In between the air-conditioned halls of the LA Convention Center and the Staples Center, we met up with a few members of the Pokémon Go team at Niantic. The global phenomenon may have lost a bit of steam over the course of its first twelve months in the wild, but it is still incredibly popular and has retained millions of players who still log in every day.
The first year has seen Niantic work hard to deal with the technical challenge of having both players and tracking services hammer the servers. They've implemented regular events, and the second generation of Pokémon launched earlier this year. Upcoming plans include the introduction of Legendaries and a series of events called Pokémon Go Fest (starting in Chicago's Grant Park next month).
Niantic has seen that the social and competitive component of Gyms has not worked out the way they intended it to, though. When a team manages to place ten high-level Pokémon in a Gym it's near on impossible for a single casual player to many an impact. And so they have decided to revamp the entire system. Pokémon in a gym now need to be motivated to maintain a high CP (indicated with a heart meter), and Gyms now only have room for six Pokémon. The Gyms will now also work as Stops, so you can get items from them. What this means is that any player on the team currently holding the Gym can feed berries to the Pokémon to keep them motivated and so a low-level player on the team can still do his or her part. Why does this matter? Well, holding Gyms is going to be important as Niantic unleashes the next major feature in Pokémon Go, raids.
Perhaps some of you have forgotten that raids were something that Niantic teased in the launch trailer for the game, one year ago. In a few weeks time, then, they will be a reality. There's no firm time frame for when they will launch, but it is imminent.
Raid bosses will spawn on top of Gyms with timers. You'll need to challenge the boss by using a raid ticket (an item you will gain once a day from a Stop or Gym), and you will be thrown into an instance with other players (players from all teams can join in), although members of the team holding the Gym will have an advantage when the spoils are shared, so taking down a raid boss on a Gym that's held by your team with a bunch of fellow team members is beneficial. You can ensure you're in an instance with your friends with codes, so there's an opportunity to ensure this.
Taking down a raid boss alone is going to be difficult. The example we got to try was a Gyarados with 17,000+ CP and with five people we just barely took it down. You can rejoin the raid though if your Pokémon all fall, but if you're alone it's going to be a bit of a grind. The combat itself works the same way as previously, so there's no change there. Raid bosses are going to be high-level Pokémon, rare ones and strong evolutions, including the soon to be unleashed Legendaries. According to Niantic raids will be one of the ways in which you can catch Legendaries (but that's pretty much all they said on that particular subject).
After defeating the raid boss you get items. New balls (white) are used to try and catch the raid boss (or rather a weaker version of it, the Gyarados we fought was at 1800 CP when we tried to catch it). There is also a new more powerful berry to attract these raid bosses (you can still use normal berries if you want to). The raid boss also dropped something called "rare candy" that Niantic didn't go into detail on. One guess is that this candy can be used to power up any Pokémon, which makes sense given it would be difficult to power up the presumably very rare Legendaries otherwise. But that's pure speculation on our part.
In addition to these regular raids, there will be higher level special raids that unlock for the most dedicated players. Exactly how this will work remains to be seen, and perhaps this is something Niantic wants players to figure out on their own rather than them spell out how it will work for them.
The new Gyms and the addition of raids show how Niantic is actively working on ensuring that the game will offer more compelling gameplay apart from the obvious lure of catching 'em all.