Pokemon Sword and Shield may not have been the generational leap some people were hoping for with the move to a home console for the first time, but the games definitely introduced some major new features not seen in the past. Arguably the most important of these new features was known as the Wild Area, which was the mainline series’ first take on an open world, albeit fairly limited. Game Freak went a step further by focusing exclusively on this structure for the recent Isle of Armor expansion, which made it even more apparent that this is the true future of the franchise.
Starting with the original Pokemon Red and Blue, players made their way through different towns and cities while collecting badges, with Sun and Moon being the exception there. The view has always been from a slanted top down camera where you have no control of the camera as you walk. There are always routes and caves between the different towns, which has not changed throughout the now eight generations of Pokemon.
Pokemon Sword and Shield maintained this general setup for most of the game, but they changed things up by introduced the Wild Area. The Wild Area is a larger part of the map than your usual locations in Pokemon, where you can explore and find Pokemon all over. This open world part of the game also includes the ability to rotate the camera and truly feel like you are playing a 3D Pokemon game for the first time. The Wild Area itself wraps around the other towns in the game, with you having to go there a few times during the game. Not only are wild Pokemon found in this area, but you can also team up with others online for Max Raid Battles, which felt right at home in the series.
While the Wild Area was really cool to see, the biggest problem with it was how underutilized it was in the grand scheme of things. When people first starting making mock ups of 3D Pokemon games years ago, the first thing people would do is have a controllable camera as you truly felt like you were in a 3D RPG. However, Pokemon Sword and Shield outside of the Wild Area still felt like it was a 3DS game with the limited structure, even as good of games as they were overall.
Then came the announcement that Game Freak and The Pokemon Company were forgoing a third version of the game, but instead releasing two expansions for the game. What became even more intriguing though was when it was announced that both of the expansions would be just like the Wild Area rather than the rest of the game.
As the Wild Area didn’t have much story going on in the base game and was mostly just a place to battle Pokemon and do Max Raid Battles, seeing how they implemented story and a mission structure into the open world area would be important. While the Isle of Armor really did not have a lot of story overall either, what it did have proved that this type of open world could work fully in a Pokemon game. This would give players a greater sense of adventure and exploration that exemplifies Pokemon being on consoles and not just handhelds.
The only major disappointment in the Isle of Armor DLC was the complete lack of trainers out in the open to battle, but that is something that could easily be fixed in the next generation of Pokemon games. They may have to find out a workaround to force you into many of the trainer battles like in the past, though that is not a major concern in the long run.
With the Isle of Armor expansion already out, now we have the Crown Tundra to look forward to later this year, which looks to build upon this more open world idea even more. There will be an element of multiplayer that has us intrigued, but we’ll have to wait and see more about that when it releases.
There is no question that Pokemon as a series is ready to embrace the idea of the Wild Area entirely. It may have only been a small part of Pokemon Sword and Shield overall, but the DLC continued to prove how effective it can be and why we need to see a move to this style in the future.