Two and a half years after launch, Pokémon GO is at last getting player-versus-player battling.
If you’ve already had your fun with GO and moved on, that headline is probably all you need to know — it’s either enough to re-spark your interest, or not.
But if you’re still polishing up that Pokédex, hatchin’ eggs and raiding every weekend, you’re probably itching for a few more details. Good news! I got to run through a few battles late last week, and I noted damn near everything that was mentioned.
Here’s what I learned:
- Each player brings three Pokémon into a battle (rather than six, as with the main series). The first trainer to knock out all three of their opponent’s Pokémon wins. Niantic says that 6-on-6 just took too long for a game meant to be played, as the name implies, on the go.
- If you’re not already friends with a potential opponent, you’ll need to scan a QR code from the other player’s screen to initiate a battle. If you’re ultra friends or best friends, you can battle remotely.
- Don’t have anyone to battle with? You can also face off against the leaders of the three teams: Blanche (Mystic), Candela (Valor) and Spark (Instinct). The best part of that: training against the gym leaders will earn you points toward the long-frozen Ace Trainer medal (which has been impossible to make progress on since the gym overhaul back in 2017 got rid of training).
- Once a battle is initiated, you choose to battle in one of three leagues, with each league having a different cap on your Pokémon’s Combat Power (or CP): Great League (with a cap of 1,500 CP), Ultra League (2,500 CP) or Master League (no cap).
- The thinking there: different Pokémon might shine at different strength tiers, which increases the number of “worthwhile” Pokémon. It also lets newer players jump into battling at lower levels, where higher CP Pokémon aren’t on the table.
- To fast attack, you tap the screen. Unlike gym battles/raids, there is no swiping to dodge.
- Tapping to fast attack juices up your charge attack.
- Or, I should say, charge attacks. Plural! Each Pokémon can now have a second charge move permanently unlocked (using stardust/candy). These unlocked charge attacks will also work in raids/gym battles. The new move is picked at random from that Pokémon’s currently available moves at the time of unlock (read: you won’t get a community day exclusive move, or a legacy move, unless Niantic opts to bring them back into the move pool).
- You can use Charge TMs to change either attack.
- When you fire a charge attack, a circle and timer appear on screen. The faster you tap that circle before the timer counts down, the more damage your charge attack can potentially do.
- When your opponent fires a charge attack, you’ll have the opportunity to use a “Protect Shield,” which greatly limits the damage it can do. The catch: you only get two protect shields per battle, so you’ll want to use them at the right time.
- Matches are timed (thought Niantic hadn’t settled on a match length when I did my test battles). If the time expires and Pokémon are left, the win goes to the player with the most remaining Pokémon and/or the most health.
- Both winner and loser are rewarded with items; winning does not guarantee better items.
- Potential rewards include Sinnoh stones, the much-coveted items required to evolve a bunch of recently added Pokémon.
- Battling the AI team leader trainers will give you rewards once per day.
- Wins are recorded; losses are not. Niantic repeatedly noted that they didn’t want there to be any reason to not battle someone.
- Like sending a gift or participating in a raid together, battling a friend counts toward increasing friendship levels.
- Potions and revives can not be used mid-battle. Meanwhile, damage and knockouts do not impact your Pokémon outside of the battle.
- The real-world weather will show up in battles, but it’s purely visual; while this may change eventually, Niantic tells me that weather does not have an impact on Pokémon stats in PvP battles at first.
- As of last week, the only Pokémon you can’t bring into battles are Ditto and Shedinja.
For anyone hoping that GO’s eventual battle system would be modeled after the battles of the main series, this… isn’t that. Rather than a turn-by-turn back and forth, battling in GO feels closer to what players might’ve grown accustomed to when taking down a gym or participating in a raid. New mechanics, like the aforementioned protect shields, help to make it feel a bit more strategic and less like blindly tapping the screen until something happens — but after 20-something years of Pokémon games, any changes are bound to be a point of heated debate.
With that said (and with the disclaimer that I’ve only had a few battles so far) I’d say I’m… intrigued. It certainly won’t replace the main series battling system in anyone’s heart, but it’s a solid take on a system that works for casual players while still giving them reason to better learn which Pokémon are strong/weak against each other, which move sets are most effective, etc. It’s an intentionally casual battle system for what is an intentionally casual game. Don’t like it enough to take the time to battle a friend? Battle an AI trainer instead, get your rewards, and be done with it. Want to swing the other way and get super into it and become notorious in your neighborhood for being tough to beat? You can do that too, and the gameplay impact is about the same.
I appreciate that they’re allowing friends to battle remotely (once they’ve reached the ultra/best friend tiers). It’s a bit of a departure for this game, which generally requires you to be on-location and face-to-face for nearly everything else. But with many Pokémon GO players being new to the series, remote battling lets them get in more battling practice against an actual human than an exclusively in-person system might.
As usual, Niantic is being a bit ambiguous about when this’ll roll out, saying only that it’ll roll out “later this month” — which, generally, means as soon as they’re able to flip all the switches, squash the last-minute bugs and get the necessary updates through the App Store. From what I’m hearing, and like many of the recent GO feature releases, I’d expect it to go live for higher-level players first.