What We Want From The Next Open World Pokemon Game

Pokemon Legends: Arceus has successfully revitalized the series. Now where does it go from here?

Posted By | On 06th, Feb. 2022

What We Want From The Next Open World Pokemon Game

Pokemon Legends Arceus is out, and much to the surprise of a lot of people who had all but given up on the franchise after a decade of disappointing entries, it is actually really good. Not flawless, mind you – there are obvious points of improvement to be made here with the game. But without question, this is an incredibly fun playing game that is incredibly well designed and makes several long overdue steps to bring Pokemon games to parity with many other modern titles, and rekindle a lot of the magic that has been lost over the last few entries.

It’s an incredibly thorough and comprehensive overhaul of the series formula – almost nothing about the games hasn’t been touched and rethought of in some radical way here. From core tenets such as catching Pokemon, battling Pokemon, and evolving Pokemon, to how stats work, how traversal works, how items and resources work, how your inventory works, how the story progression and map layout work, how the Pokedex works, how moves, status conditions, Pokemon stats and builds, all work, everything has been torn down and built back up in a fresh new context here. The result is a gamed that feels like such a dramatic modernization of the long running and beloved property, that after Arceus, it will actually feel extremely difficult to go back to the traditional style of Pokemon games – these open world kinds of games need to be the future of the franchise moving forward.

Among a lot of long suffering fans of the series, however, there is this fear that Game Freak might do what they are wont to so often, and ditch a lot of the well received improvements and changes in this game and revert to the old format with no rhyme or reason. That might sound irrational – but that is literally the kind of thing Game Freak tends to do. The series’ history is a graveyard littered with fan favorite features and content that inexplicably got the cut after a game or two and never came back – so fearing that that might happen here as well isn’t quite as uncalled for here as it might be with some other franchise or developer.

Pokemon Legends Arceus

However, there is reason to suspect that we may not have to worry about this kind of thing with Legends’ template and future games. Apart from the obvious “this is the best received game the series has had in almost a decade” consideration that I am sure factors in with Game Freak to at least some degree, there is also the simple point that Game Freak has gotten more responsive to and mindful of player feedback in the last few years – in fact, Arceus itself exists as a direct response to player demands for where they want the series to go.

Even if you still have no faith in the developer to do the smart thing, however, there is evidence pointing at the fact that this is basically what Game Freak has been slowly building up to ever since they started working on the Switch a few years ago. Every Switch Pokemon title by Game Freak seems to have slowly been building up to Arceus – from the overworld Pokemon and first brushes with tweaking how catching, battling, and stats work in Pokemon Let’s Go to the Wild Area in Pokemon Sword and Shield bringing an open world with systemic properties to the series, to even the integration of overworld traversal puzzles and dungeons in an open map with the Sword and Shield expansion packs, Game Freak does seem to have had the end result we got with Arceus in mind for some time now. So we should probably, until we are (presumably inevitably) given reason not to, believe that the next Pokemon game will also be an open world title, following on from Arceus.

If that is the thesis we are working with, then, we get to the next part of the question – which is, what should that follow up game be like? Arceus is a fantastic game, but it is also very clearly a first game of this style. There is a lot here that is ripe for improvement, even more that can be built upon further, and a lot of things that didn’t work, and that we would like to see changed.

The most obvious improvement to ask for with the next game is the visuals. Look, I love Pokemon Legends, it’s probably among my favorite games in the series, and of the last few years, but goodness is it an ugly looking game. Not only does it drop the ball on the technical front totally, it also very often fails to come together in terms of art style and general aesthetic as well. I honestly have no idea why it falls apart on the art side of things so badly – for all the criticisms that Game Freak’s technical deficiencies have rightly gotten over the years, the one thing they have always nailed is a strong art style and aesthetic for their games. But for whatever reason, Legends does not look good.

pokemon legends arceus

So that’s an obvious area of improvement for the next one. Ideally, the next Pokemon game will look worthy of being a flagship product in the biggest media franchise on the planet, but even if it doesn’t meet those standards, at the very least, it can look, well, good. The Switch may be technically far weaker than competing consoles, but it is capable of hosting some beautiful looking games, as titles such as Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild show us. The next Pokemon open world game should at least strive to look that good.

Looking that good will be helpful for it in other ways too. While, obviously, a better looking game is far more marketable, it also works for an immersive and systemic player driven open world game like Legends is. If the world itself is pretty and offers the chance to view some gorgeous vistas if the player goes off the beaten path, then it is likelier to induce exploration and organic moments of discovery – the exact kind of thing the gameplay loop in this game emphasizes. Legends sidesteps this problem by making the world a means to an ends – the ends being the Pokemon themselves. But if the series is to continue with an open world format, then it can’t ignore the, well, world. It needs to put more effort into making that world inherently appealing.

