Returning to Galar for a third go, I was a bit reluctant to jump into The Crown Tundra for the first time. While The Isle of Armor had some great ideas, there were still a few things I was concerned about. And in many ways, the second part of Pokémon Sword & Shield‘s Season Pass is similar to the first: there’s a whole new Wild Area to explore, some new Pokémon to bulk out the ‘dex, and a new scenario involving a new legendary. But for the most part, The Crown Tundra improves on these aspects to make what is possibly the best part of Sword & Shield, even if it has taken us a bit too long to get here.
One thing The Crown Tundra does well is creating a sense of childlike curiosity that I haven’t felt in a Pokémon game for a long time. Initially, things start off simply as you are dragged into a father-daughter argument between the charismatic and excitable father, Peony, and his rebellious teenage daughter, Peonia. After this and a series of events that see you chasing down Peonia, you’re forced to join Peony on his adventures to uncover three mysteries in The Crown Tundra. Peony is easily the best NPC in the game: a delightfully overzealous father who just wants to dote on his teenage daughter, but in the most hilarious and sweet ways possible. He brings some much-needed warmth and personality to the game’s cast.
The aforementioned mysteries are simple, but all three lead to different legendaries. The first introduces us to the newest legendary Calyrex—known as the King of Bountiful Harvests—who is really the star of this DLC pack. Unlike in the main game, the story in TCT actually gives Calyrex the lore and mystery they deserve. And with the legendary’s ability to possess another human to talk to your character, the newest Pokémon has a real sense of character and charm that the legendaries of previous games have rarely been able to have. Playing through the story felt like experiencing an episode of the anime first-hand. I’m not sure any Pokémon game has come this close to that feeling up until now.
The other two mysteries see you chasing down familiar legendaries from previous generations, as well as a few new ones or forms too. You can catch the Regi trio from Generation 3 by solving some simple riddles to enter their temples. Catching all three will unlock a final, well-hidden temple with two brand new Regis, which you can sadly only take one of per save file. The final mystery unlocks the legendary birds from Generation 1, but with all-new Galarian plumage. The return of roaming Pokémon was expected, but the Wild Area presents new challenges to tracking these down, including their location not being hinted at on the map, and trying to dart around the numerous ‘mons wandering about can be frustrating. These legendary Pokémon all have very low catch rates too, and to progress all three mysteries (and the overall story), you have to catch every single legendary. Bring plenty of Poké Balls with you, because this will take a lot of luck, and a lot of patience.
One thing all of these tasks force you to do is to explore the Tundra, and this new location is a sprawling environment that’s at least half the size of the base game’s Wild Area. There are big, open snowy landscapes, a small village with inhabitants to talk to, a hidden ocean area, and many twisty caves to get lost in. And I did genuinely get lost too! The caves in particular have multiple dead ends, often with items, and lots of paths that overlap and split off into multiple directions are exciting to explore. And with Pokémon visible on the field, there’s no more surprise Zubat attacks in caves.
On the downside, there are many more open, flat areas with much less variety than in The Isle of Armor, and it’s pretty easy to get lost in these too, especially with the weather effects in play. There’s one story objective where you’re tasked to find a character in the middle of the map, but finding them in the middle of a foggy plain littered with abandoned buildings and lots of grass is annoying. This area—and perhaps the entire game—would’ve benefitted from a minimap. Even with these issues, I feel confident that Game Freak has learned their lessons from the main game and could easily make a new Pokémon game where the whole region is one big Wild Area.
If you happen to get bored of exploring, there are a few other gameplay elements The Crown Tundra brings to the mix. Early on, you’re introduced to Dynamax Adventures, a new system in which you and three other NPCs (or some friends, locally or online!) group together to make your way through a gauntlet of Dynamax battles. At the end, you are guaranteed a fight with a legendary Pokémon, and since all legendaries from every previous generation have been added to the ‘dex, there’s a good reason to revisit these Adventures. The catch is that you cannot go through these Adventures with your own ‘mons, so you have to pick from one of three random creatures to fight through. This forces you to come up with new strategies as you can’t rely on your tried and tested favourites, but it’s best played with your friends because the NPC characters, like with Dynamax Raids, can be very hit-or-miss. [Editor’s Note: Oh good, we really needed your Solrock in this battle, thanks NPC.]
Once you’ve beaten the main story of both DLCs, you can also participate in the Galarian Star Tournament, where you pair up with another powerful trainer (such as Hop or Marnie) or Gym Leader in Galar to battle through the competition. There are some excellent rewards on offer, but your partner’s Pokémon are all at fixed levels. By the time you’ve completed the Season Pass, you’ll be well beyond their levels and be able to stomp all over the competition. I was hoping for something closer to the Pokémon World Tournament from Black 2 & White 2, so I was a bit disappointed that this was the final reward for beating everything Sword & Shield had to offer.
The Crown Tundra is a worthy diadem sitting atop Sword & Shield‘s head, but the journey to earn that crown has been a rocky, and safe, one. While this DLC is not enough to fix the issues with the base game (and TCT introduces a few new frustrations of its own), it makes several much-needed improvements that make it worth checking out. We’re still far away from the series’ best efforts, but at the very least, the future looks far brighter for the series than it did a year ago.