Is Pokémon Legends Arceus a Real Open World Game?

Pokémon Legends: Arceus looks like the first true open-world Pokémon game, but is that really the case?

Pokemon Legends Arceus
Photo: Nintendo

Thanks, in part, to the Pokémon Legends: Arceus marketing team, many gamers are convinced the Switch title represents a bold new direction for the Pokémon franchise and features a sprawling open world. More than a few people have compared the game to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but is that really a fair comparison? Is it even true?

Well, the unfortunate answer to that question is “no,” but that’s not the same as claiming Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a restrictive experience.

Each new mainline Pokémon game is designed to one-up the previous entries. New moves are added, stats have been rebalanced, and, in the case of Pokémon Sword and Shield, routes were primarily replaced with semi-open Wild Areas. Following that evolutionary path, it’s only natural to assume that Pokémon Legends: Arceus boasts the kind of full open-world that some Pokémon fans have been dreaming of. Now that the game’s review embargo has lifted, though, we know that isn’t really the case. If anything, Pokémon Legends: Arceus borrows more heavily from Monster Hunter to build its world, which is oddly fitting since that franchise borrowed heavily from Pokémon.

According to reviews from sites such as The Verge and GameSpot, Pokémon Legends: Arceus‘ world is divided into multiple distinct and isolated zones. As players progress through the story, they unlock new areas, many of which are larger than previous ones (and each biome is home to different Pokémon). Of course, players will need to retread old areas countless times before they can even think of visiting those new lands. Not only do you need to fill out Pokedex entries to increase their in-game rank (which will unlock the new locations) but they will need to level up their Pokemon to survive each new area’s native wildlife.

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So even though Pokémon Legends: Arceus isn’t a true open-world title like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it is still sprawling enough to scratch that exploration itch. Pokémon Legends: Arceus hides plenty of secrets in various nooks and crannies. Plus, most critics agree that the sheer enjoyment of trekking across zones and catching Pokemon from the safety of tall grass (oh the irony) should make most players forget they aren’t playing an open-world title.

While some gamers might be disappointed that Pokémon Legends: Arceus is split into different biomes, many reviews mention performance issues that would have probably been compounded by an open-world structure. For instance, Polygon noticed frequent pop-in issues, and according to Nintendo Life, framerates were only somewhat stable. By all accounts, Pokémon Legends: Arceus buckles under the Nintendo Switch’s limited hardware. The game is far more stable than, say, Cyberpunk 2077, but if Pokémon Legends: Arceus tried to fit in a seamlessly open world, the Switch might explode trying to render it. Suddenly, the game’s admittedly lackluster graphical quality makes a bit more sense from an optimization perspective.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter if Pokémon Legends: Arceus is open-world or not. What will ultimately matter most is how the game uses its world. Judging by reviews, Pokémon Legends: Arceus builds an enjoyable experience with its various standalone areas. Sure, players will retread the same locations every now and then, but they will probably have too much fun filling out their Pokedex with shiny Pokemon to care.