Two weeks ago I shared my first impressions of Pokemon Sword based on roughly two hours of gameplay. I ended my first play session on what I thought was the staircase leading into the town with the first gym. With some early battles under my belt as well as a bit of exploration in the Wild Area, I figured I had the majority of the new features covered and could go on my merry way. As it turns out, there’s a lot more new about Pokemon Sword than I expected, so I ended up missing a few things by stopping where I did.
My first new feature attempted was the raid mechanic. While watching my pal Jett AKA In Third Person play Pokemon on stream, we decided to try and do a raid battle together online. I scooped up my Switch, turned on Pokemon, and turned around in the Wild Area to run to nearest raid point. I figured I’d just put in the same code as Jett and we’d be good to go. Easy, right? Not right. I couldn’t find an obvious place to enter the code or anything that looked like an option to join someone else’s raid. I could invite others, but not accept someone’s invitation. So I clicked invite others and tried putting in the code Jett sent me. Nothing.
“Oh,” I said, “I bet it matters which raid point I go to. We’re not even battling the same Pokemon.” So I take off and run to the exact point on the map where Jett is raiding. Since inviting players didn’t work last time, I decided to not invite players. That definitely did not end well. I got thrown into a raid battle with three random wackadoos instead of getting to play with Jett. Now we have to find a new raid point that we both had in common, but all of the closest ones didn’t work – either it wasn’t active for Jett or it wasn’t active for me. We tried one more time to make a raid happen from different raid points before finally just dismissing the whole thing. Maybe another stream, but this one was a bust.
While the mechanics of raiding with a friend are obscenely obtuse, the raid battles themselves are not too shabby. Four trainers each line up a Pokemon to battle against a Dynamaxed opponent, and you spend those moments praying that you are not the hapless victim of the Dynamax Move that the opposing Pokemon wields. While Dynamax Pokemon are pretty large and do enjoy some buffed stats, they are relatively manageable due to still obeying many of the other rules of battle. You can still paralyze a Dynamaxed Pokemon or lower their stats, and they are still vulnerable to the same types that are normally super effective. They also don’t appear to strategize their own attacks based on type weaknesses, so it really is luck of the draw whether or not you get smashed. Once you defeat a Dynamax Pokemon, you can try to catch it. Watching your trainer throw that giant Pokeball and seeing the ball sunder the land as the Pokemon within tries to escape is all pretty epic. Along with getting to catch the Pokemon, you’ll also be rewarded with candies that grant experience points as well as what’s called a TR, which is a lesser version of a TM that can only be used one time before burning out. TRs are, therefore, not as cool as TMs, but getting earlier access to a move that may not have a TM available until much later in the game is certainly a nice bonus.
TRs can also be purchased with a currency called watts. Watts are bits of energy stored in the Dynamax raid spots, and even if you don’t participate in the raids themselves you can still scoop up some watts. Each glowing raid point will have some watts to give you (generally around 300), and saving up those watts allows you to buy additional TRs from various dudes who hang out around the edges of the Wild Area. The other thing you can buy is specialized Pokeballs, which seem to vary from day to day. I happened to speak to the guy on a day he was selling Quick Balls, so I spent every Watt I could loading up my inventory with those things. Quick Balls are really useful because they have a heightened catch rate on the first turn of battle and allow you to potentially skip the whole mess of battling and weakening and whatnot. Who needs that nonsense? Certainly not me.
The next time I played the game I finally headed up the staircase where I had ended things off and entered the city of Motostoke. I assumed that the gym here would be my first one, but that turned out not to be the case at all. Instead, Motostoke was simply the site of the opening ceremony for the Pokemon League’s gym challenge. It serves as an opportunity to meet a lot of new characters who seem like they’ll be important players in the game, so it is worthwhile to spend some time talking about the opening ceremony and the events leading up to it.
Before the ceremony, your character has to obtain their gym challenge uniform. While you don’t get to pick the uniform’s style until later on, you do get the choice of selecting your uniform number. This is a three digit number that can fall anywhere from 000 to 999. I’m sure a lot of folks chose various meme numbers for their uniform, and I’m not much different than them. My number may not be a “meme,” per se, but it is one that I feel like a lot of people will end up going with. That’s okay though, because the screenshot above was absolutely worth picking the number that I did. Plus I love how this “edgy” choice seems out of place with my character’s otherwise cute aesthetic (speaking of which, don’t get attached to the haircut in that shot – I changed it back to the default almost immediately after this cut scene).
