In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, there’s a lot for critics to praise. The innovation of the capture system, the addition of expansive open-world areas, and the habits and habitats of the creatures that call Hisui home are all well worth celebrating. But there’s one thing that’s missing, one piece of the pie that many Pokémon trainers find the sweetest: in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, there is no online battle mode.
I can hear you already, “But this game is obviously about exploration! What’s the problem?” Buckle up, because I’ve got a couple of problems, and a Hisuian Arcanine isn’t one (who could say no to that face?). For all the hidden corners, legendary encounters, and surprisingly accessible shiny Pokémon in GameFreak’s latest title, there’s little to no way to test your battling abilities.
There are a few trainers, sure, and a couple of late-game battles that might push you if you’re not dramatically over-levelled like I was, but it’s clear that this game is all about capturing the critters of Hisui, and completing the Pokédex.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the emphasis on the core catching and training mechanic in the main game. I was one of many who enjoyed some red hot nostalgia as I darted through the Obsidian Fieldlands, pelting Pokéballs at every Bidoof in a way I had only once dreamed possible. However, while the rest of the Pokéworld moves on from Sword and Shield, those looking to compete in tournaments, singles, and doubles battles must remain in the now stagnant meta of the last mainline Pokémon game.
If you haven’t played much Pokémon Sword and Shield online, let me catch you up. While there were some fluctuations in the tier rankings of individual ‘mons for the first year or so, and occasional tournaments have provided a challenge in limiting meta entries, the competitive scene is now stricken with malaise in the form of a rotating list of twelve, or so, Pokémon.
It’s important to say that GameFreak certainly hasn’t given up on Sword and Shield’s online competitive mode. Competitions are still running, with a shiny legendary bird giveaway currently live for an upcoming tournament. Still, just because the developer hasn’t given up on it, doesn’t mean the player base is sticking around with the older title. Even VGC legend and prolific YouTuber WolfeyVGC has concentrated on Legends content over Sword and Shield battles in recent weeks.
Of course, I understand that GameFreak has an issue in that it can’t please all of its audience at once. So while some will scream out for a way to show off their shiny Goodra in multiplayer battles, a lot of trainers are happy just to catch and collect until the sun sets on their time in Hisui.
What the developer might not have taken into account, though, is how their online battle system has offered previous series entries a longer life cycle than they might have enjoyed had they not included the multiplayer mechanic. For all we know, GameFreak may well have something up its sleeve to alleviate these worries, but that doesn’t quell the nerves and frustrations of those looking for something new right now.
It’s also apparent that there are challenges in creating an online battle mode for Pokémon Legends: Arceus, mainly due to the new battle styles mechanic, that flips traditional battles on their head. Unfortunately, this makes it even more frustrating that there is no multiplayer option, as trainer battles in the world of Legends: Arceus are slim pickings, and you get few opportunities to test your mettle with the new styles.
The same goes for the new weather effects, especially with the Ice-type finally receiving a weather buff in which they can flourish. Unfortunately, these new ideas just feel a little half-baked without an online arena. For those who play a Pokémon game to enjoy the tactical challenge of a rock-paper-scissors battle-system gone super-sized, there’s little to do when the credits roll.
There’s a possibility of online battles coming as part of some sort of DLC package, though there’s nothing to suggest that as it stands. We know that GameFreak and the Pokémon Company are now onboard with additional content, thanks to the two DLC packages released for Sword and Shield, even if some fans aren’t happy about it. So, there’s a chance a late curveball DLC might crop up somewhere down the line. Disregard this article and say a little thank you to Arceus if it does.
It’s not clear if the new mechanics are too complicated for a fully-fledged online system, especially with the added complications of doubles, or if it was time constraints, or some other issue that left Pokémon Legends: Arceus bereft of a multiplayer battle feature. What we can say, is that it poses some serious questions for the future of the competitive meta, and the franchise as a whole.
It’s true that the VGC, or any other online Pokémon tournaments, haven’t always had the biggest following. Still, a dedicated group of players are out there anxiously waiting to see if their preferred way of being a Pokémon master will get an update any time soon. It would seem slightly remiss for GameFreak to ignore such a community, especially with the Pokémon Company seeking to validate fans of their TCG with an online portal for taking on opponents.
So yes, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is about exploration, catching-’em-all, and acing the fundamentals while looking to innovate, and they’ve nailed it, I can’t say they haven’t. But there’s a small section of players, though not quite as small as you think, who might be feeling a little bit left behind, and I can hardly blame them.