Mas­ter Poké­mon Go’s lat­est fea­tures

An­drew Hay­ward looks at the game’s com­pet­i­tive over­haul

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Poké­mon Go is just over a year old, and while Niantic was cel­e­brat­ing the smash mo­bile game’s first birth­day with hat-wear­ing Pikachu sight­ings in the game, there was also a big func­tional ad­di­tion to the game: Raid Bat­tles and the re­built Gym sys­tem.

The Raid Bat­tles hatch pow­er­ful Poké­mon at Gyms through­out the game for lim­ited-time show­downs – and

up to 20 play­ers can take them on at the same time, work­ing to­gether to­wards a big bounty. Mean­while, the Gyms them­selves have changed in struc­ture, not only in the way they’re man­aged by teams and play­ers but also in the way they par­cel out re­wards for stay­ing put.

Out­side of Fe­bru­ary’s in­flux of sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion mon­sters, it’s surely the largest fea­ture ad­di­tion the game has seen to date – and it might get your com­pet­i­tive juices flow­ing again if you grew tired of the old Gym sys­tem. Here’s a look at how the game’s up­dated el­e­ments work, and how you can thrive in both.

Ready to Raid

If you live near any Gyms and you’ve played Poké­mon Go over the past sev­eral days, then you’ve prob­a­bly al­ready seen some Raid Bat­tles on the map. They pop up ev­ery so of­ten on Gyms, and you’ll ei­ther see an egg or a Poké­mon at the top of the bea­con, both with a timer be­low. If there’s an egg, that means a Raid Bat­tle will be­gin as soon as the timer hits zero. If there’s al­ready a Poké­mon up top, how­ever, that means you have a lim­ited amount of time left (less than an hour) to take part in that bat­tle be­fore it fin­ishes up.

At the time of writ­ing, any­one with a player level of 5 or higher can take part in Raid Bat­tles, and

it’s un­clear whether Niantic will bother low­er­ing that any fur­ther – it seems like a fair bar to cross in terms of play time and ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore tak­ing on these chal­leng­ing fights. If you see a Raid Bat­tle in ac­tion, sim­ply ap­proach the gym and you’ll be able to take part.

Well, at least if you have a Raid Pass. Each Raid Bat­tle re­quires one of the passes, and luck­ily, you’ll get one per day sim­ply for vis­it­ing a Gym and spin­ning the Photo Disc. Wait, spin­ning the disc at a Gym? That’s right: Gyms now also dou­ble as PokéS­tops with this lat­est up­date, and that’s true of Gyms that are host­ing Raid Bat­tles, as well. If you use your free daily Raid Pass, you can buy more for 100 coins apiece in the shop.

Each Raid Bat­tle car­ries a dif­fi­culty rat­ing be­tween one and five, al­though level five Bat­tles haven’t been un­veiled just yet. A level one Raid Bat­tle might put you up against a mon­ster with 1165 CP – as I have en­coun­tered sev­eral Magikarp at that level. Mean­while, a level four Bat­tle could find you on the op­po­site end of an in­sanely over­pow­ered Tyran­i­tar at nearly 35,000 CP. That would be im­pos­si­ble to take down alone, right?

Ex­actly. And that’s why Raid Bat­tles are mul­ti­player-cen­tric events. Sure, you can take them on solo, but the chances of you beat­ing a level three Bat­tle solo

seem nigh im­pos­si­ble. But if you can wran­gle a few friends, or team up with some ran­dom play­ers nearby, then you have a much bet­ter shot of win­ning out. Up to 20 peo­ple can par­tic­i­pate in a si­mul­ta­ne­ous Raid Bat­tle, should you hap­pen upon the in­cred­i­ble sce­nario of 19 other peo­ple con­gre­gated in the same spot to play Poké­mon Go.

That’s pretty un­likely these days. Back when Poké­mon Go first launched, you’d see packs of peo­ple rov­ing around parks and cities, play­ing to­gether and en­joy­ing the ini­tial thrill of the launch. Poké­mon Go still has a solid player base, but not nearly to that early level. In my very first Raid Bat­tle, I hap­pened to find two other peo­ple to play with – and that wasn’t quite enough fire­power to take down the level four Charizard we faced. But in ev­ery other Raid Bat­tle since, I’ve ended up play­ing solo.

If you don’t have Poké­mon Go-play­ing pals handy to Raid with, then you might want to try some of the fer­vent on­line com­mu­ni­ties around the game. For ex­am­ple, I found a Chicago-cen­tric Face­book group in which play­ers were post­ing ap­peal­ing Raid Bat­tles and look­ing for al­lies, and then that pointed me to a Subred­dit of nearby diehards. And from there I found a Dis­cord group with ac­tive users look­ing to

play in packs. Your city or com­mu­nity may vary, but it’s worth a look around.

Poké­mon Prep

In any case, whether you’re play­ing solo or with an as­sem­bled group, it’s worth do­ing a lit­tle bit of prep be­fore each bat­tle. You’ll have two min­utes to pick your ideal line-up of six Poké­mon, as well as lav­ish them with any heal­ing or re­vival items you might have.

