I grew up playing Pokémon, excitedly diving into each new game in the series, eager to see what new adventures and monsters awaited me. As time went on, though, I felt myself getting burnt out on the games I was once so obsessed with, drifting away from the series completely at the start of the 3DS era. It wasn’t until the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield on Nintendo Switch that I found myself enamoured with the games again, but one thing stuck out to me as I returned to the series: the combat is ludicrously easy. I only found myself backed into a corner two or three times during my entire playthrough, making the experience a comfortable breeze down Pokémon memory lane.
Temtem is not a comfortable breeze. This new indie MMO monster battler has clearly been heavily inspired by Pokémon, but it puts an increased emphasis on combat challenge and skill synergy. Unfortunately, despite having a refreshingly challenging combat system, Temtem fails to deliver on multiple other fronts in its Early Access form, the most egregious being a shocking lack of actual multiplayer content.
Temtem lifts many things both directly and indirectly from the globally renowned monster-taming franchise, but it throws one major wrench into the formula by being an MMO instead of a standard single-player experience. Though it’s marketed as one, for all the time I’ve spent playing the current Early Access version of the game, it’s hard to really call it much of an MMO at all. As you explore the world you’ll certainly see countless other players wandering around, their favorite Temtem following them as they traverse caverns and chat with shopkeepers, but a passing glance is where your interaction with these Temtem tamers ends.
There isn’t any traditional multiplayer MMO content in the game like raids, multiplayer excursions, or even a simple chatbox. You can opt to play through the game in co-op with one other person, forcefully dragging each other into every building and combat encounter you enter, but you don’t need to, and since you don’t need to engage with this system I spent practically my entire Temtem journey alone. The charm of seeing other players quickly fades when you realize they’re not much more than internet ghosts awkwardly huddling in front of your next quest giver.
Besides the MMO framing, Temtem is an incredibly familiar experience for anyone who’s battled a Psyduck or caught a Ditto. Some elements of the game are slightly modified, with the collectible creatures being Temtems instead of Pokémon, tamers instead of trainers, and rectangular Temcards used for capturing feral beasts instead of balls. Other elements are hilariously lifted from Pokémon with absolutely no change, like encountering new creatures in tall grass or using Ether to restore battle points.
It’s the unique way Temtem approaches its world and storytelling that really helps the game establish its own identity. You’ll be exploring exotic islands full of lush greens and vibrant crystals that make the three islands you can currently explore each feel like alien paradises. It was a little off-putting, though, to see the characters in these environments sometimes sporting tribal JRPG-ish gear and other times wearing simple t-shirts and cardigans.
That awkward dash of modern culture plays into the story too, with budding Temtem trainers such as yourself having to attend introductory classes at Accademia before they could go off and explore the world or conquer the Dojos of each island. I was excited by the natural sense of structure that tamers seemed to have in this world, but that excitement was quickly dashed when I arrived at the Accademia building and was immediately told to simply go to the next town. No classes, no NPCs, not a single story-driven combat encounter to speak of.
Despite having over 20 hours of content, much of Temtem plays out like this. You’ll spend ages wading along cliffs and walking paths that are littered with daunting trainer battles that constantly slow your progress, but once you finally arrive at a town, there’s rarely much for you to see or do. Some story beats and moments of dialogue choice offered simple charm, but in the grand scheme of things, Temtem is much more focused on guiding you to the next combat encounter than they are with giving you a good reason to care about the encounter.
Thankfully, battles in Temtem offered just the right amount of challenge I needed to stay invested in the experience. Every encounter in the game is a 2-on-2 battle, and your Temtem won’t be able to just spam their strongest move until the enemies are down. Each Temtem has a Stamina bar, and each attack drains this. If you use an attack when you don’t have enough stamina, your Temtem will overexert themselves and deliver the blow at the cost of taking damage themselves and being unable to act the next turn. While it put me off at first, the stamina system ended up presenting a unique challenge that forced me to think about my decisions in combat much more than I have in any Pokémon game.
The challenge is amplified thanks to the incredibly unforgiving economy of the game. Potions cost about as much as you earn from one battle on the first island, and revives are a hell of a luxury. There’s only one repeatable activity in the game so far that lets you earn money, releasing caught or bred Temtems into the wild, but the amount you earn from that, combined with the shockingly high fees for breeding items and character customisation items adds an intense grind to the game that isn’t rewarding at all.
Temtem has some promising ideas at its core, with a uniquely challenging combat system and a beautiful world to explore. Unfortunately, so many other elements of the game fall flat for this initial release. A harsh economy, a lack of multiplayer content, underwhelming character and monster designs and more plague the title, while minor issues like server caps and constant maintenance add another layer of frustration to the experience. With a projected final release date of Q3 2021, there’s plenty of time for Crema to evolve and grow their game, and I only hope Temtem manages to become the ambitious, multiplayer monster-catching adventure it so desperately wants to be.