Last month, Niantic released their new augmented reality mobile game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Having been a Harry Potter fan for most of my life, I was excited to download and play it; when I did, it was enjoyable enough, but I found myself nostalgic for another augmented reality game: Pokémon GO.
Like many fans, I got sucked into the craze when it first came out, walking around with my head glued to my phone and a portable battery pack always on hand. This game finally gave us Pokéfans what we’d dreamed of for years: the chance to catch Pokémon in the real world.
After a while, though, it began to feel like a chore, and I grew bored with it. When Wizards Unite came out, I hadn’t touched Pokémon GO for probably at least a year – so when I re-downloaded and opened it again, I was pleasantly surprised by all the new features. If it’s been a while for you, too, let me tell you why Pokémon GO 2019 is worth playing.
When Pokémon GO first came out, it was plagued with issues; most of us chose to overlook these in our excitement, but for some users, it was downright unplayable. I still get the occasional freezes and crashes, but overall, the performance is vastly improved over what it was three years ago. This may be due in part to the smaller player volume, but Niantic has also implemented numerous bug fixes and performance updates. Additionally, they’ve added Adventure Sync, which will track your walking distance even when Pokémon GO is closed, which will go a long way towards extending your battery life.
There wasn’t much in the way of multiplayer on release either; you could play alongside your friends and maybe work together on capturing a gym if you were on the same team, but that was it. Now, Pokémon GO makes it much easier and more satisfying to engage with other players (and thanks to Twitter, I have more friends than I know what to do with).
It’s surprising that it took them almost two years to do considering the simplicity of it, but last summer, Niantic introduced trading to Pokémon GO. In order to trade, you must be at least level 10, friends with the player you’re trading with, and within 100 meters of one another. Each trade will cost Stardust, but you’ll get Candies in return. The amount of Stardust needed depends on both the type of trade and level of friendship; Special trades (for Shiny or Legendary Pokémon) cost significantly more than Standard Trades, and the cost for both decreases with each level of friendship.
PvP battles were finally introduced last winter, and they are incredibly fun. The mechanics are slightly different than Gym battles, and even add a Fruit Ninja swiping element to Charge Moves. You can battle locally, in which case you don’t need to be friends — you simply scan the other person’s QR code. To battle remotely, you need to be Ultra Friends or Best Friends. You will select three Pokémon to comprise your battle group, which you can switch between mid-battle. Like gym battles, you will tap to use your Fast Move; when you use your Charge Move, however, you will have to swipe orbs that appear on the screen to determine the attack’s power. You will get two Protect Shields per battle to block your opponent’s Charge Moves (so use them wisely). You can get rewards for Trainer Battles up to three times per day, and those include Stardust, Rare Candy, and a 1/7 chance of a Sinnoh Stone.
Trainers and their in-game friends can now send each other gifts, which are obtained via Pokéstops and contain several mystery items (typically Pokéballs, berries, and Stardust but occasionally eggs or evolution items). Not only will these gifts get you free items, but they’ll also raise your Friendship Level, which comes with cool rewards of its own. There are four different Friendship Levels — Good Friend, Great Friend, Ultra Friend, and Best Friend — and each will net you XP, Gym and Raid attack bonuses, Raid capture balls, and Stardust discounts on Trading.
See Also: Best Pokémon Gifts
In the early days of Pokémon GO, I mostly ignored the Gyms because there wasn’t much incentive to bother with them. They were difficult to conquer and hold if you weren’t high level, and the tiny amount of PokéCoins they would net you weren’t really worth the effort.
The playing field has been evened now thanks to a stat called Motivation, which steadily decreases over time when a Pokémon is defending a gym. As for coins, although the daily and weekly limits are technically lower now, they are significantly easier to actually earn. I’ll get into more detail on Motivation and earning PokéCoins below.
Every so often, a Gym will spawn a Raid Battle. You can probably beat the easier ones by yourself, but most will require you to work cooperatively with other trainers to take down the Raid Boss. Before a Raid Battle, you’ll see an egg with a timer over a Gym, and when that timer hits zero, the Raid Boss will appear. They are ranked in difficulty from Tier 1-5, and might even be a Legendary Pokémon.
