Pokémon Sword and Shield’s new island is a better version of the Wild Area

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For the past week, I’ve spent most of my evenings wandering around a picturesque, nearly deserted island in search of Jigglypuff. It’s been a nice change of pace. “Isle of Armor,” the first expansion for Pokémon Sword and Shield on the Switch, takes one of the best parts of the experience — the big, open “wild area” — and fleshes it out into a larger world to explore. The expansion doesn’t change the experience in any significant ways. But it does provide a nice excuse to jump back in.

The new island is a separate area of the Galar region, and it does have its own small storyline to play through. It’s pretty basic: you arrive at a dojo where you play through a few challenges, which ultimately results in you getting Kubfu, an adorable cross between a ninja and a raccoon, to add to your pokémon team. The challenges are standard Pokémon tropes like collecting items (in this case gathering mushrooms in a cave) and defeating a rival (in this case a would-be gym trainer with a magic hat).

This quest line doesn’t take long to play through, but really it’s just a way of getting you acquainted with the new location. The Isle of Armor is essentially a new wild area to explore, and the closest thing you’ll get to an open-world Pokémon experience. What I liked most was the diversity: there are wetlands and caves, and smaller islands to discover. You’ll walk across beaches full of colorful Slowpokes and ride a strange bike through the sea while a Sharpedo chases you. What you do on the island is the same as always. This is still a game about catching monsters and creating your perfect fighting team. But having a new space to do it in, and lots more creatures to collect, is perfect for those looking for a reason to get back into the game.

There are some added diversions mixed in. There’s are Digletts scattered across the island that you can find to earn new monsters, and the aforementioned dojo can be slowly upgraded with things like a hair salon and vending machine. There are also new challenge towers and plenty of raids for those looking for challenge. For me, though, I’ve mostly been enjoying expanding my pokédex; despite playing just a bit each day, I’ve already added 80 new monsters, including a very important Squirtle. Even better: pokémon can now follow you around, just like in the Let’s Go games. It’s extremely fun having a massive Wailord trail behind as you wander through a desert.

When I wrapped up the main campaign for Pokémon Shield, the wild area is what kept me coming back to the game. It wasn’t an epic adventure, but it turned into a small habit. Every so often I’d hop in, catch some new monsters, and maybe cook up a new curry recipe. It was nice just wandering around, in the same way that it can be nice to ride a horse in The Witcher or go for a drive in Grand Theft Auto with the radio blaring and no destination in mind. There’s no explicit goal or purpose — but that’s what’s nice about it.

Isle of Armor simply adds more of this. More monsters, more areas, and a few little diversions to add some structure. And you can do it all with a Squirtle right behind you.

The Isle of Armor expansion is available now for Pokémon Sword and Shield on the Nintendo Switch.

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