Pokémon Sword and Shield: The ultimate guide

Pokemon Sword and Shield hero
Pokemon Sword and Shield hero (Image credit: iMore)

It felt like it took a long time to come, but now the Galar region is here for you to explore. One thing's for certain, there's a lot of new features as well as returning features in Gen 8. But don't worry. We'll help guide you through everything. Without further ado here's your ultimate guide to Pokémon Sword and Shield.

What are Pokémon Sword and Shield?

Game Freak has finally released Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Pokémon Let's Go took cues from the mobile game Pokémon GO and streamlined the experience to be more accessible for everyone. Sword and Shield, on the other hand, plays like the traditional Pokémon RPGs that you've grown to love.

New Pokémon, new gym battles, new cities, and new challenges await.

What region do they take place in?

Shigeru Ohmori showing the Galar region map

Shigeru Ohmori showing the Galar region map (Image credit: Game Freak)

Generation 8 takes place in the entirely new Galar Region, which is based on the U.K. As the Pokémon Company states, this region is "filled with idyllic countryside and contemporary cities — vast plains and snow-covered mountains."

There's a lot to explore in this new region, including the expansive Wild Area where you can encounter several different Pokémon. You'll discover everything from large open fields, to forests, to industrial cities, and countryside villages.

What starters can I choose from?

Pokemon Sword and Shield starters. Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble

Pokemon Sword and Shield starters. Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble (Image credit: The Pokemon Company)

Keeping with tradition, you'll be able to choose between a Grass-type, Water-type, and Fire-type Pokémon as your starter. There's Grookey, the grass chimp Pokémon; Scorbunny, the fire rabbit Pokémon; and Sobble, the water lizard Pokémon.

When selected, each starter responds and interacts with your main character in a way that basically captures the overall personality of that particular Pokémon. Grookey gives you a high five, Scorbunny gives you a fistbump, and Sobble places both his hands in yours. It's a small, but endearing beginning to your adventure together.

Can I catch Pokémon from other regions?

Pikachu Pokemon Sword and Shield

Pikachu Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Some of the Pokemon from previous generations are included in the Galar region Nation Pokedex. However, several more aren't included and cannot be traded into the game. This means that some of your favorite creatures that you've captured in previous games won't be usable in Gen 8. Additionally, some previously seen Pokémon have Galarian forms.

What are Galarian forms?

Galarian Weezing Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Galarian Obstagoon Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Source: Game Freak

Similar to the Alolan forms found in Pokémon Sun and Moon, players encounter familiar Pokémon that look different in the Galar region. There's a dapper Galarian Weezing, who gives off a Victorian vibe with his top hat-like chimney stacks. Players will also see a Galarian Zigzagoon and Galarian Linoone variant that give off a strong Kiss vibe. Then there's the sweet unicorn-esque Galarian Ponyta and Rapidash among others.

What's more, in the Galar region you might find unique evolutions that aren't available elsewhere. For example, you can find the Obstagoon that evolves from Galarian Linoone or the Sword exclusive evolution of Sirfetch'd that evolves from Farfetch'd.

Which Pokémon can I transfer into Sword and Shield?

Pokemon Home Pokedex

Pokemon Home Pokedex (Image credit: iMore)

Pokémon Sword and Shield works with Pokémon HOME, a cloud service that allows you to transfer, store, and trade Pokémon. Despite there only being 400 Pokémon in the Galar region Pokedex, players can transfer several Pokémon not originally found in Gen 8 into Sword and Shield from Pokémon HOME.

For more information on which Pokémon you can use in Sword and Shield, check out our article on Pokemon HOME.

How many gyms are there?

Pokemon Sword and Shield Bea and Allister

Pokemon Sword and Shield Bea and Allister (Image credit: Nintendo)

There are eight gyms in Sword and Shield, but two of the gyms you encounter are unique to either Sword or Shield. Shield players will encounter Allister's Ghost-type gym and Melony's Ice-type gym, while Sword players will encounter Bea's Fighting-type gym and Gordie's Rock-type gym.

How do Pokémon encounters work?

