Pokémon Sword & Shield: The Crown Tundra – A Marked Improvement

We’ve all heard (or experienced) how middling and divisive Pokémon Sword and Shield’s base game is. Enough of that. Its second (and supposedly final) expansion, The Crown Tundra, was recently released! As you can imagine, it adds the titular Crown Tundra – a large, mostly-snowy valley with mountains and caves – to the bottom portion of the Galar map. The DLC promises fun multiplayer co-op, lots and lots of Legendary Pokémon, and a large new world to explore. Does it deliver on that promise? Actually, it kind of does! Today, we’re going to discuss The Crown Tundra in greater depth and why I think it’s breathed new life into Sword and Shield.

Introduction

Quick heads-up: this review will have spoilers, so if you don’t want to be spoiled on new Pokémon or plot details, it might be best to come back later. With that out of the way, The Crown Tundra is Sword and Shield’s second expansion, and it adds a whole bunch of new content. In addition to a new area to explore, it adds several new Pokémon: Galarian forms of Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, and Slowking, Regieleki, Regidrago, Glastrier, Spectrier, and Calyrex. Every single one of these is considered a Legendary Pokémon except for Slowking (which makes sense). The DLC also brings back over 100 previously-cut Pokémon, including the Hoenn starters and almost every Legendary Pokémon, among others. Not all the Mythical Pokémon were brought back, though. Manaphy, Darkrai, Shaymin, and Arceus are all missing in action… hm.

There’s also the brand-new Dynamax Adventure, which lets you team up with three other players — either friends, randoms, or CPUs – to run through a gauntlet full of Dynamax Pokémon. Max Raid Battles aren’t my favorite, and stale rather quickly, but Dynamax Adventures are a surprisingly fresh take that encourages trainers to play together. I’ll talk more about Dynamax Adventures later on in the essay, but for now, know that they’re a marked improvement over Max Raid Battles.

Many trainers – myself included – considered Sword and Shield’s base game incomplete. Is The Crown Tundra the missing piece? Not really, but it does add quite a few neat features that make the whole experience better. With that important question out of the way, it’s time to take a deep-ish dive into everything this expansion has to offer. Let’s get started!

Region Design

The Crown Tundra is part of the Galar region, but it’s about as large (if not a bit larger) than the Wild Area seen in the main game. The Crown Tundra’s Wild Area, though, has a lot more going for it. Fittingly, most of the area is covered in snow. You’ll traverse snowy fields, snowy mountains, snowy caves, and snowy cemeteries. I suppose it’s appropriate, given that the expansion was released close to the holiday season. One interesting aspect of The Crown Tundra is the Pokémon that appear in the wild. You’ll find fossils like Omastar, Tyrantrum, Archen, and Kabutops in the overworld! This is the first time they’ve been available to catch as Wild Pokémon, and it’s explained because Calyrex – the king of the Galar region – apparently saved them from mass destruction many years ago. The wild Pokémon are really strong, too, and they’re generally at around Level 70.

There’s another area of The Crown Tundra that isn’t covered in snow, but it still has a chilly climate. It’s a circular lake with a literal Dynamax Tree in its center! This is where some of the new Legendary Pokémon congregate. Throughout the whole region, there are plenty of hidden paths, items, and crannies to explore and find. It’s a pretty large region, as I mentioned before, so it should take you quite some time to traverse the whole thing. I would have appreciated a bit more variety, as the entire area is just snow and grass, but I suppose too much variety and the region would’ve felt unrealistic.

There’s just one major town in The Crown Tundra – Freezington (wonderful name, right?) – and it’s not even that major a town. There are only a few residents left, including the mayor, so it doesn’t feel like there’s too much going on. Overall, though, The Crown Tundra is supposed to feel like an abandoned place overrun by Pokémon, which it captures pretty much perfectly. Thematically, I didn’t think The Crown Tundra was all that interesting, but I do think it’s a solid location with a lot of secrets to discover. A really cool one I liked was how trainers can access Spiritomb, which I wrote about in this post.

This is kind of a minor concern, but there are a lot of Legendary Pokémon living in The Crown Tundra. You’ve got the Galarian legendary birds, all five legendary giants (including the two new ones), the Swords of Justice (Cobalion, Terrakion, and Virizion), and even Keldeo. That’s a lot of Legendary Pokémon packed into one small area. I do appreciate all the chances we get to catch cool Pokémon, but they’re all concentrated into a relatively small area. That doesn’t seem very believable to me. But again, that’s just a small concern. No big deal!

