This entails gathering information from denizens of the new town, Freezington, locating the monarch Pokémon’s old steed, and crafting a new set of reigns with which to tame it.  The story is simple and low stakes, but thoroughly charming.

Nor does it overstay its welcome, being about an hour in length. So while the story is certainly more involved than that boasted by Isle of Armor, temper your expectations. Crown Tundra’s story is a charming little episode in all senses.

Max Raid Adventures

The new gameplay mode boasted by the DLC, Max Raid Adventures, is an enjoyable diversion. The player teams up with three allies to battle their way through a series of Raid Battles. This culminates in a fight with a Legendary Pokémon.

I never much cared for raid battles in the base game. Their slow pace and annoying shield mechanics made them lengthy and uncertain ordeals. Computer allies were useless, using weak Pokémon and moves. And nothing was more annoying than spending 30 minutes chipping down a rare Pokémon only to have it break free of your Pokéball and escape.

Max Raid Adventures addresses all of these issues. Computer allies are far more reliable, and draw from the same pool of Rental Pokémon the player does. This makes battles much smoother, even without human allies from online. The raid Pokémon no longer have shields, protecting them from damage at low health. This small change makes battles go significantly faster. And all Pokémon in the dens have a 100% catch rate meaning no Pokémon will escape. This is especially helpful for Legendary Pokémon whose catch rates are typically quite low.

The trade off is that once you reach the end of your adventure, you are only allowed to take one Pokémon with you. Since Legendary Pokémon, as well as all three Hoenn starter lines, are unique to the mode the choice is normally an easy one. But in practice the choice is rarely as clean cut as it seems.

A Focus on Exploration

While Crown Tundra’s story and side modes are delightful, the best element the expansion has to offer is its world.

As with Isle of Armor and the Wild Area in the base game, Crown Tundra eschews the typical Pokémon design for an open world. Every area is interconnected with no loading times between them, and Pokémon roam freely around the overworld. This novel idea was executed in a fairly lackluster way up until now. The Wild Area is mostly flat and uninteresting, devoid of much to do. The Isle of Armor is more complex, but to a fault: the areas were distinct but disjointed and I constantly got lost navigating them.

With Crown Tundra, however, Game Freak has started to nail this new kind of world design. The various areas of the map feel unique, with landmarks both manmade and natural. Forming a mental map of the area is far easier thanks to this. Game Freak realized that by cutting the area into distinct chunks with bottlenecks and caves, they are able to have their open world cake and eat it too. Areas feel broad, explorable, and interconnected, while also being self-contained.

Those caves are where the area really shines though. The caves in Crown Tundra are a return to form, with winding paths resembling the labyrinthine caves of  classic Pokémon. They also add to the formula employing great use of verticality previously impossible for the 2D franchise. The caves often use a convention whereby they show you an item in the distance. This glimpse gives just enough information to instill a general sense of how to reach it. Actually exploring your way to it is up to the player. And more than once the route will lead you to a beautiful overlook, hidden grotto, or underground river.  You are rewarded, both intrinsically and extrinsically, for learning the area and putting your spatial reasoning skills to the test.

These are just a few of the highlights of the world—it is also teeming with side activities, small dungeons, and a whole town! And while it is far from a perfect Pokémon overworld—there is still room for more puzzle solving à la the HM puzzles of old—Crown Tundra seems to be an exciting model for the future of Pokémon gameworlds.

Crown Tundra: A Royal Success

There is more to be said about the DLC both good and bad. The novel new way of hunting the Legendary birds, and the Multi Battle tournament mode are both deeply enjoyable. The DLC is rather short however: I did just about everything there was to do in three and a half hours. And the lack of true level scaling is infuriating for folks like me who have long since trained their team up to level 100. Still, there’s far more good than bad in this package. It’s far from a must buy for more casual fans, but for essentially $15 there are far worse deals. Crown Tundra is an undeniably good sign for the future of console Pokémon.

Thumbnail image from Nerds Chalk.

SOURCES:

https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Calyrex_(Pok%C3%A9mon)

https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Legendary_Pok%C3%A9mon

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Written by Mac Riga

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