Pokemon Go PvP Never Seemed Like It Would Work Until We Tried It for Ourselves

We go hands-on with Pokemon Go's Trainer Battles and find them a better fit than we expected.

Until I saw it for myself last week, I was pretty sure that Pokemon Go player-versus-player combat would never work. It's the missing piece for Niantic's immensely popular mobile game—one of a handful of features that makes Pokemon Pokemon—but it's also an odd fit for a game that's always been more about community than competition. It's hard to imagine what Pokemon Go PvP would even look like. Constant dodging? Rapid-fire switching in real-time?

As it turns out, Niantic has been weighing many of these same problems as it has quietly developed its new Trainer Battles behind the scenes. "What does it mean to be 'good' at Pokemon Go?" Product manager Matt Slemon asked the assembled journalists in Niantic's San Francisco offices. Then Slemon answered his own question. "If you're goods at Raids and Gym Battles, you should be good at Trainer Battles," he said.

Charge Attacks work very differently in Pokemon Go's Trainer Battles.

Niantic's solution for PvP is elegant, surprisingly tactical, and very much in keeping with Pokemon Go's pattern for success. It's a 3v3 system that brings with it a few key changes to the traditional Pokemon Go battle system, the biggest being the way Charge Moves work. Battling willl yield rewards much like sending gifts to friends, and will be one of the main ways going forward to earn evolution items like Sinnoh Stones. If you have no friends who play Pokemon Go, you will be able to challenge AI gym leaders instead.

The actual combat is much slower-paced and more tactical than Pokemon Go's Raids, where trainers often find themselves hammering at their screen while swiping left and right to dodge big attacks. Dodging is gone in PvP, replaced with a countdown that freezes the action and offers the option to activate Protect. Protect will nullify almost all of the damage from a Charge Attack like Outrage or Fire Blast, but you can only use two per match, so it's often wise to keep at least one in your back pocket until the end of the match.

As in the main games, type matchups matter in Pokemon Go, often necessitating a switch against an unfavorable opponent. But because Pokemon Go's combat mostly takes place in real-time, switches are restricted with a cooldown timer. This forces you to make a couple big decisions during battle: when to burn a Protect, and when to swap out a monster for a more favorable matchup.

It's obviously nowhere near as deep as the mainline RPGs, where abilities, traits, movesets, and hidden stats all come into play, but the battles are quick, and they have at least a little bit of depth. I actually prefer them to 3v3 in the standard games, where one unfavorable matchup has the chance to completely wreck your chances. In Pokemon Go, even stronger monsters can be overcome with the judicious application of Protect and some well-timed Charge Attacks. And with the cooldown timer, it's much less switch-heavy.

I wound up playing a bunch of battles at each of the three main tiers, which cap the power of your Pokemon at 1500, 2500, and 5,000 respectively. As you might expect, the top tier is something of a legendary Pokemon fest dominated by the likes of Mewtwo, while the lower tiers are a little more balanced. I actually prefer 1500, as it's the tier were you're likely to see the most interesting monsters.

Like its popular Friends list, Pokemon Go's PvP is built around daily logins, with battles yielding up to three items (A.I. battles only offer one reward) plus progress toward the formerly retired Ace Trainer badge. If battling against a friend, it will also produce a friendship increase in-game. Local battles take place via QR code, with remote battles being restricted to Ultra Friends and above.

Gen 4 Sinnoh Pokemon are a recent addition to Pokemon Go.

PvP and PvE communities are often at odds with one another, but it's hard to imagine much friction in light of the mode's accessibility and the rewards involved. Even those players who have no interest in PvP can look forward to the forthcoming ability to unlock a second Charge Attack, which will be useful for Raids and Gyms. In the spirit of Pokemon Go, even the PvP feels more cooperative than competitive, with players teaming up to battle for the prospect of mutual rewards. According to Niantic software engineer Rob Giusti, one of the guiding principles of PvP in Pokemon is that no one should ever have reason to say "no" to a battle.

Both Giusti and Slemon say this is only the beginning, with more complex mechanics set to appear over time. For now, Niantic is focused on getting the foundation in place. "It's important to ensure that Pokemon Go feels like Pokemon Go," Giusti says.

We don't have a firm release date yet, but Niantic says it will be out later this month. Expect it in the next couple week, and in the meantime, make sure to check out our Pokemon Go guide to the Sinnoh region monsters and more.

Tagged with Feature, ios, Niantic, Role Playing Games.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

Pokemon Go June Field Research - Research Breakthrough, Rewards

Here's your guide to the Pokemon Go June Research quests and rewards.

Pokemon GO Raid Tips and Tricks - Legendary Pokemon Raid Bosses, Cresselia Counters

Pokemon GO Raid Bosses are a tough bunch, so bring a friend or two, and know who you're facing. Use our guide and you'll be beating them in no time!

Pokemon Go Celebi Quest - A Ripple in Time Research Steps

The time-travelling pokemon Celebi has arrived in Pokemon GO. Here’s how to get one by completing the Celebi Quest.

Pokemon Go June 2019 Community Day - Slakoth, Date, Exclusive Move, Bonuses

Here’s what you’ll begetting up to for the Pokemon Go June Community Day.

Pokemon Go Eevee - Evolving Eevee into Glaceon and Leafeon

Evolving Eevee in Pokemon Go. How to evolve your Pokemon GO Eevee into one of its five forms: Vaporeon, Flareon, Jolteon, Espeon, or Umbreon in 2019.

More

Youngblood's Producer On Telling a Coming-of-Age Story in the World of Wolfenstein

How a few hand signals and two young leads shifted MachineGames' view on the series.

"We're Never Gonna Make an Apex 2:" Apex Legends Devs Look Ahead to Season 2, and Way Beyond

At EA Play last week, we interviewed Apex Legends' executive producer and lead product manager about all the changes coming this summer.

Cyberpunk 2077 Quest Director on The Witcher 3 Comparisons, Life Paths, and Keanu

At E3 2019, we sit down with the director of Cyberpunk 2077's quests to learn about how Night City, life paths, and more will affect how the story unfolds.

Adding Dash To Doom Eternal "Broke the Game For Quite a While," Developers Say

Why Doom Eternal's developers are calling it their Evil Dead 2.

More Role Playing Games Games

Final Fantasy 7 Remake E3 Trailer Hides a Nostalgic Easter Egg

The original 7th Heaven gets a shoutout.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Release Date, Gameplay, Legendaries

Here's all the details we have on the Pokemon Sword and Shield release date, as well as the new Legendaries featured in the game.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokedex: All New Pokemon in Sword and Shield, Gen 1-7 Pokedex

As we hear more about Pokemon Sword and Shield we’ll be adding all confirmed Pokemon to this Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokemon List Guide.

The First Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Beta is Exclusive to PS Plus Members on PS4 and Available Very Soon

Sony console owners will get the first shot at the new monsters in Iceborne.