Presentation

Pokémon Sword and Shield’s base game was notorious for a few… rough-looking areas. Everybody mentions that tree, so what did Game Freak do? They made a giant tree one of the central locations of The Crown Tundra. Regardless, though, I think The Crown Tundra generally looks much better than the base game. I especially like traversing it at night, because it feels dark, calm, and the slightest bit eerie all at the same time.

The returning Pokémon models appear to have been lifted directly from Pokémon X and Y (where they were first created) with little noticeable changes. That’s to be expected. Despite being over half a decade old, the models still look pretty good. I still take issues with some of their animations, as most of their idle poses are kind of plain. That being said, I do acknowledge that three-dimensional models are more difficult to give “personality” to than two-dimensional sprites. The new Pokémon have good-looking models, and I think their animations are of the highest quality we’ve seen yet. That’s a step in the right direction!

I found the soundtrack a bit more forgettable than the base game, but The Crown Tundra still has some good ones! One that stood out to me was Freezington’s theme. It’s the only town in the region, and it’s kind of a depressing one at that. Most of its residents have already moved to other places in the Galar region, which leaves just a few villagers. Its theme perfectly fits a cold and empty town that’s seen better days. I liked some of the battle music, too — the legendary giants have a new battle remix that I thought sounded clean!

There’s also a really neat cutscene when you first meat the Galarian forms of the legendary birds. They all interact with each other and then flee when your Rotom phone rings. It’s one of the few displays of “protagonist personality” in Pokémon Sword and Shield, and I really wish we had more cool cutscenes like these! Be sure the “Skip Movies” option in settings is turned off before you play the DLC. They’re actually worth viewing this time around.

Pokémon Design

Let’s review the new Pokémon added here: Galarian forms of Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, and Slowking; Regieleki, Regidrago, Glastrier, Spectrier, and Calyrex. The Galarian forms of the legendary birds are radically different than their Kantonian forms, but they’re similar enough to be recognizable. Articuno becomes a purple, calm-looking Psychic / Flying-type Pokémon with Competitive as its sole ability. Its signature move, Freezing Glare, is a Psychic-type move that has a chance to freeze the opponent, which is a nice callback to Articuno’s original typing. Zapdos becomes a grounded Fighting / Flying-type road runner Pokémon with the ability Defiant. I like its shades of orange and black a lot! Its signature move is the FIghting-type Thunderous Kick, which lowers the enemy’s Defense stat. Meanwhile, Moltres becomes a really cool-looking Dark / Flying-type Pokémon with a black body and pinkish-purple fire wings. It’s got Berserk as its ability, and can use the Dark-type move Fiery Wrath. I think Zapdos is probably my favorite of the three, but I appreciate the fact that the Galarian birds all have new signature moves that make reference to their old typings. That helps them feel a little more believable, which I think goes a long way!

Then we have Galarian Slowking, which I’m honestly not the biggest fan of. Its Shellder hat is now covering its face, and Shellder’s eyes now serve as Slowking’s eyes. I also don’t care for its pink and purple color scheme. I think Galarian Slowbro was the nicer-looking (and more competitively viable — at least in Singles) regional variant. The Galarian birds more than make up for this, though!

Next up, we’ve got Regieleki and Regidrago, which are Electric- and Dragon-type legendary giants, respectively. While I am a fan of Regieleki’s design, I’m still warming up to its battle animation. For its idle pose, it bounces around on its two leg-looking appendages, which I definitely wasn’t expecting! It’s a lot more interesting than Regidrago’s idle pose, that’s for sure. Personally, I prefer Regidrago’s design. I really like its reddish-pink and gray color scheme! Of course, Game Freak had to give it “arms” that resemble Charizard’s head. Would we really expect any different at this point? Either way, I like both of the new legendary giants, but I slightly prefer Regidrago.

Glastrier and Spectrier are Ghost- and Ice-type horse Pokémon. You can choose one per game – yes, they’re not version exclusives, you have to choose – and whichever horse you choose winds up as Calyrex’s steed. On their own, Glastrier and Spectrier aren’t very interesting. They look really basic, especially when compared to other Pokémon introduced in Sword and Shield, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Glastrier is somewhat generic, while Spectrier is my favorite of the two. It’s got strange double hooves that end in a ghostly trail, and I’m still conflicted as to whether that’s cool or cheesy. Both of these Pokémon are rather strong, even without Calyrex.

