Game Freak have been showing off the two locations we could explore with the Sword and Shield Expansion Passes since they were first announced. Once the Isle of Armor brought its island of fun, giving a story that was short and felt rushed but with a location that felt like an expansion of the Wild Area, it was time for The Crown Tundra to give its take on an open area with exploration under a free camera.
Aside from the fact it feels odd that this expansion reveals snowy climate is a feature of Galar both at the north and south, this is a much greater expansion that I expected. For one, there’s verticality that feels natural rather than straight and constant slopes. There’s a cave system that feels like a cave from the older generations brought to the modern world, with multiple secrets and routes leading to those secrets while still having one main path. It’s easy to get lost within it if you’re unprepared, and several smaller ones – while not to the same scale – also manage to feel the same.
The map overall feels good. Better yet, we have a town designed to fit free camera exploration. Okay, admittedly said town is just four buildings and a farm, but that’s what you’d expect for a small outpost town. Again, there’s a naturalness to it, but to the same standard of the main game. Unlike those of the main game, however, it’s designed specifically with the idea it fits within this world where the camera is free.
I could spend another paragraph or three talking about the world, but there are things to be doing within that world, so I should talk about those. The first thing you’ll find upon getting to the Crown Tundra are the main characters who play a part of this story. Peony and his daughter Nia (shortened from Peonia) argue outside the station, since Peony wants his daughter with him for his expedition, but all she wants to be doing is taking part in Dynamax Adventures – the first thing you’ll be introduced to.
Before that, though, this family drama. You have no choice but to get involved, and the way to sort the issue is – how else? – a Pokémon battle with the dad. A battle in which the daughter takes her leave to head for the Max Lair where the Dynamax Adventures take place. After the battle, you’ll head there for yourself and take part in one of those Dynamax Adventures.
If you’re not fond of Max Raid Battles, there’s not a lot you’ll love about these, but maybe the small amount of changes and additions will make you reconsider. At least for a few rounds. I love what they offer, and not only for the Legendary ‘mon you can find. Rental Pokémon mean you have to think about strategy a bit more rather than chucking a strong level 100 into the fray. Those that you catch can be swapped in, with four battles to get through – with that last being against a Legendary.
It gives you a choice of paths, and you can take a look at the entire board to see which types are on which paths, though the time limit seems a bit extreme if you do want to take your time to consider options. Since it is an adventure, progress carries between battles, so health remains the same and if someone had fainted in a previous battle that’s one less fall the team can take within future battles. Because of that change, the shields that the dynamaxed ‘mon could put up at certain points through battle don’t exist here.
If you do fail to defeat the Legendary, you can record where you found it to guarantee you’ll run into it again in the next Adventure. Once you finish the first Adventure, the story of the family drama ends, with you agreeing that you’ll take Nia’s place on the expedition. That expedition ends the linear portion of the story within this expansion. Peony wants to find out about the legends of the Crown Tundra – of which there are three. This is where you’ll get the Galarian Legendary Birds, the three original Regis plus one of the new ones, along with new Legendary Calyrex.
You’ll get the three clues from Peony within the town of Freezington, and while the map will automatically suggest exploring the first, you can look up any of the three and progress them however you wish. The order I listed them above is the order in which I tackled them. Of the three, Calyrex is easily the most interesting of the quests, but they all have their good points. Looking it up, there’s more to this than I’ve made progress on. This really is an expansion full of Legends.
This expansion has shown me exactly how Game Freak could make a full game designed with a free camera in mind. The towns might take a bit more work to get right, considering the smallness of the one included here, but I feel confident that this generation was only an experiment. Had they been given more time, Galar could have been a lot more different than what we got.
For the ninth generation of games (or, very unlikely as it is, a fully redesigned Kanto and Johto in a second Gold and Silver remake), I expect a full region to be designed with a free camera. Routes full of split paths and secrets, caves that feel larger than they really are, and towns that have more life injected into them to feel more natural than ever.
As for the expansion pass of Sword and Shield, I’d say it’s certainly worth it if you already own the main game. For those who don’t, as much as I love the world on offer, there’s plenty to be said for waiting until the next main game, as that should hopefully offer a lot more than the generation that I feel is just a stop-gap.