Last week we were invited by Niantic to get a first glimpse of the multiplayer duels that Pokémon Go fans have been eagerly awaiting. The one-on-one duels are scheduled to go live "early December" and seem to be a sensible continuation of the successful concept.
Friends and strangers are challenged via QR code scanners, the battles are initialised in a few clicks. The player who scans the code of his opponent becomes the game leader and selects the guidelines for the match at the beginning. The first and so far only setting is the choice of league, which determines the maximum fighting power of the participating Pokémon. In the Super League, the Pokémon's CP is limited to 1500, in the Ultra League, the Pocket Monsters may have a maximum of 2500 CP, and in the Master League, the limit of 10,000 CP is used as a guide.
Once the league has been chosen, both players select the Pokémon they want to fight with. The app automatically selects the most suitable entries from your Pokémon database, but we're allowed to customise it manually as we see fit. The important thing to remember is that the trainer duels in Pokémon Go will only be played with three active Pokémon, so as not to prolong the battle unnecessarily. So we have to find a powerful line-up that is effective against different types and relatively sturdy at the same time.
Although Pokémon Go ignores many of the monster's characteristics (we still can't get used to a flying Pokémon getting hit by earthquakes), the basic strengths and weaknesses of each type remain. However, since there is no draft play mode, and therefore we don't see what the opponent chooses, Niantic replaces the strategic depth of the original games with luck. You might, therefore, assume that the match has already been decided after the Pokémon selection. However, it's not that cut and dry in reality.
The one-on-one match follows a familiar pattern: players swipe their screens to initiate normal attacks. The strength, attack speed, and defence of the creatures are individual, and the health points will depend heavily on the CP value. With every hit, a bar for a special attack rises and as soon as this is initiated, the battle pauses. The attacker now enters the build phase and must tap the screen quickly to build Energy.
The more successful we are, the more damage the attack deals to the target. While one player presses their smartphone, the defender waits and considers whether to use a super shield. Each participant has two of these powerful items at their disposal, which creates an almost impenetrable defensive wall around the attacked Pokémon. Currently, the shield absorbs almost all damage, so picking the right time to defend can turn the tide.
Another new feature is that your pokémon can learn a second special attack, which, according to Niantic, will initially only be used in trainer duels. We don't know how to unlock these attacks, but Niantic seems to be thinking about introducing the second charged attack to other Pokémon Go game modes at some point (Arena Battles and Raids, for example). If our monsters finally have more than one attack available, the game would be a lot of help, but the final decision depends on the reception from players.
Now that every Pokémon can handle two attacks, the most successful trainers have to pay attention to a lot of things during and especially before the fight. That's why it's really a pity that the attack type can't be predicted and we can only guess the right moment for our super shield. Some sort of indication would be appreciated, for instance, through animations.
But of course, this isn't a core Pokémon experience and for a four-minute match, that's okay. The fights end after this short period of time anyway, even if it hasn't been decided yet. So you don't have to worry about long duels. The three participating Pokémon can be exchanged, but only if they've not used a charged attack.
It should, however, be noted that during our play session there were massive problems with this and all other functions too. Pokémon suddenly became invisible, health bars were not displayed, and player inputs were partially or completely ignored. Many participants at the demo also complained about frustrating lag. Overall, it didn't go according to plan and gave us a bit of a fright ahead of the public launch. Niantic did assure us that this was a server-side bug that will be fixed before the launch. At this point, we're left with no choice but to take them at their word and hope that the long-awaited feature doesn't launch if these issues remain.