I am a little obsessed with Pokemon Go. My morning walk to the bus stop is determined by how many Pokestops I can go by (although the extra 1000 steps is a good thing) and I occasionally go on adventures to battle gyms. However I am getting a little fed up as there’s been no real improvements since I first got into the game.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
My main beef with the game right now is that Pokemon aren’t easy to catch. They are plentiful and require very little effort to find, meaning it is a “grind”, but the number of Pokeballs to catch a low CP, not great or common Pokemon is feeling a little ridiculous. Lately I’ve averaged about a 20% catch rate for accurate throws, not factoring in Pokemon jumping or attacking after you’ve thrown. Even if more curve balls or technique could improve this, it still feels very broken. It is like using bloody Safari Balls most of the time!
It is important here to remember that you’re meant to play this game outdoors. Its bloody cold and often raining outdoors so standing in a street trying to catch Common-mon is even less appealing than normal. As a result of the weather I may not have a steady hand, or be playing with gloves and swiping a touch screen isn’t ideal for exact controls anyway. It is more than that though. Throwing lots of accurate shots and having a Pokemon still escape is not fun. It is frustrating. Over the past month I’ve found it getting harder and harder to catch even basic Pokemon, or in other words more and more frustrating. I would have thought that at level 32, a common Pokemon should be a doddle to catch. Only rare Pokemon and high CP/IV should provide a challenge. Multiple Great Balls shouldn’t be required for a 200CP Spearow that will just get transferred.
After I’ve spent a surprising amount of effort catching Pidgey number 1087 (current total), what can I do with it? 80% of the time I immediately transfer it. 19% of the time I evolve it with a Lucky Egg for XP then transferred and the remaining 1% gets evolved. And who needs 10 Pidgeots?
This leads to my second big issue. The “end game” is gyms. A terribly flawed piece of gameplay where you walk to a shady street corner and stand in the freezing cold battling very high level Pokemon in the hope of earning a little bit of XP, star dust and maybe some coins. To make matters worse, there’s not even any variety because who would defend a gym with a fire type Pokemon when water type are more common & powerful? The majority of gym defenders are the same handful, meaning the majority of battles are the same. This is hardly encouragement to go visit them… and why my morning walk past two gyms rarely results in a battle.
A relatively small gym can be fun to beat but all the gyms near my flat (a dozen or so) are owned by the same team, have the same Pokemon and are pretty full. Due to the team balancing, even if I were to tear down these gyms, they’d be back fully populated as Team Mystic within a day. Teams owning gyms can only work if there’s a good balance and it is pretty well known that Team Mystic are vastly more popular.
This all means that gyms do not work as an end game. They don’t work as a way to use your collected Pokemon. They add very little to a game that is otherwise about throwing Pokeballs at Pidgeys and swearing when they run away.
A huge improvement to the game would be if you could battle wild Pokemon. If you’re not in the mood for Pokemon refusing to get captured or really, really want to make sure that you can capture a Pokemon then you should have a little “Battle” icon and this sets you into a battle just like at a gym, except with the additional option to return to the throwing a Pokeball screen. Once you’ve got a few hits in and the health of the wild Pokemon is lower, it would then be easier to catch. Not only does this fit in much better with the world and gameplay of Pokemon but it would be a more enjoyable activity.
I’ve heard people say that the current catch rates that I was bitching about were reasonable for full health Pokemon in the original games. This makes sense. The problem is that you can’t hurt wild Pokemon therefore there’s no way to lower their health. Who knows, maybe this wild Pokemon battling feature is something that got pulled and has been on the verge of release for a while? I doubt it though.
Another logical way to use your Pokemon more would be battling friends. This is a widely discussed and feature very likely to make it so I won’t go into it beyond saying “must have”.
