Scarlet and Violet: A true “open world”, but lacking depth
As we come to Pokemon’s most recent iteration, namely Scarlet & Violet, alongside it’s DLCs, we find that this is Game Freak’s first attempt at a purely open world game. Aside from a few loading screens here or there, the Paldea region is open and accessible to the player just by walking, climbing or gliding over to it’s locations. This sprawling world offers a level of freedom to explore that many who have played the series have craved for years, and for this, credit must be given where credit is due.
Of course, with this being their first attempt at an open world of this scale, there were always going to be issues. lThe first that comes to mind is that while the world is indeed vast, it seems to lack depth beyond the surface level. Towns are open and easy to explore, but many shops and buildings are un-enterable, breaking immersion and making parts of the world seem purely ornate. While this was likely their purpose, this inability to fully interact with structures was something I found lacking.
Graphically, the game left much to be desired, with performance and lag making the world seem a bit fuzzy and un-rendered at times. While this point has been hammered away at for some time now, it needs be mentioned in a conversation of open world and immersion as many other open-world RPG games that have come to the Nintendo Switch have shown the console’s ability to ascribe to and handle a higher standard. The game would look, feel and run far more like a proper open world RPG if Game Freak had looked to ascribe similar standards to games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Tears of the Kingdom. While no one expects the same level of detail as Bethesda or CDK Projekt Red would put into their games, a higher standard is possible.
As someone who has sunk many hours into this game, the graphics were clearly not enough to push me away from it, as it did have many redeeming qualities as well. Concepts from previous Pokemon games were expanded on, such as the ability for the player to have a ride Pokemon to travel said open world. While I would have preferred the option to ride a Pokemon of my choice in the variety of biomes we encounter, having the box legendaries to do so on is at least convenient. Unlocking each ability step by step encouraged the player to explore the game, hence players got to experience each biome and location in a meaningful way.
Touching on the biomes themselves, there was a level of repetitiveness that I disliked, as quite a few biomes looked too similar for my liking. Game Freak could and should look to add a bit more diversity going forward to make each feel more unique when they are encountered. This is built upon by the DLCs thankfully, with The Teal Mask adding few new areas to explore.
Despite the new areas, the Teal Mask unfortunately takes a step back in terms of the level of duplicate Pokemon found in these areas that are already found in mainland Paldea. This number was a bit too high for me, once again breaking the level of immersion as the land of Kitakami is supposed to be “a land far away” from the shores of Paldea. Such similarities make it seem like more of an extension of Paldea, which could have been solved by adding more diverse poke-fauna for players to find via exploration.
Like in Sword and Shield, Scarlet and Violet introduced an interactive feature via picnics where players can release and interact with their Pokemon. While this has been as boon for shiny hunters as a hunting mechanic, it almost feels like a missed opportunity in terms of building upon the concept of camping introduced in the generation before. Setting up camp could have more utility than just making food, but could have also been combined with the crafting features of Legends Arceus to make useful items to help catch and heal Pokemon. Crafting is touched upon by gathering resources from Pokemon during battles and making TMs, but the level of crafting we saw in Legends Arceus would have fit perfectly in Paldea’s vast setting, and could have been accessible through this camping mechanism.
All in all, it does seem that as we encounter new generations of Pokemon games, we are heading in the right direction in terms of immersion and open world play. Game Freak, while only having dipped their toes in these waters for now, show slow, albeit promising steps in terms of the recipe they are trying to concoct for these games. As we await the Indigo Disk DLC, there is hope that we shall see even more advances in this domain, and that the upcoming DLC can give us a snapshot into what the future holds for Pokemon as an open world game moving forward.