"The Isle of Armor, as an environment, is exactly what I wanted from the Wild Area in the base game."
Who remembers when you had to buy a third game to experience new content in the Pokémon series? With Sword & Shield's Expansion Pass, that's no longer the case. With two major updates planned for the pass, the first of these, The Isle of Armor, recently launched. The Isle of Armor presents a new land with some new mechanics, and you can jump in as soon as you visit the Wild Area in the main game for the first time. The 'mon on the island scale the same way as they do in the main story, which is according to how many gym badges you have.
Before you board your Flying Taxi and get stuck in the DLC, it's worth putting your expectations in check. That is, don't go in expecting any new Galarian forms or any brand new creatures other than the already-announced Galarian Slowpoke and Slowbro, and the new Legendary Pokémon Kubfu and its evolution, Urshifu. 100 returning Pokémon are added to the 'dex, but there's no major surprises. Even so, I'm delighted to see personal favourites like Scyther, Heracross, Luxray, and Krookodile come back.
As soon as you get to the island, you head to the dojo and agree to train under the dojo master, Mustard. From here, the structure of Isle of Armor can be split into three parts: the first part sees you take on three trials, the second sees you befriend and train-up Kubfu, and the last third is only accessible if you have become the champion and beaten the post-game. It enables you to teach your new Pokémon how to Gigantamax.
I like how the DLC is structured because it walks you through all of the new additions. The biggest of these is your cute little Legendary bear friend, Kubfu. I had to become close friends and train up my new-found buddy to level 70 (my team was in the 70s when I started the DLC, so this will vary depending on your team's level) to take on one of two towers — the Tower of Water or the Tower of Darkness. Depending on which tower you take on, they will either evolve into the Fighting/Water type Rapid Strike style Urshifu, or Fighting/Dark type Single Strike style Urshifu. You are permanently locked out of the other tower once you make your choice, and even if you trade for a second Kubfu with a friend, you cannot unlock the other type Urshifu. The DLC really gives you a chance to bond with your new bear companion (or stuff him full of EXP Candies...) which I thought was really sweet, and it teaches you about the differences between each style.
One returning feature that fans have been desperate to see again is allowing your Pokémon companions to follow you in the overworld. Seeing my Dragapult float around behind me was wonderful, and it was great to see this return from the Let's Go! Games (and from Heart Gold & Soul Silver). Sadly, this is restricted to the island and they won't follow you in the wild when you return to mainland Galar. Some Pokémon have the most hilarious walking animations too, with many being incredibly slow. It never gets old watching Slowpoke slowly crawl towards you.
The real prize with this DLC is getting to explore the island. The Isle of Armor, as an environment, is exactly what I wanted from the Wild Area in the base game. Rather than just being miles of flat land, the island is full of diverse biomes including caves, marshlands, forests and the ocean. Very few areas feel flat, with ramps and hills to climb and lots of beautiful vistas to look out over. Each location feels more alive; I spotted many Pokémon popping up, and some were even interacting with the environment, such as Emolga hiding in trees. The sea in particular was a revelation. Stepping onto the island for the first time, I clocked the huge Wailord floating in the middle of the waves, and me being me, I had to cycle up to it and make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. The next thing I knew, I was being chased by a bloodthirsty Sharpedo, which is both terrifying and hilarious.
Even after you've completed the main story of the DLC, there's plenty of reason to stay on the island. The main reason to return is to make Max Soup. This new food allows you to teach particular Pokémon how to Gigantamax. So, if you've already spent hours and hours grinding those Max Raids for those rare Gigantamax forms, I'm sorry. This is the only way to get your starter's Gigantamax form, so now I get to see my glorious Inteleon snipe everyone from afar. You need three Max Mushrooms to make the soup, which you harvest in the caves after clearing some Max Raid battles on the island. Still, it's much easier than struggling with those low catch and spawn rates. I love this new feature, but it's unfortunately locked behind the DLC, so if you haven't bought the Expansion Pass, there's no way to make Max Soup. This is something I believe should have been in the base game, or patched in.
There's more to this dojo, and island, than soup though. You can expand the dojo using Watts to gain new amenities, such as a salon, a vending machine, or the device from the PokéCenter, and you will need a lot of Watts to do this. There's new ways to gain them on the island, but I burnt through over 200,000 Watts fast just getting new additions installed. There's also the Cram-O-Matic, a machine that you give four items to in order to create a different item. You can buy recipes for this, but it feels like an unnecessary addition that doesn't add any benefits to the game. You can also try to find 151 Alolan Diglett on the island, which was a welcome departure from most quests you'd find in a Pokémon game, with some sweet rewards, including one of the Alolan starters!
When The Isle of Armor is good, it's great. It takes the concept of the Wild Area and nearly perfects it, and I enjoyed running around and hunting down those Digletts. It doesn't fix many of the base game's main issues, and where it does make improvements, these are not available unless you have the Expansion Pass. There's also no way to buy The Isle of Armor separately, so you may want to wait until the second half of the pass is out before diving it. Still, iIt's a decent start for the series' first piece of DLC, and I'm excited to see how The Crown Tundra expands on the games more.