If you’ve opened your Pokémon GO today, you’ve noticed a big change. The gyms are reopened with a bunch of features Niantic hopes will boost lagging excitement – but are Raid Battles enough to bring players back?
First of all, here’s what’s new:
- Gym overhaul. Only 6 Pokémon can be in a gym with no duplicates allowed. Gyms no longer have levels; instead, individual Pokémon have motivation that drops every time they’re defeated. Trainers can boost allied Pokémon with berries.
- Gyms give you items like Pokéstops when you spin their Photo Disk. Because of this, some Pokéstops have become Gyms.
- Pokécoins. You get 1 Pokécoin for every hour you have a Pokémon defending a gym. It pays out hourly (quick fix from Niantic here; originally it paid a lump sum when your Pokémon was defeated).
- Gym badges. Every gym gives you a unique gym badge, which you level up by fighting at the same gym. Having a higher level badge at a gym will give you more items when you visit.
- Graphics. There are individual animations for each battle at a gym where you see the trainer and Pokémon matched against your own.
- Raid Battles. This is Niantic’s Big Reveal, supposedly. Raid Battles are group fights of a high level Pokémon that are only available for trainers of a certain level. You only get one free Raid Pass per day, and you can only hold one. Of course, you can buy more in the store.
Real talk: how does this affect gameplay?
With gyms having been shut down for days, it seems like there should have been a bigger change than simply upgrading Gyms. Raid Battles are just cooler group Gym battles when you get right down to it, and they aren’t available to that casual demographic Niantic was hoping to win back. When the update first dropped, only trainers 35 and up could do Raid Battles, though by the time it rolled out to my area there are supposedly battles for 31st level trainers, too.
Have I seen any? Nope. You only get notified of a Raid Battle if you’re within sight of a Gym. There’s a timer that will count down to the next Raid, but you have to pass a Gym to see it. Not exactly “casual trainer” friendly. On the flip side, winning a Raid Battle spawns items you can’t get anywhere else: Rare Candies, Golden Raspberries, and Technical Machines that teach your Pokémon new tricks.
The new gyms look cool. It’s hard to tell how big they are from the outside, though. There’s no handy level rating visible without actually checking the gym. Once you’re inside the changes are actually cool: you face a little crowd of Pokémon with motivation meters, and every fight has a cool match screen in front so you can see the opposing trainer’s avatar. I can see this lending a more personal feel to fights in areas with active players.
Beating a gym is… well, kind of ridiculous. I thought it would be a wash as far as time needed to win, but you have to beat each Pokémon several times before it gives up and goes home. It feels to me like a full gym under the new Motivation system takes at least 20% more time to beat than under the old level system. That’s with four less Pokémon! I have places to be, people.
Oh, and the ever-present cheater problem went from being something kind of annoying to something that can potentially ruin gameplay. Trainers using third-party services can set their Pokémon up to be fed a continual supply of berries, effectively making them impossible to dislodge. Niantic is trying to find a fix, though as of yet no luck.
As for gym battles themselves, it feels like they’re prettier but slower. My Pokémon don’t seem to dodge as easily as before. Is it lag? Is it part of the change? Is it just seriously annoying?
Overall, this update feels more like a treat for the high-level trainers than something meant to attract new players. That’s all well and good, but it’s not going to bring back hordes of players. I wish Niantic would take ten minutes and listen to what fans really want. Fans have been asking for features like one-on-one trainer battles, a better tracking system, or Pokémon trading, not more super high level toys.
What do you think of the new update? Will you be cruising around looking for Raid Battles or are you just trying to finish building your Pokédex?
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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