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If you’re a longtime Pokémon fan who has been looking for a sign to get back into the franchise then Pokémon Legends: Arceus is it.

The new game was released on Nintendo Switch on Friday and introduced a number of new mechanics that long-time fans have been dying for.

The big one? A set of sprawling open-world maps that you can freely explore. Plus the ability to sneak up to a Pokémon and catch them without even battling.

There’s a gripping sense of scale in Pokémon Legends: Arceus that hasn’t ever been captured in a mainline game. You can be walking up a mountain and see a giant Vespiqueen in the distance or a pack of Luxios and Luxrays prowling an area nearby. You can be standing next to a river and all of a sudden be attacked by an angry Remoraid in the water.

Pokémon in this game feel like living creatures. They come in different sizes and behave differently. They’re mesmerising, sometimes threatening and other times adorable.

Playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus gives you that excitement and urge for adventure you had when you first played the series as a kid. Only now it’s not limited by its visuals or linear progression. It’s Pokémon meets Monster Hunter meets The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Gotta catch (and record) ‘em all

Another hugely welcoming addition to Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a shift in the way the game emphasises Pokémon battles over catching Pokémon.

Unlike other Pokémon games, there are no gym battles or trainers blocking your route to the next town here. Your goal is to explore the mysteries surrounding powerful Pokémon of the Hisui region and record the very first Pokedex.

You do this by completing a select number of tasks related to a Pokémon. This includes catching and battling them as well as seeing them do a specific move or feeding them food.

You also can catch Pokémon without even battling them by sneaking up to them and throwing a Pokéball — it’s that simple.

That change makes catching Pokémon fun again. When I first started out, I spent hours ignoring the main quest and just exploring. I’d come back to town with 50 new Pokémon, chase up a few quests and go back out to the world. It’s refreshing but also adds a water cooler effect to a game that’s famously stuck to tradition.

If you want a challenge then you can battle Alpha Pokémon. They’re gigantic versions of normal Pokémon that are more powerful and higher leveled than others in the area.

But the goal here is exploring and interacting with Pokémon rather than other trainors. That change is a tasteful palette cleanser for the various Elite Fours and Team Rocket clones you’ve faced in the past. And personally, it makes me never want to pick up a traditional playing Pokémon game again. Or at least for a few more years.

I struggled to play Pokémon Unbreakable Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl when they dropped in October last year. The pacing was slow, the battles weren’t that fun and the story wasn’t very engaging. Yes, they were remakes but even still it felt repetitive and unoriginal. It reminded me of why I fell out of the franchise a bit in the last few generations.

I’ve spent 20 hours with Pokémon Legends: Arceus in just three days. I never once felt like I was forcing myself to play it in that time. I was struggling to put it down.

Playing this game has me excited for what the future of this franchise could be. Just imagine a game set in a present-day setting in this engine and style. You could be catching Pidgeys as they’re poking at a rubbish pin at a park or crawling through a squishy sewer full of Muks and Koffins. As a long-time fan of the series — both games and anime — that’s stupidly exciting.

If you haven’t picked Pokémon Legends: Arceus up already you can find copies here.

Image: The Pokémon Company / Twitter [@yoracrab]