Massively on the Go: The rollercoaster that is Pokemon Go’s Go Beyond update


I’ve previously mentioned in this Massively on the Go column some unexpected bonuses popping up with the release of Pokemon Go’s Go Beyond update. Considering the daily additions of new features and event announcements we’ve had starting the day of the update, I’m feeling like that’s the theme here. Since September, Niantic had been rapidly dropping changes and events on the playerbase with mixed results, but it seems that now we’re largely on the upswing. In fact, I’m almost worried that this rollercoaster has been doing more climbing than falling as of late, and while I am deathly afraid of sudden drops, I’m still actually quite happy with this torrent of content.

The ride since Beyond arrived

As I said, not everything on this coaster’s been a climb. Lifting the level cap was how Niantic kicked off this huge update, and it was actually more fun than I’d thought. There’s something satisfying about having and executing a virtual plan that’s doesn’t require a lot of luck, and Niantic’s tasks for levels seem to scratch that itch. I was happy I’d hoarded Premium Passes for raids and bought into some remote raids so I could help friends get that first prestige level.

See, level 41 requires players to win 30 raids. Normally, while that might seem like a raw cash grab I’d just wait out, I saw I had a good supply to burn. I also have to admit that between my unique playstyle, multiple local and long distance communities, and release hype, I kind of forgot about the whole COVID bonus thing.

Before I started to rely on a new Discord group, even one group level raid might was hard to do, and I have a few people on my friend’s list who clearly have deep pockets and a love for the Remote Passes that let them raid from home. For normal players, especially ones on a budget, Niantic gives only one free remote pass per week, so 30 raids would be supremely slow going for anyone unable to leave her house or unable to afford remote passes during the current COVID spikes.

However, prestige levels aren’t a timed event. Considering the long-term nature Niantic wants from this (since the XP requirements are actually far more difficult than many of the task), I’m giving Niantic a pass this time. I got to finally (and safely) use the remote feature to help people staying at home and virtually play together with people I was basically just trading gifts with, in addition to helping people from my local POGO community.

Having to use outside tools to find people to play with is a harsh reminder that, in my mind, Pokemon Go isn’t a true MMO. Players really do need some kind of company-supported communication system for it to reach that level, but I don’t think Niantic wants to go there. POGO wants to mix virtual with reality, and I think many of us learned to deal with that before 2020. Remote raiding and now trading, however, does bring the feel for a need back, especially as I feel these features would have curdled my earlier complaints about player safety. Aside from this, though, I haven’t really felt as if Niantic’s been unfair about the other leveling requirements or monetization.

Again, that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. Players only had the new Seasons feature (like three-month “weather” but without the CP boost or extra stardust) for about 48 hours prior to the new Kalos spawns. Sadly, it wasn’t the stand-out people hoped for. Seasons in terms of spawns mostly seem to affect rare spawns. Over the course of a few hours, I saw a lapras, a winter deerling, and some wild snover with some casual play around three different areas in my town. That was a bit underwhelming, but I suppose an improvement compared to before. Some of the more common pokemon might have been winter-themed (like the lazy slakoth and additional spheals), but those spawn here from time to time anyway. I did see a lot of fire types due to the sunny weather, so some of my fears on how weather and seasons might cancel each other out have been somewhat allayed.

Having spent more time with the improved Buddy System, I’ve found getting the “excited” state on buddy really is significantly easier – but not “easy,” especially if you’re not walking. This windfall is slightly diminished by issues with the newest Mega Pokemon Abomasnow not generating energy from walking, which is what’s really helped save Megas in my opinion.

If I ignore that hiccup, Mega Evolution is probably as good as we’ll get, as it’s easy enough to activate if you’re minimally trying to work with your buddy (feeding, petting, walking, and battling it). It’s also hard enough that the poffins (a premium item) still serve a monetary function by instantly granting the excited state.

My original thoughts on Mega Pidgeot in particular feel quite validated in that I was genuinely surprised by the amount of candy I had for the new pokemon even when they were initially rare early on Tuesday. I’ve gotten extra candy from rares such as the elusive Audino and new rare (and candy-intensive) Noibat, among others. I also have increased my Mega Pidgeot Mega Energy supply despite activating its mega form at least once a day this week and twice on one day.

This isn’t even accounting for additional candy from raids or the fact that my buddy bounces the ball back occasionally when miffed pokemon try to swat it back at me. But I also really notice the lack of candy generation for specific pokemon I’d normally like to walk, like Froakie. It seems as if the feature is almost too bloated to sustain its original purpose. Considering the past, present, and potential future, I feel Niantic should give us six “buddy” slots, each with a specific use, to account for current and potential future buddy uses for Generation-defining features, such as Gen 7’s  Z-Moves and Gen 8’s Dynamaxing.