Pokemon encounter in Sword and Shield

Pokemon encounter in Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

As in previous Pokémon games, players come across monsters in tall grass and caves when wandering about on routes. There are both random encounters and open-world encounters. However, you can only catch Pokémon up to a certain level. You increase your catch level by defeating gyms and acquiring badges.

The Wild Area: In this sprawling section of the Galar region, the Pokémon you encounter are determined by in-game weather and your location on the map. Pokémon in this section wander freely, and you can attract them by whistling, which is especially helpful for attracting high-flying creatures.

Does the game autosave?

Yes! Pokémon Sword and Shield are the first generation of games within the series to automatically save your game as you go. This makes it so that players down feel as much of a need to scramble for the save menu once they've reached a new area or beaten a challenging gym. However, you can also turn off the autosave feature if you want to rely on manual saves.

Are there any HMs?

Using a bicycle in Pokemon Sword and Shield

Using a bicycle in Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

No, as with Pokémon Sun and Moon there aren't any Hidden Machines (HMs) in Pokémon Sword and Shield. This is a game changer considering that HMs like Surf, Fly, Cut, and Strength have been a key part of Pokémon games from Gen 1 through Gen 6. According to Kazumasa Iwao, HMs didn't allow for the level of freedom they wanted players to experience in the game.

"Having the more HM-based elements, we didn't feel it really matched the game, so this time around they're not in it."

Within Sword and Shield, Corviknights function as flying taxis, which is similar to the HM Fly, and players ride a special bike that can ride on water, which basically acts like Surf. With that in mind, the idea behind HMs is still usable throughout Sword and Shield; they're just implemented differently.

Does the game have Exp. Share?

This is the first generation of games that doesn't include an item called Exp. Share. However, the Pokémon in your party will automatically receive an equal amount of experience whether or not they participate in battle. Unfortunately, for hard-core Trainers, you cannot turn Exp. Share off.

Customizing your main character

Customizing your character in Pokemon Sword and Shield

Customizing your character in Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

There are eight different characters to choose from — four boys and four girls. At various points throughout the game, you're able to get different outfits and accessories to customize the look of your character. However, you'll start with one of the eight stock looks. In addition to tops and pants, you can choose your hairstyle, eye color, and female characters can even wear makeup.

Dynamaxing in Sword and Shield

Pikachu Dynamax in Pokemon Sword and Shield

Pikachu Dynamax in Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

This is a new way to battle that involves making your Pokémon huge and more powerful. Players are only able to use this ability once per battle, and the Pokémon will only remain in its Dynamax form for three consecutive turns before returning to normal. Dynamaxing can be done during gym battles, raids, and trainer battles. You're going to need to master Dynamaxing if you want to take on Max Raid Battles and effectively defeat gym leaders.

Gigantamaxing in Sword and Shield

Alcremie Gigantamax in Pokemon Sword and Shield

Alcremie Gigantamax in Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

It's similar to Dynamaxing where the Pokémon grows incredibly large. However, Gigantamaxing also changes a Pokémon's appearance and gives the Pokémon a special G-Max move as well. One of the most significant Gigantamax appearance changes is with Alcremie, which has a humongous tiered cake spawn beneath it, with Alcremie serving as the top layer of cream.

Another essential thing to note is that while all Pokémon can Dynamax, only special Pokémon can Gigantamax. For instance, Drednaw can Dynamax, but only special Drednaw can Gigantamax.

New multiplayer Max Raid Battles

Multiplayer Raids Pokemon Sword and Shield

Multiplayer Raids Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

With Gen 8 comes Max Raid Battles, which let you and up to three others battle a giant, wild Dynamax Pokémon together. You can play with nearby friends using local wireless play. However, they each need to have their own copy of the game and their own console. You can also participate in raids with other online players as long as you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership.

You'll need to strategize with your fellow raiders since only one of you will be able to use the Dynamax form on your Pokémon. Max Raid Battles take place in the Wild Area, a large section of the map that stretches between towns.

