Pokemon Go’s newest feature, Party Play, is out now, and it’s… well, very Niantic. Since the feature was first datamined, it seemed like it could be a fun little addition to the game, even if it functionally didn’t add much more than other players’ avatars. The bar was pretty low.
On the one hand, we have a new feature with some new mechanics, which sounds nice in theory. But on the other, we have a huge list of issues ranging from graphical bugs to official Bluetooth peripherals (like the July 2023 released Go Plus+) not contributing to group goals, as well as the usual basic design flaws. Niantic’s being somewhat upfront about some of its failures is good, but the list didn’t include everything, and basic communications may have helped it dodge some obvious design issues.
Let’s start with some positive aspects. Redditors confirmed there’s a Party Range limit, and I tested with a friend to ensure that a Party can’t be started from too far away. Combined with a one-hour limit, that should help cut down on people accidentally revealing their home locations to strangers they may randomly group up with to do multiple raids with (the best use of the feature thus far) but then forget to leave party.
Admittedly, I don’t think all of this is intentional, which we’ll get to later. Pikmin Bloom was so stalker-friendly at release that we had to put together a safety guide. Niantic did make stealth changes to the game, but they were so sneaky that I missed them in my re-review of the game, as did another outlet. In that sense, I think most of the changes that are adding to safety may have more to do with technical issues than addressing potential human issues, but there’s a chance for both of these.
I’m not just being optimistic, though. One option players get is whether or not they even want to share their location. On paper, that would take out the whole stalker conversation if it weren’t for the rest of the base game. However, we’ve already seen Campfire misfire and broadcast even private player locations, so while it’s nice that there’s the ability to opt out of revealing your position, Niantic’s past shows that its good intentions aren’t enough.
Niantic also wisely decided to send Party Play reports to parents/guardians of minors on Niantic Kids accounts. The feature has to be enabled in the first place, but having additional details probably gives parents more peace of mind, so again, Niantic has done some good here with the new feature.
There’s also the previously mentioned raid benefits in the form of Party Power. Fast Attacks charge a gauge that when used will double the damage of your next Charged Attack. This could make large raids with multiple Parties even easier, but it could also ensure smaller groups can tackle difficult raids as well.
It’s a bit difficult to test now, as the current major raid bosses all have a quad-weakness that make them easy enough for two people to take down, but my experience with the feature did make me suspect the bosses were even easier. I did try to duo one of the bosses to get a feel for it, and the double damage from the Party Power felt similar in damage to using Mega pokemon, except with spike damage rather than consistent, barely noticeable constant chip damage. In a big group, though, and despite having a full party, I was barely able to make use of it. I’m sure someone will figure out a good way to min-max which Fast Moves can help a group charge Party Power more quickly, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Now let’s go over where things unravel, starting with the fact that Party Play doesn’t interact with Niantic’s other “big” new feature this year, Routes*, which already prevent interaction with Niantic’s other feature released in July, Showcases.
I immediately noted how problematic Routes could and turned out to be as a concept, not even in terms of playing nicely with other Niantic features. There wasn’t even a need for a deep-dive article when Routes went live because everything we predicted came true, and then some. That isn’t to say that Routes are unusable, but they are best when you already know the area, have short lengths that are visible from the Routes screen (the preview screens are still non-functional as of this writing), and are built in low-traffic, self-contained areas like parks.
But that’s not exactly exploring, is it? Based on the “discover the world” heading on the announcement page, Niantic tried to make Routes seem like an exploration feature. However, given Dailies, Bonus Buddy hearts for completing them, Medals for repeat visits, and the rare Zygarde cells you have to watch your screen to obtain or risk losing them if you walk too far/complete the Route, I think it’s very apparent that Routes are farming content. The spirit of Exploration content is often at odds with farming content without proper design, and what Niantic has done with Routes is very much not what I look for in exploration content. Forcing people to watch their screen while “exploring” not only is at odds with exploration content as a concept but can be downright dangerous, especially if you’re in a new, unfamiliar area.
And for this reason, Routes 100% should at least allow for Parties, if not grant a bonus. I often do Routes before showing them to my friends to ensure that they’re safe or offer to go first since I keep my head up and attract the most wildlife. I help pull them off park paths if they get a neat spawn, or I remind them where to start or stop based on whether there’s a local Showcase to use that a Route may block. Considering that some Routes can direct players across/into busy streets while avoiding legal crosswalks or leading to people’s homes (in addition to breaking other systems), I say Niantic should at least give bonuses to help promote player safety and smarter group play.
We’re just getting started on intentional content, though. One thing that constantly feels like a threat to any new POGO content is multi-accounters. POGO works well because it can be such a background activity, or when active, is simple action based on pre-planning. However, those same feature means it’s easy to set up multiple accounts if you can afford it (or know certain workarounds), and not only does the company largely ignore it, they’ve promoted people performing or admitting to it in various official event pictures and even promo videos. Niantic simply doesn’t want to enforce its own TOS in certain areas, and multi-accounting is one of them (until someone also breaks another major rule hard enough, like in cases of harassment or spoofing).
