After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got some new details on Pokemon Sword & Shield courtesy of today’s Pokemon Direct. A lot of gameplay as well as a handful of Pokemon were revealed; but not all to the same effect. Beyond some of the fun new sights to see, there are sadly some aspects of this game that feel a little flat. That being said, it’s also important to note that this game introduces some core gameplay mechanics that fans have dreamed of for years!
So let’s break down everything we learned in this press conference and sort out what’s good, what’s bad and what we still need some convincing on.
The Good – Camera Controls, Overworld & Pokemon Designs:
As a region, Galar seems more and more incredible with each visit. The world feels more alive than ever and it’s great to see what appears to be practical transportation methods built into the world – ie: train running through multiple cities. Though possibly the best revelation we got from this Direct was the confirmation that we will finally be able to control the camera in the game. Personally speaking, the shift from 2D to 3D never felt right with me as many cities and towns just started to feel like labyrinths when they could have offered us a wonderful new way to look at the world. It was basically the maneuverability of an open-world game with none of the perks. Now that we are in control of how the camera moves, we are one step closer to the open-world Pokemon game we always wanted – where you can actually stop and enjoy the scenery. This has the potential to actually make Sword & Shield feel completely fresh as opposed to something you used to know in a different format.
This will especially come in handy as you explore the Wild Area which is where you’ll encounter wild Pokemon – though at this point it’s uncertain if the few examples of overworld Pokemon we see wandering are battle/catchable or not. Additionally, I’m not sure if this is just ‘wild area’ in denotation or if it is actually all one giant interconnected expanse of land referred to as ‘Wild Area’; but the variety of landscapes and weather certainly add to the magic of this region. With so much scenery – and control over camera – this would be a great way to implement on-the-spot Pokemon Photos as opposed to the ‘set’ locations you could in past games.
Speaking of Pokemon, we got a handful of reveals in the direct and each one feels really fun – and even badass. First Sobble and now Wooloo the sheep Pokemon? I swear, Pokemon Sword & Shield might be the first time I just keep a team of adorable unevolved Pokemon for the whole game. Though we also got a glimpse at some really badass looking Pokemon like Drednaw (the bite Pokemon) and Corviknight, which will basically function like a taxi town-to-town. This leads me to believe that HMs will once again not be a thing in this game; but I’m curious how Fast Travel will function out in the expansive Wild Area if Corviknight is only supposed to bring you from town to town. We also got a glimpse at the flowering Pokemon Gossifleur and its evolution Eldegoss. Based on its placement in the trailer, it looks like the first gym we’ll reach is a Grass Gym, with these being its lead defenders!
Though the most surprising – and I suppose unsurprising – addition to this game is Multiplayer Raids. I say surprising because it’s an idea that actually comes from Pokemon Go; but then again it shouldn’t be too surprising as Let’s Go: Pikachu & Eevee adopted Pokemon Go’s capture system. Like in Pokemon Go, these Raids will be against giant-sized Pokemon called Dynamax Pokemon. You can pair up with up to 4 others to challenge these behemoths; and beating them won’t only give you a chance to catch one (normal size), but sometimes also unlock that Pokemon as a wild spawn in the future. I’m sure you won’t ALWAYS need a team as I’m sure level still plays a role in battles. Although, the Pokemon encountered might also differ in power – again like with Pokemon Go Raids – so I’m sure some will absolutely require some teammates. Though don’t think of this as a 4 v 1 battle as only 1 of you will be able to Dynamax your Pokemon to fight on an even playing field. So whereas Internet connected multiplayer might be fun, you might prefer some Local Wireless to actually get a team together. As for Dynamax’ing in general and how it’ll affect the rest of the game, I’ll leave that for our next section.