A lot of characters make a proper first appearance during the opening ceremony. You get a sneak peak at seven out of the eight gym leaders, as well as your character meeting Chairman Rose for the first time. Not only does Chairman Rose run the Pokemon League, but he also owns most of the businesses of the Galar region and has a ton of political power as a result. I’m not saying Chairman Rose is evil…I’m just saying he has serious “I’m going to turn out to be evil by the time this game is over” energy. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say. Rose has also sponsored a trainer for the competition named Bede, and trust me when I say that this kid is just the worst. His personality sucks and he sucks at Pokemon battles, so he’s 0 for 2 in the world of Pokemon.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though, because there is one other thing that happened before the ceremony – I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Team Yell, the “bad guys” of Pokemon Sword and Shield. I haven’t seen enough of Team Yell to really get an idea of how funny they are going to be, but the idea of a toxic fanbase being the villain of the newest Pokemon title is really just too perfect. It’s like they knew they were going to experience significant backlash from a vocal minority (they probably did, but whether this is a dig at them remains to be seen). They interfere with other gym challengers on behalf of their favorite competitor, Marnie, whose as cute as a button and so far seems pretty chill. It’ll be interesting to see the extent of her relationship with Team Yell, and how much of their enthusiasm is the result of her encouraging it.
On the road between Motostoke and Turffield, the location of the real first gym, I got to try out a couple more new things. One was the Poke Job feature, an addition that I’m really liking so far. Poke Jobs are short missions you can send your Pokemon to complete using real time in order to gain experience points. You can send them off for as long as 24 hours, and when you come back to get them the next day they’ll have grown as a result of their training on the job. The jobs vary by typing and are all contextualized within the game world, and sometimes you’ll get a little surprise along with the experience points. It’s a fun, free way to grind up Pokemon you are not actively using.
One of the changes I noticed this time around that I hadn’t stumbled upon before were changes to some of the moves used in battle. The most dramatic change I’ve found so far is Rapid Spin. Rapid Spin is a move that previously saw little use outside of the competitive setting. It had a mere 20 power and was really only useful for getting rid of rarely-used trap moves like Leech Seed, Stealth Rock, and Sticky Webs. Since webs, spikes, and rocks are a lot more popular in the competitive meta, it certainly saw use there, but I imagine most folks deleted Rapid Spin pretty quickly during their normal playthrough. Not only did the move receive a buff in damage from 20 power to 50 power, but that damage buff came with an additional effect of the move: it now increases speed! Being able to clear hazards, deal a bigger chunk of damage than previously, and boost speed all in one go will make Rapid Spin even more useful in the competitive meta than it was before, and I think it’ll be cool to see the kinds of strategies that develop around it.
Once I made it to Turrfield, it was time to take on the gym challenge for the first time. Gyms in Pokemon Sword and Shield operate pretty similarly to gyms of the past – you have to overcome some kind of puzzle sequence while also battling trainers who will warm you up to the strategies used by the gym leader. Once you’ve cleared the mission, you get to step into the big arena and take on the gym leader in battle. The first gym was grass themed, so I made sure to have a few Pokemon in my team who were prepared for grass types: Ignatz the Dottler (bug/psychic), Cinder the Carkol (rock/fire), and Gerome the Corvisquire (flying).
The gym mission for Milo’s gym wasn’t exactly rocket science. It’s a challenge focused on getting a flock of Wooloo from one side of the gym to the other. The Wooloo move away from you when you approach them, but occasionally there are also Yamper who run by and scare the Wooloo off. You have to navigate around the Yamper while still coaxing the Wooloo to where you need them to go. The Yamper seemed to run in set patterns so it was generally easy to tell where they were going to be and work around them. Of course, even if they did scare some of the Wooloo off, it never made a significant interruption to my progress. All I had to do was adjust my angle of approach a little bit and my movement together with the Yamper’s still got the Wooloo where I wanted them.
The gym battle itself featured Milo, a grass type trainer who had only two grass Pokemon: Gossifleur and its evolution, Eldegoss. Gyms are Dynamax points and that means that these battles grow to a massive scale. I like that Dynamax is limited to specific locations in the game – to me, it makes it feel more epic. Mega Evolution and Z-moves could happen anywhere, even in battle against Youngster Joey if you really wanted to ruin his day. The fact that Dynamax is saved for either team raids or epic gym clashes makes it a lot more exciting when you finally get to supersize your Pokemon. Gerome made quick work of Milo’s Eldegoss and got me my first badge, also unlocking my ability to catch Pokemon of up to level 25. Since the Wild Area has such powerful Pokemon right from the get-go, this limit prevents you from getting lucky catching a level 45 Tyranitar and wrecking the rest of the game.
One gym badge under my belt, I think I can finally say I’ve formed all of my first impressions of the game. Pokemon Sword has quite a few new features to engage and most of them add something nice to the game. I’m enjoying Dynamax more than I thought I would, and the competitive sports approach to the setting really adds some hype to the gym battles. I’m excited to journey further into Galar, catch even more cool new Pokemon, and battle my way to the championship to finally put that goofball Leon in his place.