The fossil Pokémon

Arctozolt Poke Camp

Arctozolt Poke Camp (Image credit: iMore)

If you're new to the Pokémon games, then you're probably wondering what a fossil Pokémon is. Allow me to explain. Every Pokémon game from Gen 1 through Gen 7 has had it where you eventually find a special fossil on your travels. You typically have to choose between two fossils in each game. Once you've obtained a fossil, you give it to a research laboratory, and the scientists turn it into a Pokémon that can be added to your party. It's kind of like Jurassic Park where they bring a prehistoric animal back to life; only this one won't eat you.

In Sword and Shield, you can come across fossil pieces on your travels. Then you can fuse a top fossil and a bottom fossil together. Depending on the options you choose, you'll obtain one of four different Pokémon.

The team antagonists

Marnie and Team Yell Pokemon Sword and Shield

Marnie and Team Yell Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

If you're at all familiar with previous Pokémon games, you know that there's always an opposing group of people that the main character encounters throughout their journey. In Sword and Shield, a goth-looking Marnie has some crazy fans known as Team Yell who disrupt battles and cause general trouble for the inhabitants of the Galar region. While Team Yell is definitely obnoxious, there's another secret group that you'll discover later in the game.

Pokémon Camp

Yamper Pokemon Sword and Shield

Yamper Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Players can take their Pokémon out into the wild for some good old fashion bonding. As you get to know your Pokémon better, they will improve in battle. While in the Wild Area, you'll also be able to visit other players and their Pokémon. Up to four characters can interact in a Pokémon Camp at a time.

While camping, you can cook up curry creations using various ingredients. Each time you discover a new recipe, it gets added to your Curry Dex. There are 100 recipes to discover. These tasty creations can be used to influence a Pokemon's battle stats as well as heal them. What's more, after visiting a Pokémon Camp, your Pokémon gain experience points.

Poké Jobs

Poke Jobs Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Poke Jobs Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Source: Game Freak

By accessing the Rotom in Pokémon Centers, players can send their Pokémon off to complete jobs for businesses and universities. In return, your Pokémon can earn experience and rare items. Some pocket monsters are better suited for specific jobs, so you'll want to think about which ones you send. This is a great way to help level up Pokémon that aren't currently in your party.

The differences between the two versions

Pokemon Sword and Shield screenshot

Pokemon Sword and Shield screenshot (Image credit: Game Freak)

As with any game in the core Pokémon series, Gen 8 releases with two versions: Sword and Shield. A handful of Pokémon are exclusive to either game, meaning you'll have to trade with a friend to get the Pokémon exclusive to the game you don't have. Additionally, some of the gyms you encounter will be different depending on which version of the game you purchase.

To learn more, check out this article on all of the differences between Sword and Shield.

There is no Elite Four

Leon Champion of the Galar region Pokemon Sword and Shield

Leon Champion of the Galar region Pokemon Sword and Shield (Image credit: Game Freak)

Yes, it's true. Sword and Shield is the first core Pokémon game that doesn't have you battling the Elite Four after beating all of the gym leaders in the region. Instead, players enter the Champion Cup, where you'll have the chance to battle the current Champion, Leon, and his Charizard. Leon is the older brother of your in-game rival, Hop. So, you'll interact several times with the Champion before you fight him.

Here's what the Pokémon website says about the Champion Cup:

Once a year in the Galar region, a series of Pokémon battles are held with the League Championship on the line.This is the Champion Cup! The Champion Cup is the tournament to decide who will be able to challenge the reigning Champion for their seat. Exemplary Trainers throughout the region, such as those who complete the Gym Challenge, are allowed to participate in the Champion Cup tournament.The Champion Cup battles are broadcast on TV, and all the people of the Galar region will be watching!

Steel yourself by leveling your Pokémon up so that you're ready to take on all of the trainers and become the new Champion.

When can I play them?

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are available now! You can purchase it through the Nintendo eShop directly, through Amazon, or through many other retailers.

Will there be any DLC?

Yes, an Expansion Pass is currently available for pre-order at the Nintendo eShop for $30. Players will encounter 200 Pokémon, including new legendaries, and you can explore new locations. This DLC will release in two parts:

  • The Isle of Armor releases in June 17, 2020
  • The Crown Tundra releases sometime in Fall 2020.
Jennifer Locke

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and bought a Nintendo Switch specifically for all things Pokemon. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.