One of the best parts of Pokemon Sword and Shield was exploring the Wild Area, an expanse of rolling hills, sand dunes, and lakes that made collecting the 400 Pokemon from the games especially engaging. The first DLC for the games, The Isle of Armor, enhances the original Wilderness Area; in fact the island is all Wild area, with much more variety and much more interesting places to explore. While it doesn’t alter the game much, The Isle of Armor brings back the joy of exploring and catching new Pokemon, and it makes me especially eager to see where the next DLC will take us.
In my original Pokemon Sword and Shield review, I said, “The Wild Area is the feature that stops the show from this generation. Pokemon roams the fields and lakes, changing with the weather of the day. They appear when you pass, and you can even identify Pokemon out of direct line of sight for their screaming. It’s too easy to set a destination just to be distracted by a Pokémon that hasn’t caught yet, an item that glows on the ground in the distance, or even an evolved form of a Pokémon you didn’t realize you could catch in the wild. There’s always something new to do or discover, and it’s there to catch you from the start. “
The Isle of Armor is duplicated in this. The island is bigger and better than the normal Wilderness Area, and its various biomes feed each other more naturally. The transition from open fields to wetlands, bordering a beach and a forest. Rivers flow into the ocean, and following a river can sometimes lead you to a cave. Changing weather patterns make more sense than in the Galar region’s main Wilderness Area, where the weather changes seemingly randomly as you bike similar fields. Instead, because most areas on Armor Island are separated by rivers or caves, the transition from rain to sun to fog is not so abrupt. Overall, it’s an even more satisfying place to explore.
This DLC adds around 100 returning Pokémon that are not in the original Pokedex Galar, and they make sense within the Isle of Armor landscape as well. Bouffalant and Quagsire roam the wetlands; Amoonguss and Tangela lurk in the forest; And Sharpedo charges you at high speeds as you ride your Rotom bike across the seas. You can even see a giant Wailord in the ocean from the mainland, in a rare example that the Pokemon is represented at its correct size in any of the video games. Finding and capturing new additions is its own reward, of course, but it’s also a delight to see them in their “natural” habitats.
Driving your exploration of the Isle of Armor is a light yet cute story about a martial arts dojo and the adorable new legendary Pokémon Kubfu, who becomes his training partner. The story has a quirky kung fu movie energy, from the rather petty rival to the nutty master who teaches you wisdom through seemingly unrelated tasks for Kubfu to overcome his shyness to master his martial art. Kubfu is absolutely the star, and I really didn’t want to evolve mine, considering how energetic and like a teddy bear he is.
I also invested surprisingly in a parallel activity that makes you search for 151 Alolan Diglett throughout the island, which had the effect of making him go all over the map in search of his three little hairs protruding from the ground. It took me to areas that the story didn’t necessarily have, and kept me busy while searching for Pokémon and items. I was incredibly pleased with myself when I found the final Diglett, and the rewards are great on top of that.
On that note, articles are another strong point of The Isle of Armor. While Sword and Shield made many key changes to the series’ quality of life, most of which removed annoying grinding and made high-level competitive gaming much more accessible, there were a few gaps: Some important elements were still ridiculously hard to come by. Those items are now more abundant on the Isle of Armor, including the elusive Orb of Flame, which was the ruin of my existence for several months. These kinds of adjustments are small, but they improve the overall experience.
Isle of Armor is open to you almost from the start of the main game, and while it’s great, it doesn’t add much endgame content for returning players. There’s a battle arena that challenges you to defeat a number of trainers who use only one Pokémon that has a particular type, such as water or fire, and it’s great to see that a Pokémon game offers a platform to a very popular battle format. among fan groups (where it is called “monotype”). In fact, I already had fully trained electrical gear at Shield, and I still found these battles quite challenging, which was a pleasant surprise that made me want to try out other monotype gear.
The DLC is new to the main series Pokemon games, and it’s certainly a great alternative to replay the same game a year or two later when the new version comes out. But like the traditional or “Ultra” third version, The Isle of Armor refines much of the experience we had at Vanilla Sword and Shield, with a more interesting wilderness area to explore and a few quality-of-life tweaks that promote Gen 8 progress has been made in that regard. It doesn’t totally change the game, to be sure, but The Isle of Armor is definitely a delight.