The ‘Need Convincing’ – Dynamax:
Dynamax is this generation’s latest ‘gimmick’; and whereas these generational gimmicks have certainly gone downhill over the years in terms of creativity (ie: Mega Evolution > Z-Moves > jumbo-sizing Pokemon) Dynamaxing does actually introduce some exceptionally cool gameplay mechanics. As I mentioned before, the mechanic of Raids – where you encounter these Dynamax’ed Pokemon – is really cool and builds upon the Pokemon Go mechanic with a lot of strategy. Additionally, – from a battle perspective – having it so that Dynamax’ing can only happen once for battle and lasts only 3 turns is a BIG way to affect the competitive scene. Unlike Mega Evolution and Z-Crystals, it’s no longer about simply WHO gets to serve as that super charged pivot point, but also WHEN do you enact it? Stats and Attacks all get a huge buff, so this could be a great way to either force your opponent’s hand early on or be a late game bulldozer.
The lore/ story behind Dynamaxing is still unknown, but they seem to be linked to certain places – perhaps where energy is overflowing. We see in the trailer that there are glowing beacons in the wild where Trainers can assemble to take on Dynamax Raid Bosses and it’s even noted that Pokemon Stadiums/ Gyms are specifically built over locations that allow for Dynamaxing. Though the aspect of Dynamax’ing that I genuinely respect the most is that there’s actually an anime-basis for all of this. And no, I’m not talking about the ‘Island of the Giant Pokemon’ episode where our heroes were terrorized by giant animatronic Pokemon. I actually mean the giant Dragonite in “Mystery at the Lighthouse” or the massive Alakazam, Gengar and Jigglypuff contained within the ancient relics in the “The Ancient Puzzle of Pokémopolis“ episodes. Giant Pokemon are a thing!
Personally though, I wish there were some other things to signify Dynamax besides just larger size and aura. Whether these be markings like the giant Pokemon from Pokemopolis or just an accentuated feature/ color scheme (ie: bigger spikes, alternate shiny), I feel like there could be so much more! As it stands right now, there’s not much difference between these and ‘Totem Pokemon’ from the Sun and Moon games – besides height. But this could just be the illustrator in me seeing missed opportunity. Everything else about Dynamax sounds really promising and I’m eager to see what else this entails.
The Lackluster – Box Art Legendaries:
Overall it was a great trailer and press conference. Sadly though, the final ‘Legendary Reveal Clip’ kind of lost me in terms of hype. And whereas there’s nothing wrong with the clip itself, it’s the designs of Zamazenta and Zacian that I’m not exactly sold on. Taken together, they look WAY too similar and don’t really stand out as opposites like past Legendary pairings. Are they a lion and a wolf or are they both wolves? Taken separately, Zamazenta has a pretty cool concept (if it is indeed a shield-lion), but its design just feels too clunky. Besides, we just had two main series Pokemon games with a Lion for Box-Art (Solgaleo and Dusk Mane Nekrozma). As for Zacian, yes, a wolf holding a sword is a crazy, random and cool idea! The down side is… it’s also the EXACT premise of one of the most famous Dark Souls bosses, Great Wolf Sif.
Then again, maybe I’m being too hard on them. Their official artwork variants do look a lot better. Zamazenta’s retracted shield design look great and shows that both it and Zacian have these wing-like appendages on their sides. Though there’s still something about Zamazenta’s fully-extended shield design – and Zacian’s Sif-like design – that just throw me off. (Again) perhaps the illustrator in me is being too hard on Zamazenta because I expected something else. And for all we know, Zacian could purposefully be Gamefreak’s love letter to DarkSouls creator FromSoftware!
Though there is one part of the ‘Legendary Reveal Clip’ that did get me pretty excited – sadly the video ended just as it happened. I’m talking about the final moments when both of the beasts look up defensively as if they are about to be attacked by a third Legendary from the sky. Is this actually hinting at a third Legendary? Will all the Sword, Shield & Gun jokes receive vindication as we get a giant legendary bird with cannons for wings? Who knows! Either way, I’m excited to learn more in the coming weeks and experience all the Galar Region has to offer when Pokemon Sword & Shield releases this Fall (November 15th, 2019).