While it may be surprising to see DLC in a Pokémon game for the first time, Sword and Shield’s Expansion Pass is definitely preferable to its traditional model of following up the latest game with another full-price version just to deliver some new content and a few improvements. The Isle of Armor, the Expansion Pass’s first of two bundled DLC additions, provides an entertaining reason to revisit the Galar region with over 100 returning Pokemon (plus a few new ones) and an enjoyable new Wild Area. But this island getaway is otherwise pretty bare bones and disappointingly brief.
Like the free-roaming Wild Area in the main Sword and Shield campaign, The Isle of Armor’s is complete with an excess of untamed Pokémon wandering around, dozens of dens for Max Raid Battles, and plenty of items to find and collect. Without the usual Gym structure (or even linear Routes), this DLC’s main quest line instead has you running missions throughout its open space – it’s much more freeform than the usual Pokémon experience, which feels like a natural and not unwelcome progression after the first Wild Area showed how well an “open world” Pokémon could potentially work, even if the story here is too fleeting to really savor it.
While it may not be as big as the original Wild Area in overall acreage, The Isle of Armor more than makes up for it in its diversity and in how well it uses the space. You’ll find tangled forests filled with Tangela and oceans where Sharpedo’s pursue you with frightening speed. Even if it can all be seen in a few short hours, it’s undoubtedly an entertaining trek that does a great job of making the world feel alive and more fleshed out than the Wild Area from the base game.
The Isle of Armor unfortunately doesn’t mark the return of the complete National Pokédex, but it does significantly expand the Pokémon available in Sword and Shield with more than 100 returning pocket monsters. It’s a great selection, including some sorely needed additions like Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and most of all: Lickilicky, which is obviously the best Pokémon ever conceived.
Unfortunately, Isle of Armor doesn’t use its new, lovingly crafted area very effectively, as the DLC’s campaign amounts to just a few short missions that can be finished in a couple hours, most of which are uninspired fetch quests. You’ll run around looking for mushrooms and fighting off Slowpoke on a decidedly low stakes adventure that feels like a fairly by-the-numbers RPG side quest. There are certainly some highlights, like the part where you need to befriend and level up the brand new and pretty darn lovable Kubfu to unlock one of its two legendary evolutions. But it all feels very shallow with no real narrative holding it together, and Pokemon in the wild almost universally capping out at level 60 means anyone who has beaten the base game will be able to breeze through the whole thing like I did.
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It also doesn’t help that one of the DLC’s chief characters, your new rivals (Klara for Sword players, and Avery for Shield), are both incredibly annoying and written off largely as a punchline rather than anything resembling a real threat. The other two major characters, a dojo master named Mustard, and his wife Honey, are amusing, but don’t get enough time in the spotlight to really shine.
That said, Isle of Armor introduces a few new mechanics that do a lot to break the mold of Sword and Shield in positive ways. A welcome item called Max Soup allows you to Gigantimax your Pokémon even if they weren’t caught in a Max Raid Battle. A surprising new base-building mechanic lets you upgrade Mustard’s dojo by spending Watts, unlocking helpful new services and items. And of course, there are plenty of cool new cosmetics, like clothes and bicycle skins.
Sadly, there isn’t a ton left to do once the campaign is over, aside from catching the island’s plentiful returning Pokémon – though you’ll now be able to do that with the Pokémon of your choice following you around the DLC areas, which is a nice cosmetic reward earned by progressing through the story. One of the main draws is Restricted Sparring, a challenging endgame mode that pits three of your Pokémon of the same type against five opposing trainers in a row (and then an endless onslaught of them after that) – it’s a creative new format, but is only appealing if you’re looking to earn BP for the Battle Tower. There’s also a boring side quest where you run around looking for 151 Digletts buried in the ground that’s nightmarishly tedious, and hardly worth the various Alolan versions of Pokémon you get as a reward.