- Niantic Labs
Last week, Pokémon Go got a huge update, bringing sweeping and long-awaited changes to the game’s multiplayer battles.
These changes are just in time: As Pokémon Go approaches its one-year anniversary, the early mega-hype over the game has all but faded. Make no mistake, there are still 65 million active players, including myself, but the game has gone stale for many – even the very first Pokémon Go master has quit the game for lack of new worlds to conquer.
Fortunately for all, this update is exactly what the doctor ordered. While I never stopped playing casually, the update has me out in the streets again in my quest to catch ’em all.
After a year of same-old, same-old multiplayer, the update truly makes Pokémon Go great again – and sets the stage for even more exciting things to come.
The old way
The basics of Pokémon Go haven’t changed. Players explore the real world in search of Pokémon, which can appear anywhere. Along the way, players will find Pokéstops, which dispense helpful items when they walk near them, and gyms, which are guarded against attack by other players’ most powerful Pokémon in a variation on king of the hill.
The problem with the original setup is that it got old, quickly. Players figured out that only a few Pokémon – most commonly Dragonite, a rare dragon type – had the stats necessary to guard a gym against attackers for any length of time.
- Niantic Labs
So players raced to swell their collections with mega-powerful specimens of those few Pokémon, with many opting to cheat to get the biggest, baddest monsters.
The net result: Players were forced to grind against the same handful of souped-up Pokémon, over and over again, just to make a dent in the gym. And even if they were somehow victorious, those hardcore players would unseat you pretty much instantly. It rapidly became apparent that it wasn’t worth it, so many players didn’t bother.
The new hotness
Niantic, the developer of Pokémon Go, took its time rolling out these changes, but it’s obvious they were well-considered.
With this update, Pokémon at gyms lose “motivation,” and thus combat power, or CP, the longer they’re there. If motivation hits zero, the Pokémon is automatically kicked out. Motivation can be restored by feeding berries to each Pokémon at the gym at regular intervals.
- Niantic Labs
This neatly solves one big problem: If the lineup at a gym is too intimidating for a player, simply wait, and it’ll be easier. Plus, any Pokémon over 3000 CP lose motivation super quickly, meaning they’re more likely to vanish, barring organized enemy action in keeping them well-fed. Oh, and you can have only one of each type of Pokémon at a gym at any time, which further increases the variety in defending lineups.
The icing on the cake: Niantic is cracking down on cheaters, making a more concerted effort to keep them from ruining everybody else’s fun.
That’s a good start. But wait, there’s more.
It’s a raid
What’s really cool is the new addition of “raid battles.” From morning until around sunset, certain gyms will play host to a massive, mega-powerful Pokémon. You and up to 19 other players can team up to take it down. A successful raid will net you otherwise unobtainable items and a chance to catch a version of the Pokémon you just took down.
Better still is that certain Pokémon that are otherwise unloved in the game are amazing at raids. It’s just another way Niantic is thinking through how to increase variety in the game.
This raid system feels like the logical way to distribute “legendary” Pokémon, the rarest of the rare, down the line – forcing 20 players to work together just to catch a Mewtwo or Articuno sounds like my idea of a good time.
Pokémon Go has always been best when it encourages real-world camaraderie among players, and this is a positive step in that direction.
All these neat little tweaks add up to a reason to play more Pokémon Go. Now I have a shot at defending a gym whether or not I have the most powerful of the powerful Pokémon, which I don’t. And by teaming up with other players, I can take down powerful bosses, which also gives me a better chance to catch ’em all.
There are lots of little, niggling things that I wish Niantic would fix. The new system, for instance, is still a nightmare outside of urban areas like San Francisco, where I live. Too few gyms means it’s still trivially easy for a handful of players to take one over with their most powerful monsters.
But more than ever, it feels like the first step into something bigger, as Niantic takes the template we’ve had for a year and builds on it. Those legendaries are an obvious place to start; there’s room for so much more.
Ultimately, all I know is that my partner and I have run out of the house at least once to complete a raid. That’s something we haven’t done with Pokémon Go since it came out. If Niantic’s goal is to reinvigorate the fires under its most dedicated players, and reel in new ones, this is a very encouraging sign.