Pokemon Legends Arceus Review: Gameplay, Difficulty and Exploration Impressions

Brandon Galvin@BGNY3Breaking News TeamJanuary 26, 2022


Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a dream come true for children who grew up with the original games, TV show and movies in the '90s. This is the closest game we have to replicating the TV show and movies, and it is an absolute joy to experience. For gamers who have fantasized for decades about being able to freely journey into an open-world area to uncover the wild life of Pokemon while completing quests, Legends was well worth the wait. 

There have been many spinoff Pokemon games released since the '90s, but Legends is the perfect game to accompany the mainline series. The open-world hub areas with third-person action exploration leading directly into the familiar and comfortable turn-based gameplay is a perfect blend of styles to present a welcomed twist on Pokemon games.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus is such a blast to play and a step in the right direction for what gamers have desired that it should be part of the rotation for mainline Pokemon games every two (or three) years.


Gameplay, Difficulty and Exploration Impressions

Legends is a great entry point for newcomers to open-world games, similar to how the original Pokemon games were great entryways to RPGs.

The map is excellent. Objectives, waypoint markers and button inputs are cleanly displayed and easily defined, which makes gameplay and exploration extremely accessible. In some other open-world RPGs, such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, it can be difficult to see exactly where the objective marker is guiding toward, but in Legends it is clear to see if the player needs to go high or low to reach the destination.

The open-world hub areas are big enough to spend hours exploring, but they aren't overwhelming or daunting. Like previous Pokemon games, the player will eventually discover Pokemon to assist in traversal, which opens up many more possibilities for fun and quicker exploration—but more importantly, different aspects of the terrain for each map.

A common complaint of previous Pokemon games is that the difficulty is far too easy and most gamers can just coast through the game, mostly using just one or two overpowered Pokemon. This game is far more difficult than previous Pokemon games, and the player will always have to be aware of their surroundings. From the start, it feels like enemy Pokemon are more powerful and hit harder in this game.

While playing at a steady pace at one's own leisure, this game should definitely present more of a challenge and require far more strategy during battles. Every player needs to make sure they have a plethora of revive, potions and berries available because enemy Pokemon can quickly wipe out half of the party. 

Wild Pokemon are often very aggressive too, even attacking the main character. The player will need to have their head on a swivel and be mindful of triggered Pokemon rushing to attack from the side or behind. The dodge mechanic will be extremely useful while the player swaps to the Pokemon they want to battle with to try to get the upper hand. 

A great aspect of the open-world nature is that if the player tries to battle a Pokemon with another enemy Pokemon nearby, they may have to battle two or even three Pokemon at the same time.

Regarding gameplay within the Pokemon battles, each Pokemon's moves have three options: regular moves, strong moves and agile moves. Regular moves are base moves that do standard damage and require normal PP usage, while strong and agile moves should be used to try to gain an advantage during a battle or to deal the final blow to end a battle. Strong movies boosts power, lowers user's action speed and uses more PP than usual, while agile moves reduces power, raises user's action speed and uses more PP than usual.

The introduction of three different types of options for a single move is a fantastic twist on the traditional turn-based gameplay to provide another layer of strategy not often seen in a Pokemon game. 

Action order, like in some other turn-based RPGs, shows when each Pokemon will act next during the battle. This is always welcomed in turn-based games because it helps the player further strategize during battle. Including the action order makes even more makes when considering the use of strong and agile moves, but more importantly, when battling against multiple Pokemon at the same time.

Legends: Arceus also offers a nice variety of boss and mini-boss battles out in the world and during the main quests. For example, not every battle is just turn-based with Pokemon leading the way. This game really makes the player feel like they're more involved in the gameplay by incorporating the main character into certain encounters while bouncing between Pokemon battles and other mechanics to provide greater gameplay variety than traditional Pokemon games.

Amid uncovering the mysteries surrounding the world (no story spoilers here), filling out Pokedex is still a top priority as previous games.

