Just a few hours in, I’m already enjoying Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Isle of Armour DLC more than the base game. While much smaller in size, it feels more free flowing and open ended. There’s a lot to explore, and plenty more Pokémon to catch, including a bunch of my favourites that didn’t make the cut the first time around. Isle of Armour is more Pokémon, which is great, but with some neat new tricks, which is even better.
The Isle of Armour DLC, which went live earlier today as the first part of Pokémon Sword and Shield’s $45 Expansion Pass, takes you to a new island in the northeastern part of the Galarian region just off the coast of Spikemuth. You can access it as soon as you’ve reached the Wild Area for the first time, with the level scaling based on whether you’ve already beaten the main game or not.
Once you arrive you meet a new rival trainer called Klara who you compete with as a student at the island’s dojo in order to obtain its treasure. A new gym and more trainer battles are just the start, though. The Isle of Armour is full of mysterious towers to gain entry to, hidden locations to explore, and new Pokémon to collect. There’s a main story to follow, but so far it’s left me plenty of time to look around and discover things in my own way and at my own pace.
Chief among these discoveries is just how many Gen I Pokémon have been packed into this first expansion. It adds over 100 returning Pokémon from earlier games in the series, but especially from the original Red and Blue. The opening areas of Isle of Armour feel like a trip down memory lane to the Safari Zone from those two games, complete with Pinsirs, Tauros, Chanseys, Tangelas, Scythers, Lickatungs, and Kangaskhan. Within half an hour I was able to nab a complete team of six.
But there are also plenty of familiar faces from the rest of the generations, like Marill, Scizor, and Skarmory up through the more recent additions like Magearna, Druddigon, and Dedenne. Not all of them are welcome. One of the first returning Pokémon I ran into was the floating set of keys, Klefki. I didn’t know there was a vocal contingent of Klefki fans out there, but, well, Game Freak hears you. For the most part, though, the Isle of Armour Pokédex feels like a good mix of crowd favourites and powerful B-sides I’m interested in giving a second look to.
Then there are the cool new variants on Pokémon from the base game. The Galarian Slowpoke now has a new Galarian Slowbro evolution that’s part psychic, part poison, and 100% has a gun arm.
Wailord, meanwhile, finally gets the big-arse version it deserves floating just off the main beach.
It makes for a giant landmark but you can also sail out and battle it yourself if you want. Again, it’s the little details like this that are a big part of why I’ve been having so much fun with Isle of Armour. It feels like the big open Wild Area from the main game but with secrets and fun flourishes hidden throughout.
For example, if you do decide to go out and visit Wailord up close you’d better be prepared to get stalked by Sharpedo, a returning water Pokémon from Gen III. In Sword and Shield though, because of the way the 3D camera works, they’re a lot more menacing, usually jetting in from off-screen with only the splash of a fin to let you know they’re coming. Repels don’t work on them, and while they’re easy to kill they’re still sort of terrifying.
The Sharpedo-infested waters are worth braving for another reason. One of the best things Isle of Armour does is let you have one of your Pokémon follow you around. It might seem like a small thing, but a bunch of the Pokémon have personalities that only come through when they’re walking around behind you.
I thought the Gyarados I’ve been playing with almost all of the game looked pretty cool flying around on land, but in the water he actually swims. (Which I discovered after swapping out my Venusaur, who does not).
There’s also new move tutors, additional Gigantamax Pokémon, and more custom looks for your character and their bike, but for the most part I’ve been too distracted just wandering around the island and recapturing my favourite older Pokémon. They can also be imported from previous games using Pokémon Home even if you don’t buy the Expansion Pass. Isle of Armour feels laid out with enough care, though, that I don’t mind hunting for them all over again.