What was Bilbo Baggins’ great quote from Lord of the Rings (the good one, not the TV series)? “Like butter scraped over too much bread”? Something like that. It’s a great quote and also the best way to describe Temtem. As a Pokémon clone it would almost be serviceable, if it wasn’t for the fact that the developers were trying to also give us something of the scope of a MMO.
There are 164 Temtem currently available to catch and train in the game. That’s a tiny few more than were available in the original Pokémon Blue and Red, from way back on the Game Boy. It itself that’s not so much of a problem. Pokémon Blue/Red are still good for a replay, and Temtem has some lovely art direction that means most of the monsters are interesting and fun to catch and use. You can do what I like to do in these games and fill out the party with various birds and billed creatures (there’s even a platypus-like critter!), so the roster, when you look at it in isolation, is adequate.
The problem is that Temtem is so ridiculously large, and follows the MMO formula of progression. You’ll drop into a town, be told you need to go to the next town, and grab a couple of side quests before heading out again to progress further onwards through a vast territory to reach the next town. The problem is that these spaces are with opponents and patches of wild grass to catch new Temtem… only there aren’t many new Temtem. That 164-critter roster starts looking very thin when you’re only encountering one or two new monsters between story beat locations, despite facing dozens of battles. Temtem’s size suggests that it should have had 500+ monsters, easily, so the fact that it’s not even close to that number is very noticeable.
Then there’s the MMO-like focus on multiplayer and a grind, which also bothers me. Critters level up quickly enough, which is fine, but cash comes in short supply, and stuff tends to be expensive. Because I’m me, the first thing I wanted to do was go find a bikini for my character, rather than buy anything useful. Unfortunately that thing was like $6,000 in the in-game currency, and battles were doling out in $100s at a time. As you progress there are additional ways to earn money, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this game wants you to live in it just to make reasonable progress. The closest comparison I can come to is Final Fantasy XIV, but even then that game felt like distances were shorter and earning stuff was more reasonable.
As you adventure you’ll see other trainers wandering around the world, which is fine, except that you can’t challenge them to battles, or do much of anything to interact with them. Online battling does become an option later on, of course, but through much of the single player adventure they’re just window dressing (and a nuisance thanks to the chat window). Ultimately this single player stuff acts as a glorified tutorial for the game, and Temtem’s real depth is in the multiplayer and post-game stuff. However, that’s disappointing in itself, as it then exposes you to premium currencies, battle passes, and the drudgery of endless training that comes with that.
Pokémon has always hit a good balance where the single player game is enjoyable by itself. Even if you never battle another real human, it’s still fun to run through the story modes of these games because they’re tuned towards an experience that doesn’t take off only once you’ve finished with the single-player stuff. Temtem is the other way around, and sure, it’s great in the way that other MMOs can be great if you’re going to get into that stuff. If you’re into the more single player monster collectors, you’d be much better off grabbing Nexomon or Coromon on the PlayStation instead.
Where Temtem does shine is in its presentation. The world is gorgeous to wander around, and as mentioned earlier, the various critters are delightful too. I know I’ve enjoyed the monster collecting side of things when I regularly feel the need to change my party just because I’ve collected something new, and that was definitely the case here. Furthermore, while the world is stupidly large (and also artificially designed to be an endless funnel), it still leaves you with a desire to explore. Early on you’ll see the other players online doing things that you currently can’t, such as climbing walls or heading out to water on a surfboard, and know that you’ll be coming back to do that yourself eventually. Whenever you pull up the map you’ll see places that look tantalising and promise more adventure, too.
In battle the game uses almost exactly the same combat system as Pokémon. Each monster has up to four attacks and those attacks have types that may be strong or weak against particular enemies. The one main difference is that in almost every battle you’ll be sending two of your monsters out to face off against two enemy monsters. Unfortunately, while this system could have been interesting, there’s not nearly enough synergies and systems in place to make the teams particularly relevant. For the most part, it’s two individual critters squaring off against two individual critters. While Pokémon might not do the dual battles so often, there is greater tactical variety when it does, and Temtem’s designers could have benefitted from taking a few more notes there.
Temtem’s disappointing, because it promised to be so much. In a genre that has been so utterly dominated by one particular property, and then lightyears back to the nearest rival, here was a game that seemed like it had the ambition and scope to actually rival Game Freak’s giant on its home turf. Unfortunately the result is more akin to the more egregious MMOs – a waste of time that exists to be a waste of time.