Hype levels for Pokémon Sword and Shield were pretty high right off the bat. Then as it got closer to release, it was revealed that the games wouldn’t have the National Pokédex. This basically meant many of the Pokémon from the previous games wouldn’t return. The aforementioned hype levels were lowered. Despite this, loyalists and newcomers still bought the game, it got great reviews, and it introduced some really cool new mechanics. Even so, the Galar region still has some issues. NOTE: Possible spoilers (albeit slight) in this article.
First off, it’s not really clear who your in-game rival is. It’s hard to see the enthusiastic, but tremendously ineffective Hop as a legitimate rival. He’s so inept as a trainer that every encounter with him makes you wonder if he’s for real or not. It doesn’t help that his starter Pokémon is weak against yours. He is also so friendly and encouraging, that pal, friend, buddy, or any congenial title would be more appropriate. Then there is Leon, Hop’s older brother and Champion of the region. You only face him once during a normal playthrough, and his purpose is to lead by example and gracefully pass the torch.
Another possible candidate for main rival is Marnie, a young trainer who is followed by a Team Rocket-esque group known as Team Yell. It becomes apparent almost immediately that Team Yell are a group of goons that don’t provide any legitimate challenge. Marnie doesn’t approve of their antics, and overall, is supportive and has a strong moral compass. That leaves Bede, the poor misguided soul who is more of a patsy than anything. Bede is rough around the edges and kind of a jerk, but has a character arc that’s completed well ahead of the closing credits. The end result is a crew of characters that are more fleshed out than previous Pokémon games, but a lack of real competition and rivalry.
Which brings me to my next point: Pokémon Sword and Shield is way too easy. The only challenge was facing powerful Pokémon in the Wild Area when you’re first introduced to it and a singular late-game opponent. Even the game informs you that you shouldn’t challenge the formerly mentioned Pokémon at that stage of the game. Since the game gives you the equivalent of Exp. Share right off the bat, you’re not subjected to grinding or challenging matches where you’re severely underleveled. Blacking out never happened, and I only came close once. I figured the game would start off easy, eventually becoming more challenging, but the difficulty spike never came. With no resistance from my opponents, I was able to cruise through the game fairly quickly. This made the game feel lacking in length compared to its predecessors, which took two to four times as long to complete.
On a more positive note, Pokémon Sword and Shield adds Dynamaxing, raids, and dynamic weather. All of these are great features and well implemented. The recently announced DLC looks like it’s going to add some great content as well. The Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra will expand the Galar region and its Pokédex even more. Fans of the original are sure to be happy with the return of Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres and their new forms.
When all’s said and done, I enjoyed my time with Pokémon Sword and Shield. It was just too brief and too easy. Once the final credits rolled, I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing, so I didn’t. I came back to it a couple of weeks later, but didn’t play for very long, and I haven’t touched it since. The DLC will probably bring me back, but that’s not an absolute certainty. Maybe I’m no longer interested in Pokémon, or maybe I’m too loyal to the earlier games. Perhaps maybe the game just wasn’t that great.