The second generation of Pokémon has arrived in Pokémon Go, in what represents the biggest single change the app has seen since release. As well as 80 new Pokémon being released into the wild, there have been major changes to Pokémon’s movepools, the amount of damage done by and charges needed for pretty much every move, and changes to the user interface.
The game has definitely moved forward in a significant way, which is something we all can celebrate. However, there are some major problems that still exist in the game design of Pokémon Go which have not been solved. Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at what Niantic did right, what they did not-so-right, and the decisions that are downright infuriating.
- New Pokémon: It’s great to see new Pokémon around after so long of the same small roster. The new Pokémon feel fresh, and while they will soon lose their novelty value, the variety of Pokémon available in the wild has been permanently enriched by this change.
- New Berries: Two new berries add a sense of variety and strategy to a catching mini-game widely agreed to have gone a little stale. The Nanab Berry slows Pokémon down, while Pinap Berries double the candy reward upon successful capture.
- More candy from evolved Pokémon: Finally, players have a reason to choose catching a nearby Pidgeot over a nearby Pidgey. It has long been grumbled that the game fails to adequately incentivize players to opt for the more difficult catch, as an evolved capture like a Raticate provides no better candy rewards than an unevolved one like Rattata. Now second-part evolutions such as Pidgeotto provide 5 candy instead of 3, and third-part evolutions like Pidgeot and Dragonite provide a huge 10, making them prime targets for those new Pinap Berries.
- The New Catching Interface: Changes made here are simple and intuitive. To the left of your Pokéballs is the berry selection, to the right is the Pokéball selection. It’s no longer necessary to go digging through the full inventory to find what you need in battle. The ‘run away’ button appears to fill the whole corner now, so hopefully there’ll be no more accidental throwing of balls while attempting to run.
- Move overhauls: Moves in Pokémon Go have been overhauled to do more raw damage, which was probably necessary with the addition of defensive-juggernaut Blissey to the game. Annoying four- and five-charge moves like Twister and Vice Grip have been changed to three charges and significantly increased in power, so pretty much every charge move feels ‘usable’ now, though some are still clearly better than others.
- New evolution methods: Evolving Pokémon like Scyther and Porygon requires a special item (Metal Coat and the Upgrade for these two), as in the main series games. These items are rare drops from Pokéstops. It makes a nice change from evolutions being based exclusively of hoarding candies.
- Tomao & Sakura: Additions to the ‘nickname trick’ that guaranteed the first time an Eevee was evolved with the nickname Rainer, Sparky, or Pyro it would transform into Vaporeon, Jolteon, or Flareon respectively. Now, nicknaming an Eevee Sakura will guarantee an Espeon evolution, while nicknaming it Tomao will guarantee an Umbreon, so you can get at least one of each when you want them.
- Customization Options: A large number of new player appearance customizations have been added, such as the ability to change hats. This hasn’t been fleshed out yet, but it appears that new wearable items will be unlockable through purchase and through in-game achievements, which should help to stop everyone’s characters looking like clones of one another.
- First Catch Bonus: Players receive a 50 exp bonus when catching a Pokémon with the first Pokéball thrown, so there is more leveling up potential from the normal catching minigame now. However, this arguably makes learning to throw curve balls accurately even more essential, since this has a significant influence on catch rate.
- Curve ball detection has been fixed (mostly): Curve balls were not being detected properly by the game for weeks, with about a 50% failure rate. With the curve ball catch bonus being as substantial as it is, this was a nightmare for players who had got used to not wasting 3-5 Pokéballs on every generic Pidgey encounter. I have experienced one failure of detection so far, but it is nothing like as bad as it was.
- Still no ‘level bonus’ for catching high level wild Pokémon: Extra candy for catching higher-stage evolutions is a nice and long-awaited touch, but the game still doesn’t really give you any great incentive to catch that 250CP Pidgey when there is a 10CP Pidgey right next to it. Players should have some reason to get excited by high CP common Pokémon, but instead they are a nuisance as they are harder to catch without providing any extra bonus. A level bonus could start at 10 Exp. for a level 10 catch, going up to 30 Exp. for a level 30 – they added a ‘first catch’ bonus, why not something like this?
- All-rounders are still being punished in stat calculation: Pokémon that would have been at least kind of good prior to the November 2016 stat changes have not been saved. Umbreon’s CP is pitiful, Kingdra’s is not what it could be, Lapras’s got knocked down (more on that soon). The more usable gym defenders, the better, so these Pokémon’s stats require an intervention.
- The Pinap Berry risks increasing the proliferation of top tier gym defenders: Assuming they are not extremely rare, players could easily save up large quantities of Pinap Berries to use on things like Larvitar and Dratini, effectively doubling the rate at which Dragonite and Tyranitar are produced. Admittedly, this appears to come at the cost of preventing the use of Razz Berries, but that is a small price to pay to double your number of top tier Pokémon.
- Lapras received a nasty nerf to its stats: It was widely agreed that Lapras ‘escaped’ the round of nerfs that happened in November 2016, which led to Pokémon like Arcanine, Victreebel & other ‘non-specialists’ to take a painful hit to their stats. Nobody complained about Lapras escaping this, as literally none of the Pokémon that got nerfed needed to be nerfed. Nerfing Lapras now is a travesty, when the gym game is already so stagnant and the pool of viable defenders already so small. This serves no purpose but to make the game worse.
- The CP System is still hopelessly overcentralized – 90% of the new Pokémon added are virtually irrelevant as gym defenders: Blissey and Tyranitar are the only Pokémon projected to have a CP high enough to put them among the likes of Dragonite, Rhydon and Gyarados. Umbreon has only a fraction of the Combat Power of its cousins Espeon and Vaporeon. Pokémon are not being given a chance to shine, so the gym metagame will quickly return to its stale former self unless Niantic implements major changes quickly.
Simply by counting the number of items on each list, you can see that Niantic has certainly pulled Gen 2 off well. Gameplay is fresh, the world of Pokémon feels richer, and for a while at least large numbers of people will definitely return to the game.
However, as a player who enjoys multiplayer interaction and loves to see diverse gyms, there is little to be excited about. The same few Pokémon still have a CP far higher than most of the new Pokémon added, and at this rate we will all grow as tired of seeing gyms topped by Tyranitar as we have of Dragonite. Lapras took a blow when she should have taken a boost. Defensive titans in the main games, like Slowbro, Steelix and Umbreon, have mediocre CP values. Now that moves do more damage and battles could close off more quickly, ‘bulky’ Pokémon like these which have high Defense but not-so-high stamina could definitely use a bump to their CP, among others.
The problems mentioned here can all be fixed, and the game would be obviously and noticeably better – it already is, for the most part. We just have to hope that Niantic is listening.