Top critical review
A fun Pokemon game, but it could be more. Wait for a price drop or enhanced version
Reviewed in Australia on 3 December 2019
Disclaimer: I want to state straight away that I was not planning on buying this game, however I won a giveaway and due to time of year (November) and shipping from anywhere outside of Australia that isn't Amazon US, orders tend to take over a month to get to Tasmania, so I was given the money to buy the prize.
With the disclaimer out of the way, Pokemon Sword and Shield are yet another entry into the Pokemon series. The story is as any Pokemon game goes, except slightly different in a worse way in my opinion. You start the game, and are interupted so frequently by your neighbour/"rival" to tell you tidbits about the world, you get your Pokemon from his brother who you would have heard by now is at count 7, and then for the next matches with your "rival", he always comments on type effectiveness, as if you are either stupid or no older than 5. I say that as an aunt - children aren't stupid, and yet, this game continually beats the idea that a child would not remember anything.
Because of this, I spent over 40 hours in the Wild Area, neglecting my "duties" to progress my gym challenge because I was hating the constant interruptions, and probably more importantly, I was hating the fact that cool things were happening, but the player is told "no, you can't do that, go do your gym challenge". No evil team to take on, really, just do the gym. And for me, Pokemon isn't about that. It is about exploring, collecting, and doing little things on the side. So I was naturally drawn to the big seller for the game because it had nothing else going for it; the Wild Area. I want to point out the game is so short I could have finished the main story in probably 8-10 hours, when Pokemon normally takes me around 12-18 hours.
The Wild Area is an ugly, desolate area. Pokemon pop in and out. The weather is on/off like a flick of a switch when you transition between "areas" within the Wild Area. The textures are low quality, and the areas are of no note; they're bland and uninteresting. Pokemon appear depending on the weather too, so if you want something and it only appears in Harsh Sunlight in one area for example, you have to wait another day for the chance it will be the right weather. And then there's the raids which are long, drawn out battles with the gimmick of the game - dynamaxing and gigantamaxing for certain species, with the AI so bad that you either luck out and win, or you just go online to beat it. But online, people can grief you, and attack allies, whereas the AI may just constantly use boosting moves only for it to be wiped the next turn, or just pick for example a fire type against a water type, but no griefing occurs from the AI. On a positive note, you can just save the game before hand to keep trying if you fail or the Pokemon escapes. As another note with regards to weather, you can change your system's date, and have another go at finding what you need, and while you're at it, you might as well further cheese the game and farm watts by going around to the dens. In previous games like the DS and 3DS games, changing the clock even for daylight savings punished you by preventing you from doing certain things such as not being able to transfer from the GBA games to DS games, or not allowing once a day events to occur. So I take issue here.
The Wild Area is absolutely laggy when online. You see people's avatars pop-in and out, move around a bit, then just disappear. It looks really bad. And it made me realise that this was something I'd always wanted; being able to see your friends roaming around in the game world with you - it's what I thought the GBA adapter would do for Pokemon Sapphire/Ruby/Emerald/LeafGreen/FireRed would do, and briefly touched upon with the Entralink in Black/White/2 did - and yet the execution is so poor that I am nothing but disappointed with it.
Exploration is also non-existant in these games. Literally, you are confined to the Wild Area. Routes are much more linear than previous games, barely branching at all. If you haven't completed a gym, you will be blocked by some road block such as the "evil team" Team Yell, who are more of an annoyance than a team. I understand routes have been linear in the past - just look at routes 1, 2, 3, 4 in Kanto, but note they had some interesting elements to it. There were two routes in Pokemon Shield I noticed being interesting, and that is the one with the Daycare on it, and the iceflow area. The others were just boring or too short to be worth having there, especially since the game had a trainstation you could leave from that would have served a better function.
