Despite adding friendships and trading, "Pokemon Go" has always been missing one key element. That changes soon as Niantic is set to add trainer battles to its list of gameplay elements.
It's been a feature that has been in demand for a long time, and the developers of the popular mobile game have acknowledged it, saying it was in the works. That was in April. The reason it has taken so long is that the team has been iterating on a design that works for the mobile platform and fans of the core franchise.
The result is a system that's a mix of both. The team experimented with different methods. They tried battles with six Pokemon and found that the battles went too long with constant switching. Niantic wanted to emphasize quick and accessible matches and settled on a system that features teams of three.
Players challenge each other by scanning a QR-type battle code. From there, they decide, which league to fight in: Great League, which limits Pokemon to 1,500 CP; Ultra League, which limits Pokemon at 2,500 CP; and Master League, which doesn't have a CP limiter.
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Team composition is vital before a match. Players have to anticipate what an opponent will pick and find counters to that. At the start of the match, players tap to unleash their fast attack and that will fill up the more powerful charge attack. Once that's filled up players can activate it with a tap of the button.
That's where the fighting system gets interesting. The charge attack activates but to actually do massive damage, players have to rapidly tap for three seconds to build up energy. That power is reflected in the size of the circle, which grows bigger. The difference between pressing once and mashing is huge, so it matters. In addition, the amount of damage is capped, so having the fastest fingers doesn't matter. Players just need to be quick enough to fill the meter.
To counter, players have two shields that they can deploy. When a charged attack fires off, "Pokemon Go" alerts the defender and they have four seconds to use it. It adds an element of strategy as players can decide if their Pokemon can endure a blast or block an assault to seriously injure it. Keep in mind: Shields don't eliminate damage; they mitigate it. There is no dodging.
The other huge change is that Pokemon can now have a second charge move for a total of three. Players will have to unlock this third moveset with stardust and candy. It will differ for the Pokemon type with legendaries needing the most candies and stardust. The third move set adds another layer of strategy because some charge moves fill up at faster rates than others. Players need to decide if they should use a move that fills up faster now or wait for another one. They could also figure out if they need fast charge moves that deal less damage or keep faster ones.
It creates interesting situations. For example, players could pressure an opponent to use a shield with constant and fast charge moves like Tyranitar's Crunch or they can opt for a big wallop such as Hyper Beam to finish off a foe with a big bar of health.
Of course, players can switch Pokemon midfight if the matchup isn't favorable, but they have to keep in mind that the opponent can do that as well and there's a cooldown to the switch. Players can't constantly switch out their Pokemon.
What I like best about Trainer Battles is that it doesn't rely on quick-twitch actions. The fights emphasize strategy and quick thinking. With a three-Pokemon team, fights don't last that long. Even if battles drag on, there is a four-minute time limit. That being said, the time limit and other factors may still be tweaked.
The brevity of matches serves the purpose of keeping fights fast and casual. Ideally, it's an activity for players after Community Days or meetups with friends. Players usually battle face to face though Ultra and Best Friends can fight remotely.
What's notably is that Niantic wanted to keep this feature open to all players. They want to encourage them to use it even if they aren't the competitive type. To that end, players will receive rewards for battling. It doesn't matter if you're a winner or loser; everyone wins a prize, including the now-valuable Sinnoh Stones.
The other part of that equation is Trainer Battles don't use up potions or revives. After a battle is over, a Pokemon is still at full health even if they fainted. That means players can still engage in matches even if they're running low on medicinal items.
For those who don't want to engage in player-vs-player fights, they can challenge the team leaders: Blanche, Candela, and Spark. They each have a different level of difficulty and could possibly be a way to test out different team combinations.
Niantic took its time with Trainer Battles. It's a smart way to make "Pokemon Go" a more complete game. It's one that opens up another avenue of play and will likely bring a new wave of fans to the game.