I was on holiday when the new Pokemon games came out and didn’t have my Switch on me so had to wait to play them and avoid spoilers for two weeks.
I somehow managed to arrive home without knowing anything about the game which I think may have been down to me quitting Twitter as my Mastodon feed has less game related news due to the instance I’m on being very focused on software development.
Now I’ve had a week to play Pokemon Scarlet I feel like I’ve got enough information to write some thoughts on it.
An open world Pokemon game
The game starts off like most Pokemon games by being a little too hand-holdy but after getting through the mandatory storyline nonsense it opens up to giving you free exploration of the world.
This open-world approach for the most part works well. Pokemon is a game with many ways to ‘win’ and for someone like myself who likes to focus on getting their Pokedex filled or shiny hunting not being locked into meeting specific story goals in order to gain access to more Pokemon is great.
Within the story there are three tasks: Beat the Gyms, Beat a set of team bases and Beat a set of titan Pokemon. You’re free to tackle these in any order you want and there’s no real dependency on doing them in a specified order (although they are levelled in an order).
The game is not fully open from the start though, with the need to upgrade the mount-like box legendary by beating up titan Pokemon in order to access areas on water or higher up which I found a bit annoying as it meant I wasn’t absolutely free to go nab every Pokemon ahead of having to deal with the story in order to gain those upgrades.
Through my playthrough I decided to focus on upgrading my mount-like legendary so that I could access all the areas in the game and for the most part this was achieveable at level 30 (I had a Haunter with Hypnosis which helped with the last titan) but after beating all the titans and starting the gyms and team bases I came to realise that all the goals are tied into each other as a specific path that downplays the openness of the game.
While it’s true that any of the tasks can be ticked off in any order because of the way the experience system works it would be pointless to build your team up to challenge the highest level gym and then take on the lowest level gym as there would be no experience gains.
Personally I think a means to scale with the level of the player in a manner similar to how World of Warcraft (WoW) works would allow for players to explore more and tackle the gyms in any order they want (i.e. go easy and choose gyms that give them a type advantage or do the opposite and make things more challenging).
This gym/team base order issue isn’t helped by the lack of sign-posting in the game which left me unaware of how the game’s progression path was designed. I tackled the team bases based on the proximity to the starting area which ended up seeing me challenge a higher level base before the one intended to be before it and lost out on getting experience points that would have helped level my team up when I needed it.
A multiplayer open world Pokemon game
One of the features I was very excited about was the opportunity to play with my girlfriend online in a manner similar to how we play WoW by working together to beat the games goals.
The reality of the multi-player in Pokemon Scarlet/Violet is it’s not to dissimilar to how it worked in Sword/Shield with the other player being visible in your world and you receiving updates when they do something but there’s no real collaborative gameplay.
The main sell of the multi-player experience is that the guest players can catch the Pokemon from the host players version of the game. This is needed to complete the Pokedex but doesn’t really change up the way that the game is played like the advertising would have you believe.
If Pokemon were to offer a more MMORPG style of multiplayer I’d be happy but that would mean they’d have to change their business model a fair amount. They did well adopting DLC instead of releasing a new game for Sword and Shield but I’d love to see future generations take the form of DLC on a base game built on top of Scarlet/Violet.
For me a true online multiplayer experience would have a group of friends working together to complete the game, with the game itself being able to scale accordingly dependent on the number of players and being done in any order. This would feel more like the Pokemon anime which I think ultimately most Pokemon fans wish the original games were like.
Is it worth playing now?
It’s a Pokemon game with some freedom so like Arceus Legends it feels less restrictive than the older games but because there is still a set order that the game is meant to be played in it falls short of being a truly free MMORPG-esque experience.
I’m sure as the game gets patched and some DLC is released things will improve and potentially move closer to what people want but right now the game feels massively rushed and not as innovative as it could be.
For shiny hunters like myself it’s also a terrible game to play with shinies being visible outside of battles but without anything to tell you one has spawned which means that when using the new ‘Let’s Go’ mode you could potentially kill one of the harder to spot shinies while trying to increase your shiny chances.
One saving grace for Violet though is that my favourite Pokemon Haunter has a pokedex number of 69. Nice.