Pokemon Sword and Shield's Wild Area Is Everything I've Ever Wanted in a Pokemon Game

Pokemon Sword and Shield's new Wild Area represents a bold new step for the Pokemon franchise and make the Pokemon world a more living, breathing place. One of my longtime complaints about the Pokemon franchise was the rigidness of its world, especially in terms of the strengths of Pokemon in most areas of the game. Although every region of the Pokemon world is a large and sprawling landscape, players were kept on a set path through a number of different design tricks, including populating routes with Pokemon at levels meant to challenge trainers. If a player attempted to advance too quickly through the game, they would eventually get stuck in some route or another, bogged down by overpowered Pokemon that would decimate their team. Players used the routes where they wouldn't get smacked around by Pokemon that were stronger than theirs, thus sticking to the path that designers wanted them to follow.

From a design sense, populating routes with Pokemon that players can beat (or not beat, if they're not meant to head down that route) makes sense, but it opened up some practical questions about the Pokemon world. How could a trainer that stuck around Pallet Town all their life get stronger if all they were battling were Level 3 and 4 Pidgey and Rattata? Do children who live on Cinnabar Island just cower in fear from all the Level 40 Pokemon lurking about, ready to wreck their pathetic starter Pokemon should they ever step outside their doors? Why are some areas populated with only weak Pokemon while others are populated with super strong ones? Where is all the species diversity?

Luckily, Pokemon Sword and Shield finally takes care of some of those problems with the introduction of the Wild Area, a new semi-open area filled with an abundance of Pokemon of different strengths. When players first step out into the Wild Area early into the game, they quickly realize that this place isn't like the traditional Pokemon route. Not only are different parts of the Wild Area given "real" names as opposed to generic route numbers, players can also move the camera around however they'd like - giving the area an open world field not unlike Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

More importantly, the Wild Area is filled with both strong and weak Pokemon. Not only can players effectively train up their Pokemon in the Wild Area (helped by the ability to swap out Pokemon from their storage boxes, so that you don't have to retreat every other battle,) there are also Pokemon that are deliberately overpowered that players can either challenge or run away from. You might want a Stuffel from the Wild Area, but you'll have to avoid the overleveled Bewear or Vespiquen, or even the occasional Steelix. The Pokemon pop up at random throughout the Wild Area, mostly sticking to grassy areas but also occasionally venturing into the paths commonly seen as "safe spots" in past games.

The Wild Area is what I think many players envisioned when they first sat down to play a Pokemon game. It's a lush wilderness full of danger and discovery, where there are no rails to guide you from town to town. There's a real thrill as you explore the Wild Area, traveling from Dynamax Den to Dynamax Den and finding new Pokemon species in seemingly every patch of tall grass, and running when a massive Golurk or Machamp suddenly pops up a few feet away. It seems that the Pokemon games have finally caught up to our imaginations and the worlds of the Pokemon anime and manga - it took 22 years but you'll likely want to spend a ton of time in Pokemon Sword and Shield's Wild Area.