You’ll need a Raid Pass to participate, which you can get once per day by spinning a Gym, and then you and up to 20 other Trainers can work together to defeat the Raid Boss. Once you do so, you’ll receive 1000 Stardust plus various other rewards depending on the difficulty, and then an opportunity to catch the Raid Boss using the Premier Balls you will also be awarded based on your performance in the Raid Battle.
Earn Coins More Easily
Previously, the coin system was fairly simple: you would get 10 coins upon initially placing your Pokémon in a gym, and 10 coins per gym held every 24 hours thereafter. You could earn up to 100 coins per day but in order to do that, you’d have to conquer ten different gyms per day (or the same one repeatedly).
Now, the daily and weekly limits are lower, but it’s much easier to hit them by holding only one gym at a time because you earn one coin every ten minutes. This means you can max out your coins by leaving one Pokémon in a gym for about eight hours and 20 minutes. Obviously, you can still conquer multiple gyms to hit the cap faster, but I’m lazy and I really don’t see the point.
If you look at the Pokémon in a gym now, you’ll notice a heart-shaped meter over their heads – this is the Pokémon’s Motivation, which is closely linked to their CP in battle. Basically, this means that Pokémon left in gyms will slowly lose CP at a steady rate over time (in addition to the CP they lose when defeated in battle).
The rate of Motivation decay scales with the maximum CP of the Pokémon, with higher CP Pokémon losing Motivation faster. This evens the playing field a little and makes it more difficult for higher-level players to dominate gyms for long periods of time. You can, however, feed Berries to Pokémon to restore their Motivation.
There are a number of interesting new items in Pokémon GO these days; some you can get from Pokéstops and gifts, and some you can seemingly only obtain by completing Research Tasks (I’ll talk about those more in a minute). The increase might make inventory management an issue, but the added items definitely make the game more interesting. And of course, you can always purchase upgrades for your bag.
As is the case with the core Pokémon games, certain species of Pokémon will require special items in addition to the requisite amount of candy in order to evolve. This feature was not added with the first generation Pokémon; even Gen I Pokémon who use evolution stones in the main series now only need the requisite number of candies to evolve.
It’s possible to get an evolution item just from spinning a Pokéstop, but this is rare; however, your chances greatly increase when you are on a 7-day Pokéstop streak. You can also occasionally get them from Gifts or as a 7-day Research Breakthrough reward.
Since Pokémon in Pokémon GO don’t have levels in the traditional sense, Rare Candy doesn’t function the same way it does in the core series; rather, it transforms into the specific type of Pokémon Candy of whichever Pokémon you give it to.
For example, if I give three Rare Candies to my Charmeleon, they will become three Charmander Candies. Rare Candies can be obtained as rewards from Raid Battles, Field and Special Research, and Trainer Battles. They are great for powering up rare Pokémon that you may not encounter in the wild.
If you’ve played Pokémon GO before, you’re likely already familiar with the Egg Incubators — you place a Pokémon Egg in one, and it will hatch after you walk a predetermined number of kilometers (depending on the egg). Super Incubators cut that distance down by 33%. So with a Super Incubator, a 10km egg will only take 6.7 km to hatch. These can be purchased with Pokécoins in the shop or obtained from certain event boxes. Like a standard Incubator, they can be used three times before breaking.
Pokémon in Pokémon GO now have two moves: a Quick Move and a Charge Move. The Quick Move is the basic attack that your Pokémon uses when you tap the screen; the Charge Move, obviously, is the one that charges and is unleashed by pushing the icon. You can change either of these with a Quick TM or a Charge TM, respectively, giving you more control over your Pokémon’s moveset.
If you have a high CP or hard-to-catch Pokémon that doesn’t have the moves you want, you no longer have to find another one and hope for better luck. You can get TMs from beating a Raid Boss or completing Special Research. It’s a gamble — you’re guaranteed a different move, but which move is completely random. Still, it’s an improvement over the previous system.
Niantic has added an element called Research to the games, which is further divided into two categories: Field Research and Special Research. These are essentially quests, where you help Professor Willow with various tasks in exchange for rewards, which can be either items or Pokémon encounters (including Legendaries), as well as XP. This is an incredibly satisfying element and may actually be my favorite addition to the game thus far.
Field Research tasks can be obtained from Pokéstops and span just about every activity in Pokémon GO; for example, you might be asked to trade a Pokémon with a friend, hatch a certain number of eggs, or win a gym battle. Once a day, you can earn a stamp for completing a Field Research task, and seven stamps will get you a Research Breakthrough, which includes better rewards and an encounter with a Legendary Pokémon.
