The new Pokémon Sword and Shield DLC, The Crown Tundra, is out now, and reviews have been… admittedly mixed. While many praise its new characters, others have pointed out that the primary selling point of the game, the legendary Pokémon itself, makes legendary Pokémon less fun.
Frequent readers of Fanbyte might be scratching their heads right about now. “Wait didn’t this website just run a piece on why legendary Pokémon aren’t special anymore?” Well, the answer to that is yes, but please hear me out. While Kenneth Shepard’s point is well taken, and it is true that The Crown Tundra is essentially a farm for legendary Pokémon, battling the legendary creatures themselves has never been more enjoyable.
That’s because of the newly introduced mode called “Dynamax Adventures.” Here’s how it works: In each Dynamax Adventure challenge, players get assigned one Pokémon mostly at random. You get to pick that Pokémon from a list of three, but the choices are still really limited given the variety of monsters in-game. Then you do your best to use your ’mon in order to win a bunch of Dynamax battles in a row. It’s a bit like random draft modes in collectible card games — which is obviously part of the series’ DNA.
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These battles are also similar to “Max Raids.” It’s four trainers versus one giant, or Dynamax, Pokémon. Thus the challenge is taken on by a group of four together — either people online or AI companions. If the trainers win enough battles in a row, they get a shot at facing a Dynamax version of a legendary Pokémon. Oh! And I forgot to mention that all the damage you take in each battle carries over to the next… If you lose once, you’re kicked back to the beginning of the challenge.
This new way of battling switches up the formula from the base game considerably. It’s also really hard (particularly compared to the easy story mode). It’s so hard, in fact, that it’s throwing long-time Pokémon fans for a loop.
“I actually failed the initial Suicune you start the DLC against,” said Dumbseal, founder and admin of the Pokémon Sword and Shield Discord server connected to the most popular Reddit page for the game. He agreed to speak with me about his experience playing the DLC.
“I’ve lost two or three times now, including my first one,” he continued. “Sometimes the random Pokémon you get are just bad against what you’re against, sometimes the Pokémon you battle on the way just whittle you down. As for the world legendaries, like the Regis [the three Legendary Titan Pokémon], they were pretty easy, but you were able to prep with a full team before fighting them.”
Although some legendary Pokémon can be caught with your regular team in the new Wild Areas, others from previous generations can only be battled acquired through the Dynamax Adventures.
It seems like players have taken to the challenge. Dumbseal and his team had to create new channels to accommodate all the interested players.
“Honestly, [the community] is loving it,” he explained. “Over the last few days, we’ve had a huge surge in users, we initially added a channel for Dynamax Adventures and people instantly flocked to it. We had to make a second channel just to split the chatter, and we also made voice channels for the adventures, at one point, we had 10 groups going all at once in voice chat alone, plus hundreds more lurking in the text channels.”
The community still took a bit to find its feet, though.
“Originally ‘Max Raids’ were the big thing to do that, but once the community worked out how to farm those fast, it wasn’t until the adventures came out people had good challenging content.”
The unshakeable, consistent challenge is a huge draw of the new Crown Tundra DLC. Dumbseal wrote that “It gives me the same kinda rush that playing roguelikes gives me? With a random dungeon team and chance at a really rare shiny at the end, it’s a good experience.”
“People are wiping with top level teams, but that’s what makes it fun,” added CrossovCp. They’re a moderator on Dumbseal’s Discord. I asked CrossocCp why he thought this new way of playing specifically resonated with players.
“I’ve been actually playing Pokémon since the Red Version, all the way back to the Game Boy,” they explained. “And it reminds me of the feeling you get after defeating the Elite Four for the first time. You think that you’re done and you have beaten the game, only to find out that you still had the champion to go through. And he would usually beat you the first time, quickly. So the new system reminds me of that. You need to go through all the battles to get to the end and to see if you get your prize or not”.
The Crown Tundra DLC isn’t just fun because it’s hard. Losing itself is connected to unforgettable memories of childhood. This makes it fun and different from the base game. Dumbseal added that, “The fact I lost my first adventure was actually surprising. The rest of Sword and Shield, as much as I love it, was a bit lackluster.”
Pokémon has always benefited from the thrill of losing (or coming close to it). On TikTok, I still see young people post videos with the Elite Four Cynthia theme with captions like “Nothing triggers my flight or fight response more than this.” The fun lies in the tension of not knowing the outcome ahead of time.
Still, the Pokémon franchise has a broad playerbase. Threading the needle of making everyone happy with the difficulty can be hard to nail.
TAHK0 is a well-known pixel artist that regularly streams Pokémon Sword and Shield to his community. He also had thoughts about the trajectory of the franchise over all these years.
“I’m sure Pokémon is as easy as it is in order to be accessible to all the different people that play it, but the series has almost always felt too easy,” he said. “That said, both the main game and DLC have been streamlined in a way that, as long as you don’t stop anywhere to grind and over-level your Pokémon, you can have an okay amount of challenge throughout your playthrough.”
For him, The Crown Tundra has struck a good balance.
“I believe the balance of playability vs. challenge lies in finding nonmandatory ways to encourage the player to try new things and keep pushing forward even if they’re underprepared, which might also mean giving the player preset Pokémon in a separate game mode.”
Even as a side story in a greater game, the DLC has led TAHK0 and a variety of players to return and be more optimistic about future Pokémon games.
“I’m looking forward to the series improving even more on what they’ve already started improving on so far.”