As soon as I’m crowned league champion in a Pokémon game, that’s usually it for me. Once the main campaign is over, the games quickly lose their appeal; I’ve never been one to go back just to fill out my pokédex or hunt down rare, legendary creatures. But that’s changed with Pokémon Sword and Shield, the latest titles for the Nintendo Switch. And it’s all because of the brand-new wild area: a vast, open plain that’s the perfect place to revisit.
What’s most interesting about the wild area is how it’s different from traditional spaces in a Pokémon game. These games are all structured in a very specific way: a series of linear routes, with a few branching paths that connect the various towns, mines, and other important locations. It’s all very straightforward, which is what makes the wild area exciting. For one thing, it’s huge, consisting of multiple regions, from grass plains to a dust bowl, each with their own distinct creatures. You can even use the right stick to rotate the camera, which is one of those now-ubiquitous features that somehow feels like a revelation in the slow-moving Pokémon series.
The best part, though, is there is no path in the wild area, no specific route to follow. Instead, you can go wherever you want, venturing into every nook and cranny to see what there is to find. Wild pokémon roam around freely, and the weather changes unpredictably. It gives this area a real sense of adventure; you never really know what you’re going to come up against or when. This has made it the ideal way to hop back into the game. I just run around for an hour or so, with no destination in mind, trying to find cool places and rare pokémon.
This exploration has also forced me to dig a bit deeper into some other aspects of the game. I’ve been doing a lot more camping, for instance, which has made me even more obsessed with finding new curry recipes. I’ve had to dig deep into Bulbapedia to find out all of the weird ways of evolving rare pokémon so I can fill out my pokédex. And once I’ve assembled a new team in the wild area, I then take it either into a raid battle or to the gyms in town — which are still open for business — to test my monsters out.
I’ve even been pulled into some post-game story missions, which involve hunting down a legendary monster and dealing with two new villains with impossibly bad hair. It’s surprisingly engrossing. For lore nerds, the post-game elements delve a bit deeper into pokémon history while also providing some welcome challenges in the form of battles with wild Dynamax monsters (which are essentially gigantic forms of regular pokémon). Even if you don’t feel like messing around in the wild area, it’s probably worth exploring this final chapter of the game after you wrap up the main story. (To get started, head back to the temple in the Slumbering Weald area from the beginning of the game.)
It may seem like a small addition, but the wild area has changed my relationship with the game. Previously, Pokémon titles were games I wanted to play through to completion. The wild area is just a place I want to be in. I’m not sure how long this will last — maybe only until I catch ‘em all — but for now, the sense of adventure is exciting enough that I keep coming back.