Finally, we’ve got Calyrex itself! When I first saw Calyrex, I didn’t particularly like it. It’s got a giant head and strange long legs, not to mention a concerningly exploitable Grass / Psychic typing. However, The Crown Tundra takes Calyrex in an interesting direction. It isn’t “just another Legendary Pokémon”, it’s actually a character that talks to you. It has to possess a human to be able to properly communicate, which makes for some interesting scenarios during its story arc. Calyrex is known as the King of Bountiful Harvests, but The Crown Tundra’s villagers have forgotten about its existence. It’s your job to help the villagers remember and help Calyrex remember its trusty steed. As mentioned earlier, this is also where you have to choose between Glastrier and Spectrier. Calyrex can actually “fuse” with Glastrier or Spectrier, transforming into its Ice Rider or Shadow Rider forms in the process. These forms are absurdly strong – especially Shadow Rider – but we’ll talk about that in a bit. Overall, I liked Calyrex much more than I thought I would, and I owe that to its inclusion as more of a character than a Pokémon.

One thing I’d like to mention here is that almost all of the new Pokémon are shiny locked. As a player who loves to reset the games thousands of times, I found this disappointing! Galarian Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres are all shiny locked, as well as Glastrier, Spectrier, and Calyrex. Fortunately, Regieleki and Regidrago can be encountered shiny, though you can only choose one per game, which is also disappointing. In fact, The Crown Tundra barely has any version exclusives. You’re just tasked with choosing between Glastrier and Spectrier and then Regieleki and Regidrago. Considering how many version exclusives Sword and Shield’s base game has, this is kind of inconsistent. That being said, you can just play a second file on your game to get the other Pokémon without having to buy a second game. That’s a plus!

Gameplay

We talked about The Crown Tundra’s Wild Area a few paragraphs ago, so we don’t need to reiterate on any of that. There are three “story arcs” in The Crown Tundra. At the beginning of the DLC campaign, you meet Peony, who is actually Chairman Rose’s younger brother. He tasks you with three exploration expeditions — one for Calyrex, one for the legendary giants, and one for the legendary birds. You can tackle these in mostly any order you like. Most of them are just fetch quests without much depth, so I found them to be about average. Not very enjoyable, but not very… not enjoyable either. One thing I did like, though, is that The Crown Tundra doesn’t have trainers littered everywhere who want to do battle with you. You’re free to explore and battle Wild Pokémon, which will keep you busy for quite some time!

About ten minutes into the DLC, you gain access to the Max Lair, where you can go on Dynamax Adventures. To recap what we said earlier, you can team up with friends, CPUs, or random online players to go up against a gauntlet of four Dynamax Pokémon. You’ll always fight a Legendary Pokémon or Ultra Beast at the end (with the latter being unlocked as you progress in the story). Once you fight a Legendary Pokémon, you’ll have the option of saving its position so that you can go on another Dynamax Adventure to fight it again. For example, if you battle Latios, you’ll be able to save its location regardless of whether or not you won. That being said, you can only catch one of each Legendary Pokémon in Dynamax Adventures. So in Latios’ case, if you catch one in Sword and Shield and then battle it in a Dynamax Adventure later, you won’t have the option to catch it anymore. If you transferred a Latios from Pokémon HOME, you’re good. That doesn’t count.

The shiny chance in Dynamax Adventures is really high, but not absurdly high. Without the Shiny Charm, each Pokémon has a 1 in 300 chance of appearing shiny. With the Shiny Charm, each Pokémon has a 1 in 100 chance of appearing shiny. Their shininess is determined client-side, so you have to check all four Pokémon at the end of the adventure. They’ll never appear shiny during the actual raid.

Dynamax Adventures force players to use rental Pokémon, which I wasn’t happy about at first. However, I’m actually fine with it now — their movesets are designed to kind of intertwine with the other rental Pokémon, which helps create a layer of strategy and cooperation Pokémon hasn’t been able to capture until now. I think Dynamax Adventures are a great way to play Pokémon together, and it’s by far my favorite aspect of the new DLC.

That’s about all when it comes to actual gameplay. You’ve got a big region, a bunch of Legendary Pokémon to catch, and Dynamax Adventures. The latter really does add a lot of replay value, which makes it well worth your time.

The Verdict

Overall, The Crown Tundra is the breath of fresh air that Sword and Shield desperately needed. Dynamax Adventures are absolutely the best part of the DLC – at least in my opinion – and add potential for extra play time in cooperation you wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. It doesn’t fix any of the problems seen in the base game, which is disappointing but understandable. I think The Crown Tundra DLC is mostly superior to The Isle of Armor. If you’re going to play one of the two expansions, make sure it’s this one!

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