Exactly which Legendary Pokémon this might be varies from month to month; currently, you have a chance of encountering Latias, Latios, Kyogre, or Groudon. It’s completely random, so you may encounter the same one multiple times.
Special Research is a bit more involved and is comprised of predetermined lists of tasks assigned to you by Professor Willow. This is Pokémon GO’s story mode, essentially. Each Special Research quest is divided into several phases with three tasks per phase; completing each task will get you a reward, and completing all three will get you an even better reward and unlock the next phase of the quest. When you complete all the phases, it will trigger a Mythical Encounter. Special Research seems to be unlocked by completing specific in-game milestones, and more are added periodically.
One of the biggest draws of this or any other Pokémon game is and has always been, of course, the quest to complete your Pokédex (“Gotta catch ’em all.”) The Pokémon GO Pokédex, which initially contained only Gen I Pokémon (minus legendaries), has now expanded to include Pokémon from every region — including the Alolan versions.
Remember the days of Pidgeys and Rattatas everywhere? Sure, this made it easier to collect them and then mass evolve them using a Lucky Egg to farm XP, but that got boring pretty quickly. Now, you’ll see a much wider variety of Pokémon popping up around your town.
Spawn rates will be further affected by things like weather and in-game Events, so never again will you find yourself catching hundreds of Venonats. Naturally, you would see more varied Pokémon spawns simply because there are now more Pokémon TO spawn, but the change is also due at least in part to a conscious effort by the developers.
In the early days, there was so much speculation about when Legendary Pokémon would finally make an appearance; eventually, they did, and there are now a couple of ways you can obtain them; namely, Raid Battles and Research Tasks.
When you defeat a Raid Boss, as mentioned before, you will get an opportunity to catch that Pokémon, and Raid Bosses are often Legendaries. Earning seven stamps for Field Research will lead to a Research Breakthrough, which includes the appearance of a Legendary Pokémon. Finally, completing every phase of a Special Research questline will trigger a Mythical encounter. See GamesRadar+ for a complete list of Legendaries available in Pokémon GO and how to obtain them.
Special Edition Pikachus
Is there anything cuter than a Pikachu in a hat? I don’t think so, and that’s why I believe they merit their own entry here. There are Pikachus in Santa hats, Pikachus in Ash hats, Pikachus in party hats, Detective Pikachu, and more. Most of them have the ability to evolve into Raichu as well (while still retaining the hat).
All these Pikachus are limited edition, meaning you can only catch them seasonally or during certain in-game events. My personal favorite might be the Halloween witch hat Pikachu, but honestly, it’s so hard to choose.
Is it too little, too late? I don't think so. From what I can tell, there is still a sizeable and devoted player base, and it's easy to hop back in even if you haven't played for a long time.
General Gameplay Improvements
Niantic has added a ton of nifty little features that didn’t really fit into any of the other categories, and I’ll discuss these below. Most changes seem to be things that players were clamoring for, so I think that goes to show that even though the rollout was a little clunky, Niantic is at least listening to the fans in regards to what they’d like to see. Is it too little, too late? I don’t think so. From what I can tell, there is still a sizeable and devoted player base, and it’s easy to hop back in even if you haven’t played for a long time (as I can attest).
Pokémon GO now gives you bonuses for the first Pokémon you catch and the first Pokéstop you spin each day. Do this for a week straight to get a seven-day streak, which will net you even better rewards. The first catch of the day will get you an extra 500 XP and 600 Stardust, while a seven-day streak awards you an extra 2,000 XP and 2,400 Stardust.
Likewise, the first Pokéstop of the day gives an extra 500 XP along with more items than usual, and a seven-day streak gives you an extra 2,000 XP and even more items. It’s just a little extra incentive to log in and play every day, which you’ll likely find yourself doing anyway.
Feels less P2W
Not only is it easier to earn coins, as mentioned earlier, but thanks to Gifts it also feels less necessary to use coins to purchase basic necessities such as Pokéballs. In the beginning, I remember running out of Pokéballs constantly, and if I wasn’t near a Pokéstop I was out of luck unless I wanted to purchase coins. Admittedly, I did a few times, although I am generally very anti-microtransactions.