Speaking of new Pokemon, the first wave of Gen 6 pokemon was a mixed bag. Early complaints about a lack of Gen 6 spawns and perception that seasons are underwhelming were prevalent on social media, but in my opinion the grousing feels a bit overdramatic. The rates weren’t great, certainly less than Gen 5, but Stops were secretly buffed to give more items from spins too.

That doesn’t make up for the initial release, though. Scads of identical weather-boosted pokemon clearly indicated an issue with how spawns act after the Seasons addition, which probably affected the initial Gen 6 pokemon release as well. It took over 24 hours from the Australian release for Niantic to increase the Gen 6 spawns, making it so that my few hours of play throughout released day ended with my barely getting one of each of the new pokemon here on the US west coast.

I know others were frustrated, but considering all the other things Niantic has gotten wrong to literally make the game/new features unplayable with other updates, I’d say this was fairly minimal and quite quickly resolved. Also, remember that features have been rolling out with everything else.

You’ve probably noticed Pokemon Go popping up more on MassivelyOP lately, but truthfully, the updates are at a level where they would threaten to take over this site, which for obvious reasons we can’t do. Niantic has been doing so much that some readers may have noticed I simply update articles for a day or two just to keep them up to date and avoid flooding the front page. But it’s a good thing: In terms of content, it really feels like we’ve hit some Asheron’s Call level of updates, though without the great lore or player/GM driven storylines.

That being said, while I appreciate Niantic turning up the spawns, it may have to do with the fact that lures have been unable to spawn Kalos pokemon since new pokemon were released on December 2nd. The news came only via social media, not in-game announcements, so my Discord groups sent out frequent reminders not to waste lures. Sadly, people without communities clearly missed these notices.

Secret bonuses

Although it’s not a feature, one of the best bonuses was Niantic allowing people to increase their storage before the new pokemon actually arrived. All too often, hoarders like me have to cull the herd a day or so before a big event, and that’s both stressful and time-consuming. In fact, I’d just thrown away a few spare shiny pokemon when I got a Discord alert about the option. It would be nice if Niantic gave an announcement about this sort of thing a week or so in advance, but it’s still an improvement on how this was previously handled the day of or later.

We did get some actual new stuff again, though. One of the first new additions we saw was yet another quality of life feature: icon-based search results with a new UI and custom searches. Honestly, I’m personally more used to text, and I think our favorites and most recent searches should come up before recommended, but it’s a good start and occasionally saves me a few keystrokes.

But the next day, “Tagging” was introduced. For series vets, think Pokemon Boxes, and for non-vets, think bank tabs as opposed to one huge tab. In offering the ability to have 4000 pokemon now, the feature is long overdue.

The tagging system is a nice addition in theory. It’d be nice to use tags instead of creating our own naming conventions to search for pokemon we need. However, the tagging system doesn’t overlap with the search functions and isn’t available when making teams, trying to place pokemon in gyms, trading, or selecting a buddy pokemon. Those are all the times you’d want quick access to pokemon while playing on the street or jumping into a raid. So far, I’m using it to keep track of my buddy pokemon and pokemon I’ve Mega Evolved, and I’ll probably tag my Pokemon from when I was living in Japan as well. Until Niantic allows Tags to become search options or gives us access to that tab during the previously noted situations, their use will be sadly limited for now.


Closing thoughts (for now)

Again, I want to reiterate that Niantic’s putting out a lot of content these days, which was a huge reason I got into MMOs in the first place. Even during COVID, I’m getting some socialization itches scratched while (safely) going outside with social distancing in mind. Walks have been a bit less lonely knowing that I can summon four more players from my neighborhood or across the world to back me up in a raid. Sadly, I’m seeing this drop off as people finish their raid task, but I’m sure upcoming events will help even out the ride.

Level caps usually don’t bring me back, especially if “prestige levels” or “new features” feel like something that’ll get thrown out in the next expansion (RIP my WoW account). Although it’s a bit grindy, Niantic chose some features that should help encourage people to give a good try for several existing game features, and having the raid task as a starting feature felt like a good call for social reasons.

The quality-of-life improvements, especially for buddy pokemon, have significantly improved the game for me. I still feel like Megas need tweaking, but my budget Mega Pidgeot is working out quite well.

As I said last time, my only slight concern (if egg contents are really going to be shown to players in-game soon) is how Niantic might get people socializing IRL again after all this COVID business. I’m having a lot of fun going out and walking while more actively playing these days (which is easier because there are less people around to watch me slowly walking around the edge of an empty volleyball court looking for a digital sloth), but I miss the crowds.

Will Community Day be enough after all this? Will remote raid nerfs be enough to get people outside instead of relying on Discord groups? Or could Niantic keep these features for player safety purposes and innovate new ways for us to play together after social distancing is no longer a factor? Again, release has been a bit of a ride, but much more good than bad. I may regret this, but for now, I’m going to trust Niantic and enjoy the ride, and recommend that lapsed or even curious players give the game a chance. Upcoming events may not be perfect, but now’s a great time to jump in and catch up.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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