Friday, January 10, 2020

Pokemon Sword and Shield’s Expansion DLC Is Bringing the Franchise Into the Modern Era

Pokemon Sword and Shield’s recently announced Expansion Pass: The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra is packed with more story, new characters, additional outfits, a slew of legendaries, and over 200 Pokemon rolled out over both DLC packs for a total of $29.99. You can still get these 200 added Pokemon through Pokemon Home or trading, but to catch them in-game you’ll need to pay for the DLC, and some fans are miffed by the perceived paywall. Reactions have been mixed but, personally, I think Pokemon Sword and Shield DLC is the better alternative to having to buy new, enhanced versions of the game (e.g. Ultra Sun and Moon). It’s another step in Game Freak modernizing the franchise for the better.

DLC Is More Effective Than Enhanced Versions

Upgrades aren’t new to the Pokemon franchise -- they’ve been a series staple since Pokemon Yellow added Pikachu as a starter and stuffed it into an adorable yellow cartridge. And while these enhanced versions generally improve the base games, the core progression and story differences aren’t always significant. So buying and playing another game just to enjoy specific features feels like it would’ve been an investment — especially with Pokemon Sword and Shield being a full-priced console game.

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While we don’t critique games in terms of their cost, price always plays a factor when it comes to consumer choices. This is why many are willing to play a game through, say, Xbox’s monthly subscription service, Game Pass, even if they wouldn’t buy a full-priced hard copy. Lowering the cost of admission can definitely increase attendance.

Pricing aside, DLC means you can just jump in immediately using existing save data. There’s also more flexibility with the DLC model. The Pokemon Expansion Pass includes The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra but it could give us access to consistent updates and surprises, more than what we’ve signed up for. Think Smash Bros. Ultimate fighters.

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Pokemon Sword and Shield getting DLC, presumably in lieu of a future bundled version, respects my time and money while also providing content I’m legitimately excited to play.

Moving Forward

Pokemon Sword and Shield is a big step for the franchise. Even if you weren’t as fond of Sword and Shield as we were, it’s the first mainline Pokemon game to be featured on a potentially always-connected home console (kind of), and it likely won’t be the last. The significance of that can’t be overstated. Pokemon Sword and Shield is Game Freak laying the groundwork for the next era of Pokemon, for better or worse.

With that in mind, it’s been great to see Game Freak getting with the times and adding tenants of modern gaming, including legitimate in-game events. Searching dens for a rotating cast of Gigantamax Pokemon is far more interesting than getting new ‘Mons through Mystery Codes and visiting your local GameStop (which we saw with Pokemon Sun and Moon).

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The Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass (the DLC) is an extension of this promising trend. And it makes me hopeful that the next mainline Pokemon will have even more modern amenities like better online integration/multiplayer experiences, which has proved to be an uphill battle considering Nintendo’s outdated model.

The Risk of Leaving Behind Too Much

While I’m all for this DLC, it makes me wonder which Pokemon traditions should be held sacred and which should be tossed aside. After all, Pokemon Yellow is still heralded as one of the best games of all time. Prior to the game’s launch, during an interview with Pokemon Sword and Shield producer Junichi Masuda and director Shigeru Ohmori, Masuda told us, “When [the team is] first setting out on creating the themes and the systems for the game, we always got to think about, ‘Where are things going to be three years from now?’ and trying to envision that a little bit. [They have to consider that] the people who are currently fans are going to be three years older. [And ask themselves] what kinds of things would they be looking forward to?’” It's the Toy Story scenario. Your habits change over time, you outgrow things, but the love is still there. The series grows up with its audience while still trying to appeal to its new players (both young and old) and that's a tricky task to manage.

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If you've been a long time fan, your love and appreciation likely looks different than it did back when you were catching Pokemon with each passing street light as you sat in the backseat of your family's car. The game design that worked then, wouldn't necessarily work now.

So, yes, Pokemon Sword and Shield shook up the formula by streamlining some of the franchise’s most tedious elements. But as the series grows, it also leaves behind some of its most distinctive elements: the lack of random encounters. I’m looking forward to what future generations see as staples in the franchise. Taking on challenges with friends, in Max Raid Battles, and lovingly cooking for your Pokemon could be the new norm. While Game Freak is slow to make major changes to the series formula, these small, incremental steps — the DLC being a big one among them — mean Pokemon keeps getting better without completely abandoning what makes Pokemon, Pokemon.

For more on Pokemon Sword and Shield, be sure to check out our wiki guide. There, you can find everything you need to know about both Expansions including a working list of the Pokemon being added to Sword and Shield, all the legendaries, how to get Galarian Slowpoke, and much more.

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Janet Garcia is IGN's associate guides editor. Follow her on Twitter for Wooloo fan art RTs and jokes she thinks are funny. 


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