But the graphics, while making for the most obvious point of improvement, are not the only point of improvement either. There are other changes and fixes I hope the next Pokemon game ends up having. The biggest one would be to the stats system, actually. I really love how stats work in Pokemon Legends. Invisible values like EVs and IVs are out, as is the frustrating guesswork and RNG that players had to content with when raising their Pokemon. Instead, you can directly add modifiers of up to +10 into each of the six stats a Pokemon has. The problem is, you can add +10 modifiers to each stat for each Pokemon. Meaning literally nothing stops you from having every single one of your Pokemon with every single one of their stats maxed out. Not only would this be extremely boring from a competitive and PvP perspective (we’ll get to this in a second), it also means every single one of your Pokemon ends up being pretty much the same.

They need to absolutely keep this stat system – please don’t make us go back to IVs and EVs – but they can at the very least limit it a little. Instead of allowing players to max out every single stat, give them the opportunity to invest in maxing out up to two, and then a few remaining points they can spread into the other stats. This is no different to how every other RPG with a stats system works – it’s no different to how Pokemonitself has functionally always worked with its EVs, in fact – so it shouldn’t be a big change for Game Freak to implement.

Allowing more build diversity and variation in your party also has second-order effects (and beyond) for other aspects of the game. For instance, this means PvP and competitive battling can return with the next game. Arceus ended up cutting those out – I think it was the right decision to excise those portions of the series to focus on doing the PvE side better, and it obviously paid off for them here. But ultimately, PvP and competitive comprise a huge portion of Pokemon’s enduring fanbase and popularity, and they can’t be sidelined or ignored forever. The next game will have to bring them back – at which point the stats system, as it exists in Legends, has to be rebalanced.

Similarly, there is Legends’ battle system. While it works really well for this game, it is also undoubtedly not suited for the current PvP meta; in fact, it might not be suited for any PvP, since it introduces a lot of fuzziness and guesswork that adds an arbitrary element of randomness to proceedings, which can feel fine for a PvE game, but certainly not competitive. But even if the battle system itself is to revert to the one we have had in older games, I would hope the seamlessness of Legends’ battles is not abandoned. Meaning battles should still take place on the field in real time rather than in breakout battle screens, there should still be no transitions, player movement should still be allowed in the middle of battles, and so on. Essentially, taking all the best things of Legends’ battle system – which tie more into the non-battle side of things – and melding them to the traditional battle system (which tie more into the actual battle side of things) – should be the way to go with the future game.

There are opportunities for changes, areas of improvement, and iteration present elsewhere in the game too. For instance, I would love it if they made the world more systemic and more dynamic. The Pokemon World is built for something like this. Imagine, for example, weather. Legends has the weather in the overworld change dynamically, and that weather can influence what Pokemon spawn, but I don’t think Game Freak went all the way with that. I would love it, for example, if the player character was cold and taking damage in snowy conditions, and needed a Fire Pokemon constantly out to provide them heat (as an example); or if extreme weather conditions such as sandstorms required, for example, a flying Pokemon creating a passage for you through the storm, to traverse. We’re already almost there – Pokemon do respond to weather, you can use your party Pokemon to interact with and traverse the world, and the player character already takes damage from the world. We have even had older Pokemon games use weather conditions as traversal obstacles that require Pokemon to be negotiated – remember needing to use Defog in the heavy fog in Sinnoh in Diamond and Pearl? This would be more of that, but in an open world, and without the need to lug around an HM slave at all times.

I also wouldn’t say no to seeing a new region in a contemporary adjacent time period for the next open world game. I honestly loved Legends’ ancient Sinnoh setting, but there is no question it comes at a cost – the number of major settlements in the game came down to under a half dozen (rather than very literally twice or thrice that that older games have had until now), for example, and trainer battles are extremely deemphasized in this game. The next Pokemon open world game bringing back multiple major cities that you have to travel to and from, as well as trainer battles populating the world, would be great. At the very least, more trainer battles need to return – I honestly don’t necessarily mind it if the next game is largely set in the wilderness again, sure, but trainer battles need to be more of a thing with the next game.

pokemon legends arceus

One more change I hope the next Pokemon game makes is to the world itself – currently, it is broken out into five discrete chunks. Now, those chunks are absolutely massive – even the smallest map in Legends is bigger than the entirety of the Wild Area in Sword/Shield by a factor of many, and we end up with the biggest composite map the series has had yet – but them being broken out like that is definitely a bummer. Being able to go from one map to the next seamlessly and out in the world would be so cool. They can even discourage players if they want – throw in a lot of high level wild Pokemon and environmental hazards – but allow the option. Let the world feel like more of a world.

The most exciting thing about Pokemon Legends, paradoxically, is not just how much it gets right, and how exciting a game it is in and of itself – it is how many doors it opens for the future of the franchise, and just what it could portend for future games in the franchise. It took us 25 years to get here – but getting here was pretty much 24 years of staying in the exact same spot, shuffling feet, and then making one giant leap to get from there to here in one swoop. So hopefully future improvements aren’t similarly slow to come. Pokemon Legendshas finally painted a roadmap for Pokemon games where they can have an exciting future – now let’s hope the series actually sticks to it.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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