One of the most criticized features of Pokémon Sword and Shield was the Wild Area. There was so much potential there, but ultimately, many thought it was fairly empty and fell short of being something great. The first expansion, The Isle of Armor, was an improvement, giving us a much more varied environment to explore, but still lacking elements to make it truly shine. If that was a step forward, Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra is a leap.
Almost right away, you’ll come across the small village of Freezington, which immediately gives more life to the region than the Master Dojo did. Beyond this village is a wide open area to explore, but there’s more here to see and use to guide yourself with. One of the coolest additions is the inclusion of little placards giving you bits of lore. There are actual temples here for you to try to break into. All these additions breathe life into a world that was sorely lacking any.
Further, The Crown Tundra is easily the closest thing we currently have to a true open-world Pokémon title. The story with this expansion is that you partner with a former gym leader named Peony to explore local legends. After giving you leads on three different stories, the game takes a step back and lets you explore to your heart’s content. Almost nothing is gated off due to a lack of story progression, and when you decide you want to pursue the leads, you can do so in any order. You’re working on these simultaneously, so you have the freedom to pick up or leave one any time you want, giving you full control of how you progress.
The “main” story you follow in Pokémon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra involves the new Legendary Pokémon Calyrex. This easily carries the most lore, but it also guides you through step by step. The other leads involve the Regis and the Galarian Bird Trio. These are much more open-ended and require you to explore and track down your targets throughout the world. Though still relatively simple, I really liked this style of gameplay and hope it returns in future installments.
Outside of the main story, there’s some interesting new content you can take part in. The main feature is the new Dynamax Adventures mode. You and up to three friends can venture into a Pokémon den in search of powerful creatures. For story reasons, you can’t use your own team and instead have to rely on rental Pokémon, but I find this adds to the challenge since you have to make the most of what you’re given. Once your team is set, you have to fight through three Max Raid battles in a row before squaring off against the Legendary boss. Catching a Pokémon gives you the opportunity to swap your fighter out, but only one person in your team can do so. There are a lot of little things here that add to the experience, and it’s a welcome addition to the game.
Assuming you’ve beaten all the content for the base game and both expansions, you also get access to the Galarian Star Tournament. There’s not a lot here, as at the end of the day it’s just more battling, but there are a few aspects that stand out. First, this tournament is the toughest challenge in the game, so if you really want to test your skills, this is a good place for it. Second, and more interestingly, the tournament features double battles. When starting a bracket, you’ll have to pick a partner from among your rivals and the Galar gym leaders to team up with. Depending on your choice and the composition of the teams you face, you can access some pretty interesting dialogue between the characters. At most, this tournament is a nice activity to do if you just want to do a few quick battles, but it’s nothing to write home about.
Lastly, as Legendary Pokémon are a huge component of this expansion, there are a number of secret quests and gifts you can find throughout, adding to your collection. In my first few hours of playing, I was able to capture eight different Legendaries, only one of which came from Dynamax Adventures. Everything else came either from the story or optional side quests. Trying to figure out how to get everything has been a lot of fun and really adds to the exploration theme set out in this expansion. I’d recommend trying to find these on your own before consulting a guide for the full experience.
There’s not a lot to take issue with in Pokemon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra, but things do pop up. I think the subset of returning Pokémon could’ve been a little better, (I’ve seen way too many Nidoran for my liking.) for one thing. More could’ve been done with Peony’s character, as once he gives you the leads to pursue, he mostly just stays at your base camp. Nothing has changed graphically, either, so if you weren’t a fan of the look of Sword and Shield before, nothing here is going to change your mind. None of these on their own are big enough to amount to more than minor complaints, though.
All in all, I think The Crown Tundra is the better of Pokémon Sword and Shield’s two expansions. It’s yet another step forward over improving the Wild Area, so much so that I think it could serve as a really good foundation for creating a full open-world Pokémon title. It’s not without its faults, but I haven’t been able to stop playing since I started it and don’t see myself voluntarily letting up any time soon.