Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: The Indigo Disk is a true master’s degree program

After a rocky year, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s story is coming to an end next month. Its second DLC, The Indigo Disk, will conclude its bonus Hidden Treasure of Area Zero arc on December 14. That’ll close out the series’ most scrutinized set of games to date, which were lambasted at launch for performance issues and poor visual quality. The Indigo Disk certainly won’t reverse that narrative, but it at least has a shot at sending disappointed fans home happy — especially after the underwhelming Teal Mask expansion.

Ahead of its launch, I got a hands-on preview with the upcoming DLC that showed me a bit of what to expect. I explored its new open-world area, saw some familiar monsters, and fought in one of the toughest battles I’ve ever had in a mainline Pokémon story. Every technical problem in the base game still reared its ugly head during my hour of playtime, but The Indigo Disk at least brings some high-level challenges to the mix that will test even the most seasoned competitive players.

Same problems, new challenges

The Indigo Disk picks up right after The Teal Mask’s conclusion (players will need to beat it to start the new DLC). In it, I’m sent to Blueberry Academy, which is a massive biodome floating in the middle of the ocean. It houses a round, open-world area split up into four distinct environments. One corner has your standard grassy plains, while another is a massive snowy mountain full of ice Pokémon. It’s significantly bigger than Teal Mask’s bite-sized open world, though the general design isn’t too different.

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If you’re hoping that the new area comes with some technical improvements, you’ll be disappointed. The visuals are still a shocking mess that you simply need to swallow and live with to enjoy the otherwise strong monster-catching loop. When a cutscene showed me sweeping shots of each biome, entire swaths of land loaded into existence from blackness. At some point, I climbed about as high as I could on an icy mountain and gazed out at the world, which looked about as detailed as a ’90s PlayStation game — no exaggeration.

A player looks down at an open-world in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet: The Indigo Disk.

That remains a shame, because the core gameplay in this generation of Pokémon is strong. That only improves here with a DLC that’s more focused on high-stakes battling. The big difference is that Blueberry Academy’s curriculum is built around double battles, more closely mirroring the series’ competitive online scene. My main goal during the demo was to beat a member of the Elite Four.

Before I partook in that battle, I had a few small tasks to do first. I had to complete a quick homework assignment that had me tracking down and catching an Alolan form Pokémon in the world (naturally, I went for the hilariously tall Exeguttor). Once I was ready to take on an Elite Four challenge, I had to complete a simple gym trial that had me flying through rings using Koraidon. It all seemed easy enough … until the battle began.

A trainer stands in front of two Alolan Exeggutors in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet: The Indigo Disk.

Elite Four battles are no joke in The Indigo Disk. Without revealing the specifics, my opponent’s team had all the synergies and strategies I expect when I jump into an online match. Despite having type advantages, my monsters went down in one hit as unexpected moves would completely counter my more obvious plans. My opponent’s team was also built around familiar double team setups, which were flexible enough to make every monster combination deadly in its own way. Considering how easy modern Pokémon games tend to be, I was pleasantly stunned. I already know I’m going to have to rework my team from the base adventure if I stand a chance.

It’s that detail that ultimately leaves me excited to dig into The Indigo Disk despite being let down by The Teal Mask. I’m still shocked by how poor the technical side of it all is, and the new open-world seems like more of the same, but it looks like it’s bringing some serious endgame challenges to Scarlet and Violet. It feels like a crash course in competitive play, onboarding players into the online scene as the single-player story wraps up. That master’s degree education feels like the natural graduation ceremony for the school-themed adventure.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: The Indigo Disk launches on December 14 for Nintendo Switch.

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