One Year Later: Pokemon Go

I started playing Pokemon Go the day after it became available in our country: August 7, 2016. It’s been more than a year now and while the core gameplay remains unchanged, there have been several improvements that have vastly improved the game experience (at least, from my perspective). And that’s what I want to talk about today, because there are a lot of people who have already stopped playing prior to these changes so they haven’t seen how much Pokemon Go has improved since it launched. Are these changes enough to bring people back into the game? Probably not everyone who stopped, but any returning players are welcome.

Improved Pokemon Tracker

When I started, Niantic had already changed the game’s Pokemon Tracker so I didn’t get the chance to see this “three step” tracker myself. What I experienced was a tracking system that told me which Pokemon are nearby within a certain area, in order of nearest to farthest. And that was it.

It wasn’t very useful – any nearby Pokemon could be anywhere within the area. Finding specific Pokemon required walking, monitoring the order of nearby Pokemon being displayed and calculating their position based on how their order changed. For example, if I saw a Pikachu near me and a Squirtle after, if I walked and they swapped positions that would tell me that I’m walking towards Squirtle and farther away from Pikachu.

Now, the app’s tracker will tell you what Pokemon are close to Pokestops near you. If you wanted a specific Pokemon in your tracker, all you needed to do was go to the Pokestop that it’s close to and walk around it. Despite being Pokestop dependent, it is much more helpful in catching Pokemon because you have a clearer idea of where to go without the game giving you an exact X on your map and making it too easy.

Thanks to its improved tracking system, I now have a better idea of where to go if I want to catch that Chikorita.

Nanab Berries and Pinap Berries

This may be considered a minor change, but the addition of the Nanab Berry and Pinap Berry were big in my eyes (especially the Pinap Berry). When used, the Nanab Berry “calms” Pokemon down, making them less jittery and erratic and makes it easier for players to land hits with their Poke Balls. Pinap Berries meanwhile increase the number of candies that you would get upon catching Pokemon (candies are used for evolving and for power ups).

Together with Razz Berries (increases the success rate of catching Pokemon), players now have to be a little more strategic when it comes to catching Pokemon. Am I going to use a Razz Berry on this Dratini that I want to catch to guarantee me catching it or am I going to use a Pinap Berry so I can get more candies and make it easier for me to evolve this Dratini into a Dragonite? As a player, I love having that option.

Raid Battles

A new feature that’s only been recently added into Pokemon Go are Raid Battles. They’re effectively boss fights, involving overpowered Pokemon that spawn randomly in Gyms. Some can be taken down solo if you have the right Pokemon and if they’re strong enough, but most will need the help of other Pokemon Go players if you want to beat them.

Wanna join me beat this Magikarp Raid Boss up?

To be honest, none of my friends are active Pokemon Go players so I don’t usually get to do Raid Battles. But I still enjoy them as a solo Pokemon Go Trainer particularly because these Raid battles give me the opportunity to catch certain Pokemon that are rare in my location (examples of which are Quilava and Muk). Speaking of rare Pokemon, Raid Battles are the only way of catching Legendary Pokemon – something that I can’t do but am happy that other people can.

Even if I’ve already captured a Pokemon Raid Boss (e.g. Croconaws are common where I live), I still do these Raid Battles for a chance to get the Rare Candy item – candy that you can change into any specific candy that you want. These Rare Candies are very helpful as again, you need them for evolving and for making your Pokemon stronger.

I’ve seen Pokemon Go be lauded as an excellent social game as it brings Pokemon Go players together to the same areas, but there really hasn’t been any true multiplayer functions in the game before Raid Battles were introduced. Now, Pokemon Go players actually have something that they can do together.

Improved Gym Defender System

The biggest improvement to Pokemon Go, at least in my eyes, is the Gym Defender system revamp. Back then, I didn’t enjoy Gym battles that much and let me explain why. First, let me talk about taking over opposing Gyms. Before the revamp, Gyms can have as many as 10 Pokemon defenders and these can be of the same types. Without going into specific details, let me just say that taking over gyms can take so much time especially if you’re faced with several Blisseys or Snorlax. And trying to defend a gym that’s occupied by players of the same team as you are can also be tedious – you also need to battle Pokemon in order to open up a slot and be able to get in.

Not only is it better in terms of gameplay, Gyms are also better to look at now with all of the Gym’s Defenders lined up.

Getting into a gym can require a lot of time and effort and what do you get? Once every 20 hours, you can collect what’s called a Defender Bonus – 10 coins for every Gym that you’re defending, up to a maximum of ten gyms (or 100 coins). I don’t know if I’ve managed to convince you on how difficult it was to get into Gyms but for a casual Pokemon Go player like me, the most coins I’ve managed to collect at one time is 30 (three Gyms taken over).

This has improved in several different ways. First, Gyms are now limited to six slots instead of ten so it’s faster to take Gyms down. Second, Gyms can only be defended by one of each kind of Pokemon so you don’t have to battle crazy combinations like three walls of Blissey. This also introduces more variety to the game as players can’t keep relying on their Snorlax or Gyarados – they need to train other kinds of Pokemon so they can get into more Gyms. Third, all six slots are open to the defending team so you can immediately start defending a Gym that’s occupied by a teammate if it’s not yet full.

It’s easier to take Gyms down now so the rewards system was also revamped. You now earn 1 coin for every 10 minutes that you have a Pokemon Gym Defender, up to a maximum of 50 coins per day. You get these coins as soon as your Pokemon gets kicked out of a Gym, so if you have a well-defended Gym then you’re likely to get those 50 coins.

Admittedly, this reward system is flawed – you don’t get any coins if your Pokemon doesn’t get kicked out. But that simply means that you need to take over more Gyms to increase your coin-making opportunities – but not as many as what was required back then (5 Gyms to get 50 coins in a day) so this new system is still much better for me than the previous one. Since the Gym revamp, I’ve been able to earn coins at a much faster rate. I’m now able to buy Incubators more often, which helps me hatch more eggs, which helps me fill my Pokedex faster. I acknowledge that there are others who prefer the old rewards system (in particular, hardcore players who can easily take multiple Gyms over), but this new system is much more casual player friendly – and what kind of players are those who play games on their mobile phones anyway?

There are other improvements to Pokemon Go but what I covered are the ones that have improved gameplay and the overall game experience. Is Pokemon Go a different game now? No, it’s still the same, revolving around collecting and battling Pokemon. I don’t think this is the best version of Pokemon on mobile that we can have (there’s still no trading and no player to player battling) but both the experience of collecting and battling Pokemon have vastly improved, to a point where I think former Pokemon Go players should at least consider checking the game out again.

What do you think about Pokemon Go, now that it’s more than a year old? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or two below!

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