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Pokemon Legends: Arceus looks to be the open world evolution we've always dreamt of

Pokemon Legends Arceus
(Image credit: The Pokemon Company)

Nintendo does a panning shot better than just about anyone else in the games industry. A lone adventurer standing center frame, their attention locked on a distant horizon as the camera shifts slowly behind them to reveal a lush, sprawling world. It was used to great effect in the debut trailer for Breath of the Wild, as Nintendo unveiled a spellbinding overhaul of The Legend of Zelda. And now, Game Freak has followed suit as it showcases Pokemon Legends: Arceus – a long overdue shake up of the formula that the developer has gradually iterated on for 25 years. 

As a tool, the execution of these framing shots is so successful because it ignites the imagination. It invites players to dream up new opportunities that they hadn't dared to before, and conjure up experiences that they have only been able to dream of until now. Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a new breed of adventure for Pokemon trainers, and it's been a long time coming. "Pokemon Legends: Arceus represents a new approach for the Pokemon video game series," says Takato Utsunomiya, chief operating officer of The Pokemon Company. "Development is in full swing at Game Freak, with the aim to deliver a gaming experience that delivers new ground for the Pokemon series."

The Pokemon series enters a new era

Pokemon Legends: Arceus sends you on a quest to compile and complete the Sinnoh region's first ever Pokedex. It's the first of its kind because this is Sinnoh like you've never seen it before, set decades before the events of Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl. Pokemon Legends will take us back to the Sinnoh region when it was still a vast wilderness, to a time before its teenagers had grand ideals of leaving home to become Pokemon trainers or battle in the Pokemon League to become the very best, like no one ever was. 

Mt. Coronet acts as an ever present waypoint for your journey. The highest mountain in the Sinnoh region pierces the horizon at every turn; in the future, its underground caves will connect Oreburgh City, Eterna City, Hearthome City, Celestic Town, and Snowpoint City via a variety of manmade routes. In Pokemon Legends, it is the centrepiece of a land that is still developing – rumoured to be the birthplace of the region, where Arceus created three Legendary Pokemon before falling into an unending sleep atop the Spear Pillar. 

Little is known about Arceus' role in Pokemon Legends, that'll be a part of the adventure that Game Freak will be eager to keep under wraps. For now, we should instead focus on the types of areas we'll be exploring and where we'll be based out of. Pokemon Legends presents the Sinnoh region as a harsher environment from that of the Pokemon Diamond and Pearl games. Pokemon live freely in the mountains and on the seas, as humans come to the vast wilderness from other regions to try and resettle on its prosperous lands. 

Our adventure will begin in a main village of the early Sinnoh region, a homebase of sorts, though we're yet to discover what settlements exist beyond its boundaries. From there, our trainer in training can head out to every corner of the region to explore and survey it, research wild Pokemon, and ultimately catch them. While Game Freak is yet to confirm the name of this village, we're willing to wager that it is Solaceon Town – an area of the Diamond and Pearl games that felt older by design than its neighboring cities. Regardless, it's the setup that forms the foundation of what will surely be a transformational Pokemon experience, one that's quite unlike anything we've seen in the series before. 

Gotta (document and then) Catch 'em all

"The Pokeballs of old are built mostly of wood, and little puffs of steam emerge from the top to indicate that a Pokemon has been successfully caught"

Pokemon Legends is being designed as the first major revision of the Pokemon formula in generations. The game is set to take an established and beloved framework, and infuse it with all-new action and RPG elements. Past and present colliding, and you can clearly see the lessons that have been learned from Pokemon Sword and Shield, as well as more experimental titles like Pokemon Let's Go and the active development of New Pokemon Snap

As you explore this early Sinnoh region you'll encounter Pokemon in the wild, of course – roaming what appears to be a giant open world – but the process of catching them will be a little different from what you're used to. Because there is no Pokedex, nor any conventional wisdom to be passed down by Trainers lying in wait on every street corner and on every route, you'll have to do a little research first. 

To catch wild Pokemon, you'll be able to watch them from afar from long grass, studying their behavior and getting a better sense of its routines before sneaking in closer and going for the catch. This might be the early years of a Pokemon region, but you'll still have access to Pokeballs – although they'll look a little different to what you're used to. The Pokeballs of old are built mostly of wood, and little puffs of steam emerge from the top to indicate that a Pokemon has been successfully caught – it's a delightful feature, one that highlights the attention to detail Game Freak is pursuing here with its sweeping overhaul. 

Of course, just because you're able to free throw Pokeballs at Pokemon in the wild on your quest to document 'em all doesn't mean you'll always be successful. Pokeballs need to be precisely aimed for starters, and then there's every chance that a Pokemon won't want to go with you… not without a little encouragement. This is where one of the most exciting additions to Pokemon Legends comes into play, a mechanic many fans have been waiting 25 years to experience.

Pokemon partners

"Don't make me choose, Pokemon Legends, because Cyndaquil I will always choose you."

While you're out exploring, you can take a Pokeball already containing a partner off of your belt, throw it near a wild pokemon, and you will seamlessly enter into a battle as it emerges. From there, you will battle alongside your partner Pokemon, issuing commands and dictating the flow of battle from a more immersive and advantageous position. We've only seen a tease of Pokemon battles in action, but it's already clear that Game Freak is investigating ways to freshen up the presentation and flow of its turn-based system. 

As for the Pokemon you'll start your adventure with, we know that a mysterious professor (anybody willing to place a wager on it being a relative of Professor Oak?) visits Sinnoh after venturing to many different regions on research excursions. This is reflected in the initial partner offering, with Rowlet (Grass Type), Cyndaquil (Fire Type), and Oshawott (Water Type). Rowlet is from the Alola region, the starter Pokemon from Generation 7's Pokemon Sun and Moon. Cyndaquil hails from the Johto region, a fan-favourite from Generation 2's Pokemon Gold and Silver. Oshawott arrives from the Unova region, in Pokemon Black and White from Generation 5. Don't make me choose, Pokemon Legends, because Cyndaquil I will always choose you. 

It's a nice touch, one that helps Pokemon's past connect with its future, as presented through play itself. Pokemon Legends is offering a new way to experience Pokemon; a more densely detailed and free-flowing world awaits you, one that appears to be dynamic, should the differing times of day in the reveal trailer be believed. The reveal trailer also shows that we'll have the ability to choose between male and female trainers, although no hint yet as to whether Game Freak will take this as an opportunity to further push customisation from the mainline games. 

Regardless, it's easy to be impressed by Pokemon Legends: Arceus. It is promising us the opportunity to truly embody the passion and spirit of a Pokemon trainer, forging our own path through a world filled with mystery in every one of its corners. It's the refresh Pokemon has so desperately needed for years, a bold rethinking of the framework and formula for the Switch era. Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn't set to release until early 2022, so we're hoping to see plenty more of it in the months ahead. 

Pokemon Legends: Arceus isn't our only opportunity to visit the Sinnoh region in the near future. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have been confirmed, set to arrive later this year for Nintendo Switch.

Josh West is Features Editor of GamesRadar+. With over 10 years experience in both online and print journalism, Josh has written for a number of gaming, entertainment, music, and tech publications, including 3D Artist, Edge, gamesTM, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. He holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing, has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh plays bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.