The biggest problem with Pokémon GO

The Pokémon games, whether Pokémon GO or the older installments, are ostensibly about two things: collecting Pokémon, and battling them. Those are the basics, at least. You’ve got to have a reason to collect the things, after all, and battling them tends to be the reason that the games give. Pokémon GO does an incredible job of that first part: the finding of the Pokémon. That’s the meat of the game, and that’s what’s made this thing blow up into the phenomenon that it’s become. The second part, however? That’s where this game needs some work. Gyms, fighting and battling have some problems in Pokémon GO, and developer Niantic Labs should move fixing this to the top of its list.

There are a few problems here, but the most basic one, in my estimation, is this: inPokémon GO, fighting takes place only at pre-determined gyms, of which there’s rarely more than one in a given neighborhood. This means that the gyms tend to be the territory of high-level players. Even in these early days, I usually see them flooded with 1000+ CP Pokémon that I’ve got no chance of beating, and I play the game a fair amount. I imagine that most other people are in the same boat, and the problem is only going to get worse as established players do most of the fighting in the gyms while newer players are stuck down at much lower levels.

Because there’s no other way to fight, this effectively means that the whole combat system is meaningless for 99% of the players. And the problem is worse than that: combat serves as an orienting function and a goalpost for the collecting side of the game, so it removes some of the fun of finding and training Pokémon when you know you don’t stand a chance of winning a fight. I’ve been leveling a Dodrio since basically day one, but mostly just because it’s something to do with all that stardust. I’d love to be able to fight them more, but right now its falling flat.

There are two big things that Niantic can do to alleviate this. The first, and most important one, will be to enable multiplayer battles. The developer has already talked about this, and hopefully we can see this implemented sooner rather than later. If we can fight our friends it not only provides a big new feature for the social side of the game, but it allows us little people to actually experience the combat system and gives us a reason to upgrade.

That will help, but I think that Niantic is eventually going to have to integrate some true single player content as well. AI opponents would give us the opportunity to add a little more story to the world of this game and give the less competitive among us something to strive for. It’s easy to imagine: every city has a smattering of trainers to fight for experience, as well as some legendary AI trainers as well. It fleshes out the travelling side of this game — you could take a trip to a different town and face off against the legendary trainer there, having already gotten the badge from your home. A sense of accomplishment is very important for any long-running game like this, and Niantic risks robbing the majority of players of the feeling that they’ve been able to train strong Pokémon. There are a colossal number of people playing this game, and it’s going to take some work to branch out and keep myriad different types of players engaged.
Haven’t yet started playing? Wondering what the fuss is about?

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