Hands-On with PvP in Pokemon Go

It’s been an incredibly long wait, but Pokemon Go finally has PvP battles! Having played a few matches and poked my head around the game’s new systems, let’s discuss how it works, my thought on its current implementation, and where the system could go from here!

There are a few ways to start a battle. If you want to fight against someone who isn’t on your friends list, or against one of the three team leaders, simply click on the Nearby menu and navigate to the new Battle tab. From there, you can pick an AI trainer to fight against, or have another human player scan your QR code to start the action. If they’re on your friends list, you can simply select Battle from their profile screen to challenge them. Better yet, if you’re friendship level is at Ultra or Best Friends, you can even play each other online!

From there, you’ll pick a League to battle in. The highest-level player with the highest-level Pokemon won’t win every time, as, Leagues separate Pokemon based on CP. Great League only allows Pokemon up to 1,500 CP. Ultra League caps out at 2,500, and Master League has no limits.

Besides leveling the playing field between players, it gives more of your Pokemon a meaningful purpose. Up until now, I’ve only really focused on my 12-or-so top-tier Pokemon for gym battles and raids. None of those will qualify for the lower Leagues. This forces everyone to re-assess their rosters and find value in Pokemon that have been collecting dust all of this time.

From there, you’ll pick a team of three Pokemon to battle with. Traditional Pokemon battles in the main series games are 6v6, but I’m guessing the roster was reduced in the interest of time. It doesn’t give you as many options to cover as many types as possible, but this serves a greater benefit of keeping the battles moving quickly. Because your roster is small, you may want to try and pick all-around Pokemon that will cover as many weaknesses as possible. Even so, you can’t cover them all, and a savvy player could still build a team to blow that up.

What you really want to know is how the combat works. Clearly, the traditional method of fighting gyms and raids wasn’t going to work in a PvP environment, as every match would simply boil down to a mash-fest where the higher-leveled Pokemon would win every time. Some players were hoping for a shift to a turn-based system, but that’s not what Niantic has gone for here.

Instead, you’re still tapping to perform quick attacks, but new elements have been added to make the action more strategic. For one, instead of dodging, players get access to two Protect Shields. When an opponent is about to unleash a charge move, you have the opportunity to use one of your two shields. Doing so will negate almost all of the damage from the incoming attack, making it an extremely powerful defensive tool. However, once they’re gone, they’re gone for good, leaving you vulnerable for the rest of the match.

Knowing that, you’d want to save your shields for situations where the opponent’s charge move will do super effective damage. However, in this new world of Pokemon Go, that’s easier said than done thanks to a new system that allows players to purchase a 2nd charge move for their Pokemon. This one change drastically changes everything about combat in the game, as this 2nd charge move can also be used for gyms and raids. That said, let’s focus on the PvP ramifications.

Let’s say you’re using Charizard and you’re facing off against Venusaur. Odds are, your one charge move is a fire-type move to take advantage of STAB (Same Type Attack Bonus). In a world where you only have one charge move, the Venusaur would shield the fire move every time to protect itself from eating super effective damage. But what if Charizard had two moves, one of which was’t as effective? At that point, the Venusaur player would have to guess, giving the Charizard player an opportunity to bait out the shield. Successfully trick your opponent into using their shields too early, and you could make the fight much easier.

On top of that, Charizard could be equipped with a move that counters its counters. For example, if it’s weak to water types, maybe Charizard can get a move that is super effective against water type Pokemon. This gives it more of a fighting chance in bad match-ups.

The trade-off here is that unlocking that 2nd charge move is not cheap. Pokemon “families” are broken out into cost tiers, which look something like this:

Tier 1: 25 Candies, 10,000 Stardust
Tier 2: 50 Candies, 50,000 Stardust
Tier 3: 75 Candies, 75,000 Stardust
Tier 4: 100 Candies, 100,000 Stardust

It should come as no surprise that legendary or mythical Pokemon like Mewtwo and Moltres are in the highest bracket. In any case, none of these are “cheap”, per se. You’re going to really have to think about which Pokemon you want to use for battling and invest accordingly.

This system may not be the extensive battle rework that everyone wanted, but I think it’s good starting point. The odds of turn-based combat coming to Pokemon Go were slim-to-none, as it was probably deemed too slow from the get-go. That said, I’m glad that a few extra layers of depth have been added here, from Leagues, to shields, to the 2nd charge attack, as they give players more to think about tactically and strategically. Niantic has also said that this is just the beginning, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for status effects or stat boosts/nerfs as charge moves to appear at some point.

Pokemon Go is finally feature complete, relative to the game’s original specifications. PvP was sorely needed, and I think this system does a good job of streamlining the combat for mobile play while still allow for at least a few hints of strategic depth. I think it’s a good enough system to enjoy right now, but it’s great to see that Niantic has implemented a system that has room for growth. Whether you see me on the street, or we’re best buds on each other’s friends lists, I’m looking forward to scrapping with you in Pokemon Go!

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