Pokemon Sword and Shield DLC – Ripoff or Bargain?

One of the hallmark stapes of Pokemon since Generation I has been the “third version” installment that comes after the generation’s initial releases and expands upon that generation and region. With one exception, every generation has had this. In Generation I, after Red and Blue (and Green if you’re Japanese) came Yellow. In Generation II, after Gold and Silver came Crystal. In Generation III, after Ruby and Sapphire came Emerald. In Generation IV, after Diamond and Pearl came Platinum. In Generation V, however, they changed things up; after Black and White came Black 2 and White 2. Generation VI was the exception to this; while it was long expected and anticipated, we never saw Pokemon X and Y followed up by Pokemon Z. In Generation VII, Sun and Moon were followed by Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. When Generation VIII began with Sword and Shield, a lot of fans were left wondering what our expanded version would be. We all joked about the upcoming “Pokemon Gun,” but of course, that was unlikely given Pokemon’s popularity with children. What Nintendo decided to do, however, is change things up again and in a much larger way than the move from one to two follow-up games. They decided to give us DLC. As our resident (and wholly self-appointed) Pokemon Master, I figured this was a topic worth exploring for me.

This move to DLC has been controversial, to say the least, and that’s in part because the base game itself was fairly controversial. There have been complaints that the characters and story are less developed than in past games, that the routes feel fairly empty and barren, that the game is too easy, so on and so forth. I personally don’t agree with those complaints, but they’re valid opinions I won’t attempt to discredit. The biggest complaint I’ve seen, though, and one that I share and is relevant to this topic, is the exclusion of the national PokeDex and lack of support for previous generations of Pokemon. For the first time, you don’t “gotta catch ‘em all” because you can’t catch them all. While the 403 Pokemon supported by the game (including Mew, Meltan, and Melmetal which we’ll be able to transfer from Let’s Go via Pokemon Home in February) is still a huge amount and nearly half of the 890 total Pokemon that currently exist, it’s still a huge departure for the series and one that most fans did not welcome.

Nintendo’s announcement of the Expansion Pass for Sword and Shield was met with mixed reception. I saw a plethora of memes flood Twitter and Reddit comparing Nintendo to EA with a vampiric DLC plan, but I’d like to take a minute to rebut those assertions. The “third game” in each generation has always launched for the full price of a regular game; Platinum was no cheaper on release than Diamond or Pearl, nor were Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon any cheaper than Sun and Moon. From that 20 year precedent, one can reasonably infer that the MSRP of a third game for this generation – what I’ll call Pokemon Gun – would launch for the regular $60 price tag. Let’s look at what these third games usually added. They don’t add new pokemon with only one exception; Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon added a couple of Ultra Beasts and a legendary. They don’t add much new area to explore – maybe a dungeon or two at most. They usually only added some story elements, maybe some post-game battle stuff, and an encounter or two with a legendary Pokemon that would otherwise have to be transferred in. These games were, in all honesty, less of a follow-up and more of a “definitive edition.” If you never played the generation’s original games, they were absolutely worth the price of admission, but if you’d already played Sun and/or Moon, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were kind of a tough sell if you think about it.

Let’s contrast that, now, with what Nintendo is doing with the Expansion Pass for Sword and Shield. The Expansion pass costs $30 – half what a “third version” would have cost – and offers DLC in two waves. The first wave, launching in June, will add the Isle of Armor to explore, new items, new ways to train and strengthen your Pokemon, and a new legendary Pokemon, Kubfu, which evolves into Urshifu. The second wave, launching sometime in the fall of 2020, will add the Crown Tundra to explore, explorable Pokemon Dens, a new currently undetailed co-op play feature, and a new legendary Pokemon, Calyrex. Each of the new areas added, the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra, will also add items that allow you evolve the recently patched in Galarian Slowpoke into Galarian Slowbro and Galarian Slowking. These new areas will also contain new raid dens including the appearance of Gigantimax forms of the game’s three starter Pokemon. All of this, remember, for half the price of a separate game release and without having to start a new save game.

That’s not all, though; there are free updates coming with these additions from which all players will benefit, not just those who purchase the expansion pass. The Galarian Slowpoke I just mentioned is the first these, but there are also over 200 older Pokemon who have support added for all players regardless of pass purchase and be transferrable from older games via Pokemon Home – over 100 with the first wave of content and over 100 more with the second wave of content. In addition, even players who’ve not bought the Expansion Pass will be allowed to join Expansion Pass raids online with the Y-Comm. Those bonuses for players without the Expansion Pass caught me off guard in the best way.

I totally understand not liking the idea of Pokemon entering the realm of DLC, but if you’re a longtime fan, please take the time to look at what the content contains, what it costs, and look objectively at that compared to what we used to get. We’re getting more content than a third version ever added in the past at half of what a hypothetical Pokemon Gun would have cost us. I’m generally not a fan of DLC, but this is a good deal for consumers, a smart move for Nintendo, and really a net-win for everyone involved. If you disagree or have counter-points, please chime in via the comments! I’d love to discuss this change to the Pokemon landscape and hear differing opinions.

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