Working out at a gym
However I feel that what the game really needs is a complete rehaul of gyms. A simple solution would, rather than giving a reward every 21 hours, at the end of the week you automatically receive a reward for gyms held. At this point they reset. This would mean that gyms are likely change ownership a little more often, making them easier to beat. It would be unlikely to resolve the issue of lack of variety of Pokemon type though, however potentially more battling means more usage of your current Pokemon as your best attackers get hurt. However there is a risk of 6 days of only a short window actually mattering. An interesting effect would be that players could no longer leave a Pokemon in in a well held Gym for months. I’d lose my bonus for the Gym I got into whilst waiting in a small town’s train station, but its not like I’ve done ought to actively hold it for the past few weeks!
Perhaps a better alternative is to ditch player / team based gyms altogether. Rather than using the Pokemon left by players, each gym would be to earn a particular badge and be populated with Pokemon that are of suitable types, like to unlock the Wave Badge (random name) you’d have to beat some water type Pokemon. You know, like the actual Pokemon games. It could also randomise the Pokemon and alter the difficulty relative to your level.
Personally I’d find this quite enjoyable. Each battle would feel a little different and I’d want to go around town finding the different gyms to earn my badges. For people in more rural areas it doesn’t really help, although at least when you do go to a place with more gyms there’s more to do than go “ooo those are some strong gyms”. I’d also make it so that you can repeatedly visit gyms that you’ve beaten to gain XP and train your Pokemon (more on training later) so that at least you’ve got a form of battling. Perhaps the game could provide a completely random set of Pokemon too, just to add some variety.
Once you’ve collected the different badges you could then unlock a new challenge. I’d be apprehensive about making it another gym in a fixed location as that really does screw over people who don’t live in cities, but potentially another battle could start the next time you visit a Pokestop or gym. I’d make it a fight against the Elite Four, although it could be a battle against Mewtwo or Team Rocket. The battle could appear on everyone’s maps, showing that someone is taking on the “end game”. If Niantic wanted a “big battle” as the end game but to make it dramatic then perhaps you get a token for a special event and once a week each gym has a huge public battle. That would suck if you work during the battle though… A final option for an end event would be getting a special map to where a very rare (legendary?) Pokemon is hiding. This would be a special spawn just for you, like how Incense works.
There would still need to be some usage of teams, although you could potentially be able to work together to beat a gym. For example my wife might not fancy her chances against a gym, but if we battle together then we can win together. When wandering up to a gym location, if I see someone battling I could join in.
Surrender now, or prepare to fight!
Further to this, the opportunity to battle AI players outside of gyms would add a bit of excitement. Imagine if Pokemon stopped spawning in a region, or a Pokestop was out of action because of those wretches from Team Rocket? Always up to no good! At random points Team Rocket could take over a Pokestop or spawn at a cluster spawn. The only way to get back to normal business is for someone to battle them. I’d be in favour of them stopping spawning in a region as they’ve been “stealing” Pokemon.
You could make these group based fights so if someone else is battling then you can join in to bring an end to their dastardly deeds quicker. After defeating them not only do Pokemon start spawning again but perhaps you could get an item or some candy/stardust that they drop as they flee.
I think these random little fights would help engage some of the more casual players who have been losing interest, or otherwise aren’t ever going to get in on the whole gyms battling. It provides you with a chance to experience battles and get to use your caught Pokemon without having to go and get your arse handed to you at a gym.
One final thing before I shut up. I’ve suggested a few different ways to improve the gameplay by adding more ways to battle and utilise your Pokemon. A further mechanism that I’m kind of gobsmacked isn’t in the game is leveling up your Pokemon from battles. Okay, you get a little bit of Stardust but if I’m not mistaken beating a level 10 gym isn’t enough for leveling up a (decent CP) Pokemon and even then that Pokemon might be unrelated to the one you used, especially if you don’t have the candy. This definitely needs a revisit, although I’ll discuss more in another article (maybe).
Thinking through these possible strategies to improve the gameplay, it makes me quite sad that 6 months on from release there has been zero progress (despite stunning revenue!) and a game that made such an impact and had bags of potential might just disappear with a whimper.