In the first hour of Pokémon Sword and Shield, you'll find yourself exploring the Slumbering Weald. In this mysterious forest you'll encounter a Pokémon identified only as ???.
You won't be able to damage it, you can't catch and you can't even run away from this strange encounter. Some Pokémon weirdness is definitely afoot...
Be warned - this guide does contain spoilers for the story-line for Pokémon Sword and Shield. The first section of this guide covers the opening hour of both games, while the second section focuses on the ending of the story-line.
Read at your own peril!
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Your first encounter with ??? in Pokémon Sword and Shield explained
You'll first enter the Slumbering Weald after receiving your Starter Pokémon. Turns out a Wooloo has broken down the gate to the Weald and, even though you're not meant to go in, you can't let a Pokémon get hurt.
Your friend Hop will accompany you into the Slumbering Weald.
As you explore the Slumbering Weald, the fog that fills the forest will because thicker and thicker, until you and Hop find yourselves completely lost.
It's at this moment that the mysterious ??? Pokémon will appear from the fog.
You will instantly enter a Pokémon battle with ???. Your attacks, however, won't cause any damage. You also can't attack it or run away from the encounter.
All you can do is pointlessly attack ???, while it stares you down, eventually the fog will grow denser and ??? will vanish.
You'll wake up the ground, with ??? nowhere in sight. When Hop tells Leon, the Galar Champion, he'll comment that the strong Pokémon in the Slumbering Weld are thought to be illusions.
So that's all ??? - a simple illusion. No wonder you're Pokémon couldn't cause any damage.
Or it is though...
For more like this, our complete Pokémon Sword and Shield walkthrough, explainer on the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass, and Pokémon Sword and Shield tips are the places to start. Otherwise, we cover everything from the Wild Area and Pokémon Camp to strong-looking Pokémon and autosaving. After discovering the starters Sobble, Scorbunny and Grookey, we have a guide to the Turffield treasure riddle solution, and Ballonlea quiz answers and solutions, lists of all TM locations and TRs, new Gen 8 Pokémon, the Sword and Shield Pokédex, Sword and Shield version differences, all Galarian forms and the Sword and Shield Legendaries. We also have an evolution guide, including details on evolving Applin, Farfetch’d, Milcery, Sinistea, Toxel and Yamask.
What actually is the ??? Pokémon in Pokémon Sword and Shield?
In this your last warning for spoilers; if you don't want this Pokémon mystery to be solved, then don't read on.
It's not hard to tell that the ??? Pokémon you enter in the Slumbering Weald is a less powerful form of the legendary Pokémon assigned to your version of the game.
??? will be Zacian if you're playing Pokémon Sword and Zamazenta if you're playing Pokémon Sword.
You'll encounter the ??? illusion again when you return to the Slumbering Weald in an attempt to stop the Darkest Day.
When you and Hop fight against Eternatus, both Zacain and Zamazenta will appear to fight alongside you, vanishing once the battle is complete.
If you want to capture either Zacain or Zamazenta, then you'll need to return to the Slumbering Weald after completing the main story-line of the game for the post-game chapter.