Pokemon Sword and Shield's Expansion Pass Finally Kills Its "Third Versions,"  and the Series is Better For It

Pokemon Sword and Shield's Expansion Pass Finally Kills Its "Third Versions," and the Series is Better For It

Pokemon's console future is upon us.

In 2014, I confidently predicted that Battle Frontier DLC was on the way to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. My evidence? An easter egg proclaiming, "The Battle Frontier Project Has Started!" Surely the 3DS could support DLC, I thought. There was no way that Nintendo would going to re-release the third generation without its most popular feature, right?

As it turned out, it really was just an easter egg. No DLC was forthcoming.

It was a rough blow for Pokemon fans, but also pretty much par for the course for the series going back to the original games. When Game Freak has had something to add—new moves, balance updates, new areas—it has traditionally relied on so-called "third versions" like Pokemon Emerald and Pokemon Platinum. Patches have typically been rare; online events have been limited. As recently as 2017, Nintendo released Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, which in another world might have served perfectly well as expansion DLC.

Thankfully, today's Pokemon Sword and Shield expansion pass announcement shows that times have changed. In the next couple months, Game Freak will be releasing a brand new area featuring new characters, environments, and Pokemon. It's also bringing back a host of Pokemon who went missing in the National Pokedex break, all of which will be accessible through trades or Pokemon Home transfers.

It's a positive sign for the overall longevity of Pokemon Sword and Shield. It suggests that Game Freak means to nurture and support this version over the next couple years, much as Sora Ltd. has done with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Even better, it means that I won't have to play all the way through the story again just to access new content, thank god.

The newly-announced expansion pass moves the series into previously uncharted waters. In the past, each Pokemon entry has been treated as its own discrete release comprising a larger generation. This has been exemplified by the various regions, all of which lend their games a distinct personality. Pokemon would come and go with each entry, as would unique features like Contests and the Battle Frontier. Remakes and third versions would provide the updates to keep it all fresh.

It was remniscent of the approach taken by Capcom with the Monster Hunter series. In past years, Capcom would release entries like Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate for Switch—expanded entries with new monsters. It's perhaps no coincidence that Capcom broke tradition last year with the release of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, a large-scale expansion that ties directly into Monster Hunter: World for PS4 and Xbox One.

Pokemon Sword and Shield's Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra may not be on the level of Iceborne, but they are certainly meaty updates in their own right. And like with Monster Hunter: World, it neatly coincides with Pokemon's transition to console. Slowly, painfully, Pokemon is evolving into the kind of dynamic, constantly-updated RPG that people look for in 2020.

It opens the door for all sorts of interesting content going forward. This year's expansions will include new co-op Dynamax battles, new legendary monsters, and what appears to be a new questline. Future updates may include popular modes. Dare I hope for the return of the Pokemon World Tournament? Or even the appearance of a classic region like Sinnoh?

It could also have big implications for Pokemon's overall release schedule. In recent years, Game Freak has been releasing a new game pretty much every holiday season, with the sole break being in 2015. There are signs that 2020 won't have a new Pokemon game though, which suggets that Game Freak is content to let Pokemon Sword and Shield ride for a little while.

A visual representation of Pokemon's progress through the years. | Game Freak

If Game Freak is diligent with both its free and paid upgrades for Pokemon Sword and Shield, it will go a long way toward ameliorating the dissatisfaction around its handling of the National Dex issue and other problems. Communities crave attention and communication, and Pokemon hasn't always been great about providing that attention on a game to game basis. New content, returning monsters, heck, even frame rate improvements would be a good step forward in that regard.

Pokemon has always been a curious mix of innovative and conservative—brilliant ideas like the Pokewalker mixed with static sprites and frustratingly murky mechanics. It's only been within the past couple years that Game Freak has been willing to bend on the issue of random battles, which has largely fallen to the wayside in other RPGs. Like it or not, Game Freak does what it wants, and its legions of fans just have to deal with it.

But while its progress often moves at roughly the pace of a Shuckle, Pokemon is occasionally willing to embrace modern ideas, and the expansion pass is proof of that. Pokemon's presence on a major console is apt to accelerate that trend, as increased processing power brings with it increased expectations. Whether it wants to or not, Pokemon is now competing directly with the likes of Destiny. It can no longer take shelter in the diminished expectations endemic to handheld platforms like the Nintendo 3DS.

Before this generation began, I worried that Game Freak wouldn't be able to rise to the occasion, and that the series would feel small on the Switch. The transition has indeed had its rough spots, but thus far Pokemon has proven up to the task, and that bodes well for the future of the series as a whole.

Pokemon Sword and Shield's first expansion will be out in June.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

Related articles

Torchlight 3 Exits Early Access Next Month

Time to crawl some dungeons.

Pokemon Go Will Be Linked to Pokemon Home By End of This Year

Bring your mobile pals into the world of Sword and Shield.

The Crown Tundra Expansion for Pokemon Sword and Shield Is Coming Next Month

We finally have a release date for the second add-on as well as some new details.

A New Pokemon Sword and Shield Presentation Airs Tomorrow Morning

We'll probably hear some more about the upcoming Crown Tundra.

Need help?

Witcher 3: How to Start the Blood and Wine DLC and Meet Its Level Requirements

We explain how to get to Toussaint and what level you should be when you do.

Witcher 3: All the Correct Play Lines in "The Play's the Thing" Quest

We explain how to perform the Doppler's play with Priscilla, as well as whether to choose tragedy or comedy.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Mystery Gift Codes List (January 2020)

You can get free gifts in Pokemon Sword and Shield by entering certain Mystery Gift Codes. Here’s a full list of all the active codes available right now.

The Outer Worlds Shrink Ray - How to Get the Unique Shrink Ray Science Weapon

This is where you can get the Shrink Ray science weapon in The Outer Worlds, one of the unique weapons in the game.