My Pokemon Sword Wonderlocke – Advice for the Early Game

The Nuzlocke challenge is my favorite part of playing Pokemon these days, so after wrapping up Pokemon Sword it didn’t take long for me to want to revisit the game with a challenge run in mind. I decided that for my first run of the game I wanted to do a Wonderlocke challenge. The Wonderlocke was originally conceived during the days of Pokemon X and Y and is named after their Wondertrade feature, a feature that is now called Surprise Trade in Sword and Shield. The idea is that each time you capture a Pokemon, you use surprise trade to switch it out with something else and you add that Pokemon to your team.

Every new Pokemon game offers some concerns as far as the Nuzlocke challenge goes and Sword is no exception. Routing is always a concern: how many unique routes are there, and how are they spaced out? One of the biggest considerations for challenge runs of this game in particular is the Wild Area and how it factors into the capture numbers. Some games in the series lock out certain features until a certain point in the game, and identifying when those features kick in is important for Nuzlocke challenges that utilize more than just the basic rules. In this article, I’ll be sharing the various considerations that have gone into my challenge so far as well as some basic advice for the challenges presented by the game’s opening hours.

SwordShield Real Adventure

First let’s talk about routing concerns. The Galar region is pretty limited in its number of unique routes compared to other Pokemon games. There are only ten numbered routes, which of course translates directly to ten captures. Of course there are other unique areas such as caves and forests that add a couple of other capture opportunities on top of that. The Wild Area essentially doubles the number of eligible captures if you choose to count it as separate regions. The game map conveniently splits up the Wild Area into “routes” of a sort, and these separate route names pop up on screen as you pass the thresholds in the game. Whether you count the entire Wild Area as one big encounter or separate it out into smaller encounters is a matter of the level of difficulty that you want – if you’re looking for a Nuzlocke challenge that really pushes you and forces you to manage your Pokemon team carefully, I’d only consider the Wild Area to be a single encounter. For the purposes of my Wonderlocke, I am accepting captures in each region within the Wild Area.

Playing in this way, one of the important things to consider is how to break apart the captures in the Wild Area. After all, you can theoretically stumble into it right at the beginning of the game and just walk around getting a bunch of captures all in a row. This can be a viable strategy – catching as many Pokemon as possible and then building a team from your selection – but not every part of the Wild Area is friendly to this approach. Individual routes within the Wild Area feature Pokemon of different levels, and of course all of the sections have some Pokemon who are too strong for you that wander around freely. Is there value in waiting until you can capture some of those bigger Pokemon? Or maybe you want to have regular visits to the Wild Area built into the routing for grinding purposes? Or perhaps you want to save the Wild Area captures for emergencies, or to break apart the tightly-packed endgame of Sword and Shield? How you treat the Wild Area is a key part of Nuzlocking Sword and Shield regardless of which particular Nuzlocke challenge you are doing.

When it comes to the Wonderlocke challenge, you don’t get access to surprise trade right at the beginning of the game. It is unlocked when you visit Professor Magnolia on route two, which means you’ll actually have two capture opportunities before you ever gain the ability to trade Pokemon. This works out okay because it allows you the opportunity to train up any level one trades you might receive. A trend you’ll see during the Wonderlocke challenge is that a lot of players surprise trade the Pokemon that they have bred that turned out not to be shiny, or were meant to be competitive but have the incorrect nature or IVs. This means you frequently end up with level one Pokemon who need to be trained up to catch up with the team. Keeping your starter around until last to train up what I call the “breedjects” that you end up with will make sure you don’t get wiped out right at the start of the game. Once your first couple of trades are combat ready, you can trade your starter off and pick up from there.

SwordShield Surprise Trade

Sword and Shield’s experience mechanics are quite friendly to a Wonderlocke run. Pokemon who are lower leveled get prioritized when distributing experience after battle, allowing them to catch up to the rest of the team at an increased pace. You can expedite that process further by placing them in front of the party and then switching to a Pokemon that can actually fight, but be wary of this swapping strategy – many a Pokemon has been lost to grinding by switching into a supereffective move or a critical hit. Grinding is faster and more dangerous generally in Sword and Shield because of the heightened levels of wild Pokemon compared to previous titles.

I had a pretty narrow escape when I visited the Wild Area for the first time because the Pokemon within the different sub-regions in the area can be drastically different levels. In the rolling fields area where I started I practiced against opponents who were levels 8-10 and got my Pokemon up around level 14 or 15. Imagine my surprise when I crossed into the east lake axwell area and found one of my level 14 Pokemon up against a level 15 wild encounter! Encounter difficulty in the Wild Area is not consistent from region to region, so that’s something to be wary of when grinding. When the Pokemon are that close in level, I don’t recommend using the switching strategy until you’ve gotten your combat-ready Pokemon to be a few levels over the wild Pokemon that you are battling against, especially if you don’t have a clear type advantage.

One thing that can make a Wonderlocke challenge a little bit easier than other Nuzlocke runs is the experience boost from trading. When you have a traded Pokemon in your party that Pokemon gains experience at a higher rate than Pokemon you caught yourself. This makes it easier to level them up without having to grind as much. And if you’re getting a lot of “breedjects” in your party, chances are decent that they may have some perfect IVs, hidden abilities, or useful egg moves that give them a bit of an edge compared to the Pokemon that you would normally capture. This random element can also be an issue, of course. At the time of writing my Wonderlocke team has a crippling weakness to ground and fairy types because of overlaps within the typings I’ve received so far. Additionally, while a Wonderlocke may allow you to have rare Pokemon earlier than usual, many rare Pokemon who are powerful in their final form have weaker forms who level up slowly and don’t have many useful moves. Generally the rewards outweigh the risks in a Wonderlocke, though, and as long as you don’t have poor trade luck right at the beginning of your game you’ll be able to push through and have an edge.

SwordShield Camping
My team at the time of writing.

As I progress through the game I am most curious to see how the pacing of Pokemon Sword and Shield affects the need to grind levels as well as how Dynamaxing impacts the difficulty of the run. Unlike previous Nuzlocke runs on Adventure Rules I don’t plan to do an episode-by-episode breakdown of my experience; instead, you can look forward to seeing my goofy visage on DoubleJump on or about January 26th where we’ll be talking about our experiences with Nuzlocking Sword and Shield! Rachel and Kris are both great so I am super excited to collaborate with them and hope you look forward to seeing what we put together!

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