Like the harsh and snowy climate it’s set in, the final DLC for Pokémon Sword and Shield’s season pass is an add-on designed with the most hardcore Pokémon players in mind. The Crown Tundra puts open-world exploration and legendary Pokémon front and center, taking full advantage of the base game’s best innovation: wild areas. But while it succeeds in being another entertaining addition to Sword and Shield like The Isle of Armor before it, its weak story is similarly short-lived – and its exciting legendary hunts end with classic, grindy encounters that will have you praying to lady luck.
The second part of the Pokémon Sword and Shield expansion pass takes you to the Crown Tundra, an icy mountain region filled to the brim with powerful pocket monsters and frostbitten senior citizens. Like The Isle of Armor DLC, The Crown Tundra is one giant wild area where you’re given 360 degrees of control over the camera and Pokémon roam freely. Unlike wild areas before it though, The Crown Tundra actually makes much better use of the open-world sandbox by cramming it full of legendary Pokémon to track down and secrets to discover. You might find yourself solving a series of riddles to track down some legendary giants or cooking curry to lure out a reclusive unicorn. Though there’s only a few hours of legendary-hunting to be had in total, it’s definitely some of the best content in all of Pokémon Sword and Shield.
From our November 2019 Pokemon Sword and Shield review by Casey DeFreitas:
”Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are closer to my dream Pokemon RPGs than anything that’s come before. I’d still like better cutscenes, companion Pokemon, the complete Pokedex, and a more visually interesting Wild Area, but nitpicks are just not very effective when everything else was such a complete joy to play. The way they respect my time is wonderful, and the removal of monotony from random encounters and other odds and ends distills it down to only the pure and charming fun of capturing, training, and battling wonderful creatures. And hey, if I’m missing any tedious repetition, I can always get back into breeding.”
The main story of The Crown Tundra focuses on Calyrex, a psychic/grass-type Pokémon with the awesome and disturbing power to possess humans and use them as meat puppets… and also the power of growing crops. After losing both of those powers and roaming the world as a forgotten deity for generations, you’re entrusted with reuniting Calyrex with its lost steed and restoring it to its former glory. Though the story lacks any real drama or surprises, it does manage to make Calyrex an interesting character who I genuinely cared about, even if the little guy is kinda creepy sometimes.
As you hunt for legendaries and lend Calyrex a helping hand, you’ll also spend a lot of time with Peony, a wacky, adventure-crazed former gym leader who serves as your partner throughout the journey. Peony is an entertaining tour guide and bursting with personality, but the storyline and relationship between him and his daughter, Peonia, feels underused and somewhat out of place in this legendary quest. I was expecting the relationship between father and daughter to ultimately serve as a metaphor that the real legendary Pokémon we should strive to capture is family or something, but instead they just made some jokes about how dads are annoying, which is cool too, I guess.
A looser structure grants a greater sense of exploration than you’d expect from Pokémon.“
Rather than railroading you straight to the linear main quest with Calyrex though, The Crown Tundra offers a more open format with dozens of legendaries to chase in whatever order you choose. Apart from the primary questline, there are a few fun guided legendary expeditions that will account for most of your time in this DLC, like hunting a trio of legendary birds or following footprints to track down some familiar stag-like creatures. There are also secrets and hidden legendaries beyond the basic shopping list for truly dedicated and sharp Pokémon masters to seek out, some of which were actually pretty fun and tricky to puzzle out. This looser formula pairs perfectly with the open-world wild area concept, granting a greater sense of exploration than one might expect from Pokémon.
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Unfortunately, the traditional structure of catching legendary Pokémon doesn’t do this exciting newer method of finding them justice. Since The Crown Tundra mostly focuses on legendaries, you’ll spend a lot of your time throwing Poké Balls at opponents with extremely low capture rates in classic Pokémon fashion, and watching them break out again and again is a sour way to conclude an otherwise entertaining hunt. There’s little you can do to improve your odds aside from the usual methods of lowering a Pokémon’s health, dishing out a status effect, and then hucking different types of balls over and over until you get lucky. In one instance, this led me to throwing all manner of Poké Balls, including plenty of Dusk Balls and Timer Balls, for almost an hour before successfully capturing my target. It’s not a new feeling for any experienced Pokémon player, but the novelty runs out pretty quickly when legendaries are such a large part of this DLC.
Dynamax Adventures offer an awesome new game mode seemingly inspired by roguelikes.“
Thankfully there are more than just legendaries in The Crown Tundra, and with this new area comes more than 70 returning regular Pokémon, including welcome additions like Aerodactyl, Jynx, and Dragonite. As with The Isle of Armor, this expansion does not fully solve the problem of an incomplete Pokédex, with over 200 past Pokémon still missing in action, but it does add enough to make capturing all the new and returning ones quite alluring, especially for completionists like me.
One of the main draws of The Crown Tundra is “Dynamax Adventures,” an awesome new game mode that seems to take inspiration from roguelike games. This mode acts like a boss rush for the base game’s Max Raid Battles: you’re randomly assigned a Pokémon to use alongside three online teammates (or AI when playing solo) and have to fight through a series of Dynamax battles with opportunities to swap and upgrade your Pokémon as you progress. At the end of each adventure waits a legendary Pokémon which can be captured if you manage to defeat it.
The Crown Tundra and The Isle of Armor can only be purchased together as part of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s Expansion Pass. Here’s what I said in my June 2020 review of The Isle of Armor:
”The Isle of Armor is a solid first attempt at DLC in a Pokémon game, even if it’s too short-lived to offer anything that feels like a truly substantial addition beyond the location itself. While the new Wild Area is beautifully crafted and the exciting selection of returning Pokemon are fun to catch, the shallow campaign feels like a waste of their full potential.”
The great thing about Dynamax Adventures is that they actually present a real challenge since you aren’t able to rely on your own powerful Pokémon to carry you through to victory. And since your entire team is only allowed four faints for the entire run, you’ll have to play smart to overcome your opponents and have a shot at the legendary that lies in wait at the end. With so many legendaries available through this mode, there’s plenty of reasons to return and fill out your roster.
A less interesting addition is the Galarian Star Tournament, a mode that pits you and a recognizable NPC teammate from Sword and Shield’s story against opposing duos in a series of competitive bouts. While it’s fun to revisit and even fight alongside some of the charming characters from the campaign, there aren’t a ton of incentives to do so – especially when hours of grinding it largely just results in two very disappointing unlockable characters.
Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra is another fun DLC that offers more cool Pokémon to catch, an awesome new game mode in Dynamax Adventures, and a surprising amount of discovery and secrets. Its weak story, grindy encounters, and modest amount of content are offset by the fact that it nails open-world exploration and the thrill of hunting for legendary Pokémon, even if it doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground doing it.
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