When Nintendo first announced that Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield would be receiving two massive DLC expansions that would drastically add to the Galar region’s overall geography, it felt as if the company was preparing to address the game’s previous tendency to feel a bit “empty” at times. Hopefully, that meant by fleshing things out and including a number of pocket monsters new and old, the way fans always hoped the game’s publisher would.
In addition to introducing a new pair of rivals who dream of one day becoming Galar’s newly minted Pokémon gym leaders, The Isle of Armor also has former Galar Region Champion, Mustard, an odd old man who currently spends his days working with young trainers in a dojo. As part of your adventure to the Isle of Armor, Mustard makes the decision to entrust you with a Kubfu, a legendary Pokémon with the potential to evolve into one of two different forms depending on how your character trains the monster. The game’s plot is designed to create the overall impression of your relationship to Kubfu being a key part of your growth as a Pokémon Master.
At a time when people really haven’t been able to safely go back into real world gyms to work out their stress and maintain their fitness, The Isle of Armor’s focus on getting trainers and their partner Pokémon working up a sweat to stay ready for competitive battles is charming, because the entire point is to strengthen your bonds.
This specific chunk of Galar features a number of new environments not seen in the rest of the region, and there are multiple points in the story where different characters point out that gaining a deeper understanding of what all Galar’s nature has to offer is a crucial part of understanding various aspects of a Pokémon’s full power. This is partially reflected in classic Pokémon like Blastoise and Venusaur gaining new Gigantamax forms that can only be unlocked when a trainer figures out how to cool a special soup design to tap into the Pokémons’ hidden power, allowing them to channel the natural energy that radiates from Galar Particles.
What’s perhaps most delightful about the relationship you develop with Kubfu is how the creature comes to represent the importance of being able to get up, go out, and explore the world if one truly wants to understand their surroundings (it’s explained that journeying is kind of Kubfu’s thing). Even though the Isle of Armor brings a number of familiar species not previously seen in Sword or Shield, it’s explained that Kubfu don’t typically live in Galar, and the one you meet is following in the traditions of its kind by wandering the world in search of strength and fighting-focused wisdom. The idea isn’t quite as cool as the way that previous games have let you full-on travel between the Pokémon world’s various regions, but it’s nice to see that Nintendo and Game Freak are still up for using the other regions’ existence as a core part of the games’ mythos.
The more time you spend biking, swimming, and running around the Isle of Armor, you get the distinct sense that the island’s gone largely uninhabited by humans for a long enough period of time that the Pokémon live there with a sort of carefree freedom that incorporated cities’ Pokémon do not. Where the main game’s Wild Areas (the land outside of cities where powerful Pokémon go about their business until trainers get too close, prompting the monsters to attack) are distinct and set apart from what might be considered the “main game,” the entire Isle of Armor is a Wild Area unto itself. What ends up happening, then, is that the expansion creates an atmosphere in which your journey’s less about rushing through open fields in order to get to the next urban hub, and more about existing in nature itself as a necessary part of one’s trainer development.
What’s even more promising, however, is that it seems that this spirit of exploration and discovery—that’s has little to do with traditional organized battling—is going to be featured as an important element of The Crown Tunda, the as-of-yet unreleased expansion due to drop later this year. Partnering with Kubfu, training under Mustard, and learning how to take your Pokémon’s strengths to new heights puts your character in just the right headspace to walk along an even more perilous path leading into Galar’s depths, where mightier, newly-discovered legendary Pokémon dwell.
It’s exactly the sort of evolution that Sword and Shield’s story sorely needed from the jump, and it’s great to see that the game developers are definitely stepping up to the plate to keep these games feeling fresh.
The Isle of Armor DLC is now available for digital purchase in the Nintendo eShop.
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