When choos­ing your line-up, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing which Poké­mon are the best coun­ters to the boss mon­ster – the ones that will do the most dam­age, not nec­es­sar­ily just your Poké­mon with the high­est CP rat­ings. In this case, we can turn to the hive mind for help: hard­core Poké­mon Go re­source site The Silph Road has a full list­ing of the best counter Poké­mon on its Subred­dit; it’s worth keep­ing that page book­marked on your iPhone, or maybe copy down the crit­i­cal info into Notes.

Once the two min­utes have passed and ev­ery­one is ready, it’s time to bat­tle. These

bat­tles are much like the fa­mil­iar Gym fights, al­beit now with all of your other com­rades en­cir­cling the boss. You’ll tap for ba­sic at­tacks, hold down a fin­ger for a spe­cial at­tack, and swipe in ei­ther di­rec­tion to dodge – and you’ll have 180 sec­onds to col­lec­tively take down the boss. The time limit can be a killer: I’ve done solo Raids in which my six Poké­mon might have even­tu­ally been able to take down the boss, but I ran out of time be­cause it’s such a slow grind on your own.

Should you suc­ceed, you’ll get a nice bounty of XP as a re­sult, along with spe­cial items like the Golden Razz Berry, Rare Candy, and Fast and Charged TM (tech­ni­cal ma­chines) used to teach your Poké­mon new moves. You’ll also get a small stack of Pre­mier Balls, which are white with red mark­ings. And then you’ll need to use the Pre­mier Balls to try and cap­ture a weak­ened ver­sion of the Raid Boss you just pum­melled. You can use candy to help your cause, but only the Pre­mier Balls are avail­able to try and cap­ture the Poké­mon – and if you run out of those balls be­fore it is cap­tured, then it’ll flee and you’ll leave empty-handed. That could be pretty crush­ing af­ter a hard-won bat­tle, es­pe­cially since rarer Poké­mon are found in some Raids.

That’s the gist of Raid Bat­tles for now. We’ll prob­a­bly see ad­di­tional Poké­mon types added as Raid Bosses over time, and surely we’ll get the promised level five Bat­tles at some point.

Gear Up for Gyms

While the Raid Bat­tles are the most en­tic­ing part of the new up­date, you may also no­tice that the Gyms them­selves have changed quite a bit when not in

the midst of a Raid. Mak­ing all the Gyms dou­ble as PokéS­tops is a nice bonus, but that’s only one part of the trans­for­ma­tion.

As be­fore, each of the game’s three fac­tions can bat­tle for con­trol of nearby Gyms in the game, and if your team com­mands the spot, then you can place one of your Poké­mon there to pro­tect the Gym from at­tack­ers. How it un­folds from there is a bit dif­fer­ent from be­fore, though. Now your Poké­mon will stay put un­til it loses mo­ti­va­tion, which hap­pens grad­u­ally as other fac­tion play­ers chal­lenge it.

Once a Poké­mon’s mo­ti­va­tion is sapped, it will re­turn to your line-up the next time it falls in bat­tle. But you can help each Gym’s Poké­mon stay mo­ti­vated even af­ter you’ve placed a crea­ture within. That’s be­cause you can now feed Ber­ries to the Poké­mon when you visit, which helps en­sure that they’re pow­ered up and ready for the next chal­lengers. Any com­mon Berry will help boost their mo­ti­va­tion a lit­tle bit, while the new Golden Razz Berry can fully re­store all of the mon­sters’ mo­ti­va­tion. In other words, if you have Poké­mon

hold­ing down a nearby Gym, it’s worth pop­ping by reg­u­larly to toss some ber­ries their way. That’s es­pe­cially true thanks to the De­fender bonus, in which you can earn free PokéCoins each day that a Poké­mon stays put. You’ll also earn the new Gym Badges for vis­it­ing and pro­tect­ing Gyms – and as those Badges level up over time, you’ll earn bonus items each time you visit in the fu­ture.

From what I’ve no­ticed, the new mo­ti­va­tion sys­tem seems to al­low teams and play­ers to stay more en­trenched in Gyms than ever be­fore, es­pe­cially if an area has a lot of play­ers from the same fac­tion. The abil­ity to keep your Gym’s Poké­mon pow­ered up with Ber­ries – and the fact that any­one can pitch in, not just the own­ers of those par­tic­u­lar Poké­mon – cer­tainly helps with that. I spent a lot of time wan­der­ing around and play­ing the game be­fore I found an al­lied Gym with an open­ing for my Poké­mon, but again, your ex­pe­ri­ence may vary.

All told, how­ever, the Gym changes seem to en­cour­age and re­ward fre­quent, con­tin­ual play, which is sure to ap­pease the diehards and maybe pro­vide in­cen­tive for old fans to get back into the habit. Both the new Gyms and the Raid Bat­tles can seem in­tim­i­dat­ing if you don’t play much, but if you start with the lower-level Raids, keep an eye out for Gym open­ings, and try to keep your de­fend­ing Poké­mon mo­ti­vated, then even ca­sual play­ers can have a lot of fun (and suc­cess) with these new ad­di­tions.

Raid Bat­tles pop up on Gyms all around the map

Uh, that won’t be an easy fight

Avoid go­ing into bat­tle alone if you can

You’ll all fight in uni­son dur­ing Raid Bat­tles

Gyms look dif­fer­ent now, but the changes are more than skin deep

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