Now, I don’t run into this problem nearly as much, thanks to several factors: more Pokéstops, the ability to spin Gyms like Pokéstops, and Gifts from friends that usually contain Pokéballs and other essentials. So I don’t really find myself needing to spend coins on Pokéballs at all. Also, as I discussed earlier, earning Pokécoins from Gyms is a bit easier, so that eases the temptation to purchase them when I do need them.
Send Pokémon To Switch
If you have Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee or Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu, you can now transfer your Pokémon go catches to the Switch game. I know the Pokémon: Let’s GO games got pretty mixed reviews, but I personally loved them and was excited at the prospect of interacting with them through Pokémon GO.
You’ll need to reach Fuschia city in Let’s go in order to unlock this feature, and once you do, you can transfer Pokémon from your phone to the Go Park — where you will then be able to catch it. The process is a bit complicated, but you can find a good walkthrough on Polygon.
Dynamic Weather Conditions
Weather conditions in the real world will affect the game in several ways: certain types of weather will increase Pokémon spawns (for example, more water Pokémon when it’s raining); those Pokémon will give more Stardust when captured and potentially have higher CP; certain types of moves will do more damage.
Your current local weather will be reflected in the interface; so if it’s raining where you are, it will be raining on the map screen, too. This is purely cosmetic but still kinda cool. These are the types of weather and the Pokémon types they affect, according to iMore:
- Sunny/Clear: Grass, Ground, and Fire
- Fog: Ghost and Dark
- Windy: Dragon, Flying, and Psychic
- Partially Cloudy: Normal and Rock
- Cloudy: Fairy, Fighting, and Poison
- Rain: Water, Electric, and Bug
- Snow: Ice and Steel
Remember having to download another app in order to assess your Pokémon’s hidden stats? That is no more, thanks to the in-game appraisal system. They added this feature a while back, but have recently made a massive improvement to it.
Previously, you could only get an approximate idea of your Pokémon’s IV and stats; now, you can what they are exactly. You simply select any Pokémon in your possession, open the menu, and click, “appraise.” Then, your team leader will pop up along with all the information about your Pokémon. Their IV will be rated from one to three starts and they can have up to three bars in each stat (Attack, Defense, and HP).
This was added a while back but remains one of my favorite features in the game because it makes it possible to strengthen and evolve rare Pokémon. You can pick any one of your Pokémon to be your Buddy Pokémon, and they will get one candy for every time you walk a certain distance — either 1, 3 or 5 km depending on the Pokémon.
It’s kind of slow going, but it’s handy for Pokémon you might not encounter in the wild and could not otherwise get candy for. Between this and Rare Candy, it’s possible to upgrade and evolve rare and Legendary Pokémon. And of course, the game will display your Buddy Pokémon alongside your avatar, either standing next to it or perched on its shoulder.
Nearby Feature Overhauled
Gone are the days of having to do ridiculous calculations to determine the exact location of a Pokémon in the Nearby menu, which always felt a little like trying to follow a pirate treasure map or something. That might sound fun, but it was ridiculously annoying, especially since the game didn’t always seem to reliably triangulate your location.
Now, you can simply select the Pokémon you want to locate from the Nearby menu, tap the footprints below it, and the game will show you its exact location on the map. That’s it. As before, if you haven’t yet encountered a Pokémon, it will show up as a silhouette. It will also show you all nearby Raids, practice battling against one of the Team Leaders, or scan another trainer’s QR code to battle them.
As of writing this, it’s unclear whether Team Rocket will be a permanent fixture in the game, but I hope so. Call me a Gen 1 purist, but I maintain that Team Rocket is the best villain team in any of the games. Occasionally you will come across a Pokéstop that has turned black and has their trademark red R over it; you can spin it like a normal Pokéstop, and then when you try to close it, a Team Rocket Grunt will appear to challenge you to a battle.
These work just like PvP Battles, and when you win (you can challenge them as many times as you want), you will earn Premier Balls — just like a Raid Battle — and the chance to catch one of Team’s Rocket’s shadow Pokémon.
These Pokémon all have lower CP than normal and come with the Charge Move Frustration. You can purify them using Stardust and Candy; this will make them stronger, significantly raise their CP, and slightly lower their evolution cost. Team Rocket will also affect Pokémon spawns in their vicinity (including Raids and those hatched from Eggs), meaning that you will see more of the Pokémon typically associated with them — i.e. Koffing, Ekans, and Meowth. Prepare for trouble!