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Pokemon Sword and Shield differences explained

The Pokémon series has had a solid formula since the beginning. Game Freak manages to keep players, both new and old, coming back to check out their latest Pokémon installment. One of the ways the series manages to keep players’ attention is by adding different, new Pokémon with every iteration of the game. Additionally, a lot of Pokémon will be exclusive to one game, which drives players to find someone with the opposite game to trade with and help fill out their Pokédex. Game Freak kept this pattern up with Pokémon Sword and Shield but also threw in a few new changes for players to experience.

If you’re having trouble deciding which game you want, don’t fret. Both games will definitely provide you with hours of fun. Knowing what the differences are between the two games, however, can help you decide which you would prefer to have. Depending on your Pokémon experience, you may want to find the game with the cutest Pokémon or the best cooking ingredients. To help you narrow down your search a little, here are the differences between Pokémon Sword and Shield.

Further reading 

Pokémon vary in Pokémon Sword and Shield

pokemon sword shield
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Since the beginning of our Pokémon adventure, Game Freak has released two games in the franchise at a time. Both games have similar stories and similar Pokémon, but each game will have a few Pokémon that are different. This encourages players to interact with one another. If you want to catch them all, you’ll have to have a friend with the opposite game as you — otherwise, you’ll miss out on a handful for your Pokédex. There are both new and returning Pokemon that will be exclusive to each game.

If you’re interested in picking up Pokemon Sword, you’ll have access to Deino, Zweilous, Hydregion, Jangmo-o, Hakamo-o, Kommo-o, Gothita, Gothorita, Gothitelle, Seedot, Nuzleaf, Shiftry, Rufflet, Braviary, Swirlix, Slurpuff, Scraggy, Scrafty, Sawk, Basculin (red stripe), Mawile, Solrock, Passimian, Pinsir, Flapple, and Turtonator. You’ll also be able to pick up the exclusive Galarian forms of Farfetch’d and his evolution Sirfetch’d, as well as Darumaka and his evolution Darmanitan. As far as new Pokémon go, the new Pokémon in Sword for you to snag are Flapple, Indeedee (male), and Sonejourner. None of these Pokémon nor their evolutions will be available to those who own Pokémon Shield.

Conversely, if you’re interested in picking up Pokémon Shield, the access to Pokémon changes. In Pokémon Shield, you’ll be able to snag Kabuto, Kabutops, Corsola, Gible, Gabite, Garchomp, Larvitar, Pupitar, Tyranitar, Goomy, Sliggoo, Goodra, Solosis, Duosion, Reuniclus, Lotad, Lombre, Ludicolo, Vullaby, Mandibuzz, Spritzee, Aromatisse, Croagunk, Toxicroak, Throh, Basculin (Blue stripe), Sableye, Lunatone, Oranguru, and Drampa. Additionally, you’ll have access to the Galarian forms of Ponyta and it’s evolution Rapidash, as well as Corsola and it’s evolution Cursola. The new Pokémon that are exclusive to Shield are Appletun, Indeedee (female), Cursola, and Eiscue.

Additionally, the legendary Pokémon for each game will differ. With Pokémon Sword, players have a chance at picking up Zacian, while Pokémon Shield players have a shot at catching Zamazenta. Both Pokémon are represented on the game’s box art, so you can get a clear idea of what these two will look like.

Although the new faces may not strike a chord with returning players, the Galarian forms and the returning Pokémon might. When the Galarian Ponyta was announced, players started garnering interest toward snagging one of these majestic Pokémon. But it comes down to personal preference and battle strategy, which will actually different depending on the game.

Different gym leaders


New and different Pokémon is expected from the series. However, that’s really about all that’s usually different. With Pokémon Sword and Shield, Game Freak shakes it up by giving us a few new differences. One of these differences is the battles that each player will face. Some towns in each game will have different gym leaders for you to face off with. With different gym leaders also come different Pokémon types.

In Pokémon Sword, you’ll face off with Bea from the fighting gym of the Stow-on-Side’s gym. You’ll have to face off with her Hitmontop, Pangoro, Sirffetch’d, and Machamp to move on to the next gym. Be sure to pack some good fairy or psychic types to face off with these foes! Additionally, the gym leader at the Circhester gym is also different. Owners of Pokemon Sword will have to face off with this rock specialist and his Pokémon, Barbaracle, Shuckle, Stonejourner, and Coalossal.

By contrast, owners of Pokémon Shield‘s gyms will have different types and gym leaders. Of Stow-on-Side gym, Shield‘s players will face off with Allister, a sort of creepy ghost Pokémon expert. They’ll come at you with Yamask, Mimikyu, Cursola, and Gengar. In Shield‘s Circhester gym, players will face off with the ice-type expert, Melony. Melony has a Frosmoth, Darmanitan, Eiscue, and Lapras for you to square up against to get a badge.

Each opposing gym will look similar to the other, but the differences will be in which Pokémon type the gym sports on the front. You’ll need to figure out a strategy accordingly to face off with these gym leaders!

Ingredients matter

For those of us who love to cook for our Pokemon, it’s important to also recognize that some of the cooking ingredients will differ from game to game. Ingredients will be a little harder to exchange between games, but it’s not impossible. In order to get your hands on the different ingredients of each game, you’ll need to trade Pokémon with them while the Pokémon is holding the ingredient. Another way for you to snag these exclusive cooking items is to cook with NPCs or other players in the Wild Area online. If you manage to discover a new recipe, it’ll be added to your CurryDex, and you’ll be able to make it again in the future.

Players who pick up Pokémon Sword will have access to Bob’s Food Tin. By contrast, players of Pokémon Shield will be able to get their hands on Bach’s Food Tin. Both of these items can be purchased from the Ingredients Seller in the Rolling Fields or just outside the Wild Area entrance to Hammerlocke.

DLC exclusives

It’s also worth noting that this game has released a few DLC. The DLC has the same title for both games, but it offers different Pokémon and experience depending on whether you have Sword or Shield.

The Pokémon who are exclusive to the Pokémon Sword version of the Isle of Armor are Clauncher and Clawitzer. The Pokémon who are exclusive to the Pokémon Sword version of the Crown Tundra DLC are Omanyte, Omastar, Ho-oh, Bagon, Shelgon, Salamence, Latios, Groudon, Dialga, Tornadus, Reshiram, Xerneas, and Solgaleo.

By contrast, Pokémon in the Crown Tundra DLC that are exclusive to Pokémon Shield are a little different. Players who are looking for Kabuto, Lugia, Latias, Kyogre, Gible, Gabite, Garchomp, Palkia, Thundurus, Zekrom, Yveltal, or Lunala will want to pick up this game. Also, the Pokémon who are exclusive to Pokémon Shield in the Isle of Armor DLC are Heracross, Skrelp, and Dragalge.

So, if you’re interested in picking up the DLC to the Pokémon game of your choice, remember that your DLC will also have exclusive Pokémon. Hopefully, more DLC content is on the way, but that could also impact which games will get which Pokémon. Regardless of which game you pick, we’re sure it’ll bring you hours of the Pokémon goodness and fun you’re looking for!

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Leijah Petelka
Leijah Petelka is a freelance gaming guides writer for Digital Trends. She covers a variety of game types, but she does love…
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