My feelings on the Pokemon franchise really just go up and down like some kind of roller coaster analogy these days. Despite my long history and admiration for Pokémon as a whole, I feel like the franchise itself has not been putting the necessary weight behind its more recent release, especially the main line series. Which is increasingly difficult to excuse when it’s the biggest money making title Nintendo probably has under their umbrella these days. To cut to the heart of the matter right in the opening paragraph; To me: Crown Tundra is very disappointing.
This is the second, and probably final, piece of additional content released for Pokémon Sword/Shield. Released with what I feel to be relatively little fanfare in comparison to the main game and the first piece of DLC. After putting some time into it, I’ll say this: while The Isle of Armor revitalised my waning interest and enjoyment for this most recent Pokémon generation, Crown Tundra doubles down on the aspects of the franchise that had me burning out so hard on it ever since Sun and Moon came out.
If I had to give Game Freak any kind of credit for what they’ve done with Crown Tundra, it’s that they certainly did something totally different compared to how they approached their first piece of DLC. While The Isle of Armor focused on adding a bunch all-round improvements; adding quality of life changes along with the new moves, forms, attacks and plethora of retuning Pokémon, Crown Tundra’s offering of content feels woefully barren in comparison.
Now, this might be coming from a place of bias on my part, because the major focus of Crown Tundra comes in the form the franchises’ legendary Pokémon. A part of the franchise that I’ve only every really had a fleeting interest in since maybe the 4th generation started overloading their games with them.
Like with Isle of Armor, the player travels to the Crown Tundra by train and arriving in the southernmost part of the Galar Region. Once there the player immediately encounters hunky daddy Peony and gets roped into his little adventure vacation in the place of his daughter. At which point you’re given what is essentially a quest log and are thrown into the bitter cold of the tundra to find and capture a bunch of legendary Pokémon.
The strongest aspect of these quests do surround the mascot Pokémon of the expansion; Calyrex. A giant-headed deer Pokémon that is actually able to speak to the player using Peony’s body as a mouthpiece. It’s story is the most interesting thing about the expansion narratively, having the player help the people of the tundra remember it and allow it to regrow in power by reuniting it with its ice or ghost horse. There’s a weirdly Freddy Krueger-esque bent to Calyrex’s power being directly connected to how many people believe in it.
In the end, the player picks one of two legendary horse Pokémon as its mount and are given the opportunity to capture it. It’s light, it’s simple and its brief. And really that means it suffers from the same problem as the rest of the expansion: it’s just so bare-bones. Tasked with wandering around the large open world area, which like the Isle of Armour is one giant wild zone, it hits you just how little there is to this map. Both from a design standpoint and from a performance standpoint based on how erratic the framerate can get at times.
I’m really not one who likes jumping onto game developers and giving them a hard time, especially after seeing just how vitriolically people go after them on social media for much lesser issues than this. But Pokémon is a massive, massive franchise. Both the emptiness and the performance issues of these open worlds they’ve made isn’t really acceptable. And anyone who is sticking up for them is really just in denial. Honest. You really can criticise something without attacking it.
For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the hot new game everyone is talking about right now: Genchin Impact. Now, this is a free game on PS4 and its open-world is stunning to behold. And it puts the bland, stark wasteland of the Pokémon franchise to shame by comparison. Had I not put anytime into Genchin Impact, then maybe my reaction to Crown Tundra wouldn’t have been as strong, but just how hugely unattractive the Pokémon world looks by comparison actively drives me away from wanting to invest any more time into it.
Not helped at all, but a barren world being unpopulated and barren of things to really do after that little snifter of story. After Calyrex is caught, you’ve got your Galarian Legendary Birds to catch and then the new Regi elemental golems following that. Once that’s done, there is little to no reason to actually spend any time in the Crown Tundra whatsoever.
The only other major new mechanic brought with the expansion are the Max Raid Adventures. A new spin on the Max Raid Battles from the game as it came out on release. When these first got announced, I was pinging back and forth about how I actually felt about them. But after actually taking part in a few of them, I feel like it was a decently well thought out new activity. Adventures work by throwing a team of matchmade trainers together and forcing them through a gauntlet of Max Raid Battles. Ending with them coming face to face with a legendary Pokémon from the franchise’s past.
The big sticking point for me when I first hear about it was the inability to use your own Pokémon. I’m not someone who has any interest in the competitive scene whatsoever and yet I really enjoy the process of raising and training Pokémon using the IV and EV methods that are compulsory for people who are interested in that sort of thing. The problem is, outside of the battle tower, there’s nothing really for me to do with all these perfectly trained Pokémon I amass.
So the idea of yet another opportunity to do something with them being snatched away was really frustrating to me.
In practice though, the developer’s choice to only allow rental Pokémon actually makes some sense. I quickly realised that Max Raid Adventures were more akin to a puzzle challenge than a battling one. They test the player’s knowledge of the game’s mechanics and type match-ups. One by one the players much each pick from four different rental Pokemon, all while taking into consideration things like the attacks they know and the coverage of the Pokémon already chosen by different players.
Although a lot of the time it ends up feeling like you end up carrying at least one of the players who continues to make boneheaded choices at every opportunity. Although ultimately, the adventures aren’t really that difficult and it’s harder to mess them up than to finish them. They’re cool little additions to the game and feel like the final conclusion of the Mac Raid Battle mechanic introduced for this generation of the games.
All of this is just me being nice though, because even the best things about Crown Tundra are really just interesting at best. There’s nothing really about this expansion that makes me want to come back to this game for any prolonged amount of time. While Isle of Armor added a bunch of user friendly features that you could have argued that should have been in the game in the first place, Crown Tundra feels utterly devoid of anything worth doing even by comparison.
I love the Pokémon franchise, I really do. But I feel like this final addition to Sword and Shield is simply not good enough. I don’t know what time of time or budgetary restrictions the developers at Game Freak are under to get these games and chunks of content out. But when you think about what a gargantuan money maker both Nintendo and the Pokémon franchise on its own are, its really difficult to accept this kind of offering when you’ve got free games coming out and making it look ancient by comparison.
I’ll end by saying that I’m not mad, I’m disappointed. Pokémon is a franchise with infinite promise, but it feels the mainline games are quickly becoming products of the the bare minimum effort from my perspective. I mean, yes, I’m almost certain to pick up the next Pokémon game that comes out following this despite all my misgivings listed here. And maybe that’s part of the problem; they don’t need to try. The games will sell regardless.