There's an amazing mix of old-school and new-school Pokemon to keep players guessing who they will discover out in the open-world areas. Considering that's such a major part of the fun of exploring, the different and specific Pokemon in the game won't be mentioned, other than to say that there's definitely enough for fans of all generations to feel happy.

Of course, a major gameplay feature is the ability to capture Pokemon, so nailing the act of throwing a Pokeball is vital.

Developer Game Freak implemented smooth controls and options for capturing Pokemon. The act of throwing a Pokeball is extremely easy, as it feels like a traditional third-person action game in that the player can hold down ZL to focus on a target and then use ZR to throw the ball at the Pokemon. As always, there's many different types of Pokeballs, but there's also an abundance of items the player can use to distract wild Pokemon or gain an advantage during exploration in order to make an easier catch.

It can't be stressed enough how important it is to make sure an abundance of Pokeballs are available during exploration, so be mindful of money and materials to buy or craft Pokeballs.

Legends offers a nice spin on the way the Pokedex operates, with several different criteria to meet for completing each Pokemon's specific entry in the Pokedex. As a result, it feels like everything matters when out in the world. For example, defeating and/or capturing the same Pokemon many different times is now tracked in the Pokedex in order to max it out. Another fun and unique task, for example, includes capturing a Pokemon without being detected. 

Completing the Pokedex will either be a completionist's dream or nightmare, but it at least adds stakes to the encounters (whether outright capturing or battling). This is all a smart way to increase the player's involvement instead of feeling like they can just do the same thing with every encounter.

One amazing feature is the ability to evolve Pokemon from the menu instead of it automatically happening like in some previous entries.

The player will receive a notification that the Pokemon can be evolved and then the player can decide when to do so from the menu screen. Players can also pay for new moves for their Pokemon at the training grounds and even master moves depending on specific conditions. It's important to remember that a Pokemon's moves can be changed from their menu screen, as it won't be immediately triggered after a battle like in previous games.

One downside is that players can't switch Pokemon on the fly from menus, which is an amazing quality-of-life feature in recent Pokemon games. However, the party can be switched by visiting a camp instead of having to go all the way back to the home village, which is easy to do thanks to the excellent fast-travel feature.

Crafting and money are extremely important. The economy is very well done as the player will get money after submitting a field report when looking to head back to the main village after adventuring in the hub areas. There will be opportunities to earn items through side quests and mining items out in the world, which of course can be sold for money.

Another cool wrinkle to exploration is being able to find lost satchels from other gamers. Once found, gamers can go to the "Lost and Found" menu to turn them in for MP, which is separate currency that can be spent at a certain shop. 

There's tons of side quests, which help make the world and the village feel like lived-in places. There's also a good amount of quests tied to the day-and-night cycle, which further enhances the atmosphere to create a lifelike world. Of course, more side quests will unlock depending on certain conditions being met throughout the main journey.

From a technical perspective, the graphics have the usual Pokemon charm to it, which is always pleasant. Whether playing on a TV or in handheld mode, the game is vibrant and performs well. It's still awesome to play a Pokemon game on the big screen, but there's always that comfortability of playing in handheld, which is even better if playing on the new Switch OLED screen.

The game will definitely draw comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with some of the visual and audio cues (in addition to some collectable elements and using pins as waypoint markers), but the art style of Breath of the Wild should prove to have more longevity than Legends.

The biggest disappointment is still some of the pop-in around the open world despite not being the most detailed or intensive environments. However, it's awesome that there is minimal load times throughout the game. Another fantastic feature is being able to save seemingly anywhere and anytime, plus the Switch can be put in sleep mode and pick right back up where the player left off.

Overall, this is a well polished game that didn't experience any glitches that can often hold back other open-world style games.



Pokemon Legends: Arceus is packed with content to keep people playing for dozens of hours. There's a plethora of Pokemon, customization options, quests and secrets to uncover. The game is also perfect for implementing post-launch expansion packs, similar to how Pokemon Sword and Shield received two major expansions after launch.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus is a must-experience game for Pokemon fans and a must-play game for Switch owners looking for an entry point into the world of Pokemon. Legends should be treated as an essential mainline series along with the traditional games because this was an excellent debut.