I need to briefly talk about the storage system and quality of life updates, because while I have been showing only displeasure for the game, it's not all bad. The camp is cute, but kind of lacking in features. You get slightly more things with filling out your curry dex, which has 151 variants, with 6 per major ingredient and one special one. But here's the thing - they're all the same really, with a mashing mini-game that threatens your joysticks to get the best results, and just not fun. The camp itself is a really cute idea, but the execution is lacking; that said, it is where I had the most fun in the game. The other quality of life improvements include return of bottle caps to max IVs though I would like one that decreases IVs for trick room type strategies. There's also nature mints that make a Pokemon that may have been competitively useless because they're the wrong nature into something viable. The box is accessible from anywhere, and you can't just cheese the game with it if you catch something on low health as it will still be low until you either curry or use a Pokemon center OR participate it in a raid battle. I did utilise that a lot rather than wasting berries on the curry. There was also XP candies which were a great way of easily levelling things up, which I liked - they worked by giving fixed XP to a Pokemon, for example 3,000, rather than however much it took to level them up. These are all good improvements, but still not polished enough in my opinion.
There is also both a positive and a real negative in the game I've been scooting around and that is EXP. SHARE, also know in Red/Blue/Yellow as EXP. ALL and really should have been renamed back to that, because you simply cannot turn it off anymore. It's not sharing the experience from battles, it is giving extra experience. I like having the option to have it on or off as it changes how one plays - for example someone doing a challenge run may prefer it off for the main game, and then in post-game turn it on for training up for competitive. But there is no option. And the director's have said "Just put the Pokemon you don't want getting experience in the PC", which takes a lot longer than a simple on/off switch for the player. It shows a real lack of care for how people play their game.
On to the proper controversy of the time. At the time of pre-release and release, the game was stated to have a cut dex, and it did. It was said for balance, and at the same time to improve animations. There weren't a whole lot improved in my opinion when it came to battle animations - a lot stayed the same as before or looked worse. The dex was cut and I'm a collector, so I am pretty bummed about that still. And then there was balance. About a week or two after the game released, a certain fossil abomination Pokemon came to have a lovely defensive type combined with an absolutely brutual ability and move, one hit knock out'ing most things if spec'd right. Pokemon's metagame is often focused around a very select few Pokemon, and I see it being no different now, especially with this monster looking to potentially dominate for a while. I just can't believe the reasons given for the dex cut given the fact that it seemed like little to no changes to animation occured, balance was not really done for the Pokemon in the game, and the metagame for Pokemon relies heavily on other Pokemon to counteract others.
I won't touch upon design of Pokemon too much as it is very subjective, but as since X/Y, I have a real problem with a lot of simplified designs in the game - the ones that are very round or very square, or simply cannot exist in a real world setting like the starters (their heads are too heavy for their limbs, particularly Sobble). There are some designs I adore like the pseudo-legendary, and some, like the fossil abominations, where I get what they were trying to do, but honestly, it just makes me feel sorry for those Pokemon. The fossils could have been executed A LOT better.
Finally, I'll end on music - I believe that the charm of the series music has gone due to the lack of limitations. I cannot remember a single track because they are so generic. Music is meant to add to atmosphere, and yet I cannot recall a track or any motivation. I believe music is a key part of how we interpret any animated or interactive media, so failure here can be minor initially, but lead to unmemorable scenes and experiences overall, which I believe has happened to the series.
This isn't even comparing it to modern JRPGs or even monster-tamer series, this is just based on Pokemon alone. I'd put this as the worst game in the main line series to me.
Did I have fun though? Only when I got away from the Main Story, which is a terrible thing to say. I did enjoy it though - I cannot stress that despite how bad a game it is, I enjoyed it. I just did NOT enjoy the story at all, and when you take away doing the gyms, you're mostly left with the Wild Area, which is an unpolished, laggy mess, with little to do except catch Pokemon.
It's disgusting that this game is priced so much for how unpolished it is. Wait until is on sale because it is not worth $70. There is not enough content, the game treats you and your time poorly, and while if you're a Pokemon fan, you'll probably have a ton of fun with it, it just isn't worth it in it's current state. Also, if trends are anything to go by, they'll probably release an updated version in a year or two fixing a lot of the current problems, and despite how scummy that is (alongside dual releases of the same game in 2019), it's probably more likely the updated version when it comes out will be the better game.