Local Nerd’s Hot Take: The new “Pokémon” DLC is a scam

Greetings,fellow Lawrentians, and happy Winter Term! Last term, I wrote a column called “Life at Lawrence” to ruminate on some aspects of everyday life at this school of ours, and to give our dear freshman comrades a piece of advice or two. This term, I plan to take a far different approach to my column by giving you all a weekly dose of piping hot, nerdy tea. Let us be honest — this term, we need a little spice in our lives, especially of the nonsensical or trivial variety. It is cold, classes are hard and depression exists, so why not stoke the fires of discourse to bring a little light into our lives? And so, for the next few paragraphs, I am going to go off about how the new “Pokemon” DLC is a lame cash-grab, and you are going to listen and get entrenched in your own position just for the hell of it. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

So, what is DLC? DLC, for those who do not know, stands for downloadable content, and is, in its own right, a contested topic for gamers. The main argument against DLC comes from those who see it as an excuse to release a game that is incomplete, that lacks enough content to stand without supplement. While this is a valid critique, and certainly does happen in too many games, it is not a reason to dismiss DLC altogether. Look at role-playing games like “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” or “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” — these games are packed with content. When I first read a review for Skyrim, the reviewer had played 100+ hours of the game and still had plenty of quests to complete, lore to delve into, areas of the world map to explore and so on. However, this did not stop the game developers, Bethesda, from releasing two DLC packages in the years following the game’s release. These featured new weapons, stories, environments, abilities and more. Similarly, CD Projekt Red, the developers behind “The Witcher 3,” released several free small-scale DLC packages in the year after the game’s release, in addition to two paid larger-scale DLC packages, with a new story and all the other bells and whistles you might expect.

While not every game can or needs to be like these two very good examples of games done justice by DLC, games can still benefit from some bits of added content. Once upon a time, for better or for worse, I played “Call of Duty,” a shooter game series notorious for its yearly cycle of a new game, three to four DLC packs and then a new iteration of the same cycle. However, as much as this is a cash-grab, that is not to say that the base game itself is always incomplete. These games usually have lengthy story modes with decent to good — even if clichéd — plots, multiplayer modes with a plethora of maps and weapon loadouts and a third cooperative mode with its own lore and unique charm. If played all the time for several months — not that I would do this, of course —yes, the same old routines can tire out, but the games are certainly not  incomplete. The new content extends the time that the game still feels fresh and interesting without creating a dependence on the new content to enjoy the original game. “Pokémon,” however, has missed the memo on this, and I am not happy about it.

Alright folks, it is time for the meat and potatoes of the article — “Pokemon.” Nintendo released the new games, “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield,” just two months ago in November, and not without controversy. Months before release, it was revealed that not all 800-plus Pokemon would be included in the new games, and fans quickly took to the internet to complain about “Dexit,” which is from the word “Pokedex,” the in-game device that logs all the Pokémon you catch. The game’s developers cited the sheer magnitude of the task, creating models and animations for countless Pokémon, as the reason why they chose to limit the final count, and while others cried foul, I could empathize. The developers were no doubt under pressure to release their product by a given deadline, and modeling, as well as animating, definitely takes plenty of time. Sure, it was disappointing news, but I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt and count on the games making up for the bad news in other ways.

And then I got the game. Now, I would not say that “Sword” and “Shield” are bad games, but by the time I finished the main story and became Champion of the Galar region, I was left with a “meh” impression. The new Pokemon, new battling abilities and new areas were all good additions, but something about the overall product felt, well, incomplete. I felt like I had access to 80% of the game, but other things that would have kept me playing and exploring more were missing. Usually, a “Pokemon” game has seven or more “legendary” — read: special, unique, badass —Pokémon to search, puzzle-solve and dungeon-crawl for after you beat the main game, but “Sword” and “Shield” only have three. Each region in “Pokémon” typically has a new area to explore after you beat the main story, but this game lacked that too. Perhaps the Wild Area, a vast wilderness-esque space in which to encounter all kinds of Pokemon, with friends to join you in light online cooperative play, was meant to fill this void, but the void remains. Even with a short post-game story to complete and plenty of standard Pokemon left that I could collect, I still look at the word “Start” above “Pokemon Sword’s” icon on my Nintendo Switch with empty dejection.

And then, this past Thursday, Jan. 9, the DLC Expansion Pass was announced. The $30 “deal” provides new story, regions, a deeper cooperative play mode, over 200 returning Pokemon and old legendary Pokémon returning en masse, with the part one release scheduled for June. Wait, WHAT? Now, the new stories they are bringing, that is all well and good, but that is not the issue — yes, the main game story was lacking, but stories in “Pokemon” games are seldom tear-jerkers, let’s be real. The massive amount of returning content, and content that absolutely should have been in the game, is what is so frustrating and ultimately leaves me with the smell of a scam lingering in the air. After all, if the work it would take to include so many Pokémon in this new game was too great to be done for the $60 base game and was even denied a chance at being updated into the game later, why go back on that statement for a DLC package? Because money! Why include so many returning legendaries in the new DLC and not in the base game? Because money! Why improve online gameplay mechanics only in the DLC? Because money! It is a scam, people, and it did not have to be this way. And yet, everyone seems to already be eating it up, and the worst thing is that I know I will too. Damn it, Nintendo. Damn it, capitalism.

So that is my take. I hope you enjoyed the ride, friends, even if you care nothing about gaming, “Pokémon” or financial models for the video game industry. Feel free to chat with me about these Important Things, and maybe give me some inspiration for another week’s Hot Take. Until then, stay woke, sheeple.