This is even more relevant for Parties because it runs the risk of giving those multi-accounters even more benefits. For example, before Party Play, I’d wager most solo players didn’t hit the daily trade cap. Trading is a great way to turn useless pokemon into useful ones, which motivates a few of my friends to meet up more often than we had before playing this game together. However, many multi-accounters in my community often are in no hurry to meet up with me when we hit lucky friend status (meaning our next trade guarantees the pokemon will be at least 80% perfect), and it’s because they’re able to do special trades daily and trade en masse all by themselves.
Now imagine if Party Challenges gave good rewards, which – hah – they do not. On the one hand, that could motivate people to meet up and play together more, which from the April Remote Raid nerfs and string of missteps and lies following it seems to be what Niantic wants even at the cost of profits. But on the other hand, good rewards would only further the gap between honest players and cheaters.
Because of this, so far, Party Challenge rewards are paltry at best. I’m sure part of the reason they’ve been implemented is that future-release pokemon, Palafin, thematically benefits from the system, but otherwise, they’re currently a waste of both dev and player time. The concept isn’t terrible, especially with better-than-usual safety rails, but the bones don’t have the right muscles yet. Given the option between Party Play or simply walking a Route with friends, I’d advise most players to stick with the latter in the long run. At least Routes give you Zygarde cells, potential additional spawns, and a small bonus to buddy candy generation. The Buddy System is already bloated, so while I don’t want Niantic to shove another feature into its full gullet, the Route attachment to that system only reinforces why it’s harder to pick doing a Party over a Route if you have limited time.
But there are also unintended, undocumented bugs. Players noted that their entire saved Battle Parties and Pokemon search strings were deleted when they tried the new feature. While I’ve seen a claim that relogging fixes the problem, that didn’t work for at least one friend who was hit by the bug. While I’d say we’ve had worse, the fact that the feature’s saving grace, Party Power, means that many players probably first experienced the bug during the Raid Hour when smart players would be using their Battle Teams. That’s a real good way of earning player ire, which Niantic is far too adept at.
*11/13/2023 Update: Without warning, Parties and Routes are playing together. However, Niantic has made no formal announcement about this. While it would be nice if this is intentional, the lack of communication on previous good news in Niantic games, such as in Pikmin Bloom addressing some stalking-gameplay issues, makes it seem as though the company is embarrassed to admit when they actually listen to the feedback of critics. This is an improvement, but as noted below, the quest bloat combined with very poor rewards doesn’t make Parties any better overall. The ability to do Routes now simply makes them more tolerable.
Trying to get along
So how does the good mix with the bad? Truthfully, not well at all. Again, the system has good bones, but the meat’s all messed up. The bugs alone made it difficult for me to coax anyone to come out the first day, and one friend who helped me test it got hit with the Battle Party bug, slowing us down.
Learning the new features took time, but also recognizing the difficulty of some quests, like getting 20 excellent throws, also slowed us down because, honestly, we only wanted to power through easy content for the Special Research Eeveelution shirt rewards. It was quite obvious from those quests that this wasn’t a well-thought-out feature. The fact that we couldn’t do Routes as well further delayed even attempting the feature, which makes me think that casual players may also ignore Party Play when they have to choose between it and Routes.
In fact, what I’ve seen among my friends and one local group is low motivation combined with a “get through it” attitude via the special research granting the Eeveelution shirts. Aside from the raid buff, the upfront rewards turn players off immediately. As you can see above, the effort vs. rewards really don’t line up.
Piddling rewards for a relatively large pool of busywork at best (and potentially cash-costing quests at worst) can be downright insulting to any player who knows the game’s basics. Even thinking as a rural player, I can see rewards such as eight Pokeballs for 35 Nice Throws, 3 Razz Berries for spinning 20 stops, and 10 Mega Beedrill – which are free from spinning gyms – for two raids shouldn’t even be an option.
Yes, each party member adds to the quest’s completion, so the Win 3 Raids (not pictured) quest can be completed from one raid if you have enough people, but is easier to get done with more people – or at least more accounts. While many of the quests do require some active play, multi-accounters can simply restart the group until they get easy-to-solo quests to blast through the current content.
In short, Play Party in my experience is less about the actual feature than people wanting to complete the special research it’s associated with. Like “making friends” as a quest requirement and simply looking for warm bodies to tick off the quest progress, requiring other people does not make for socialization; it only makes for multiplayer.
Admittedly, Party Power’s damage boost in raids could help players in small communities. Even with just two people, the Party Power buff at least felt on a similar level to Megas, as we tested the first one without using a same-type one and had similar results. While that’s nice, it ignores so much of what Parties have been built with it almost seems as if Niantic should have just renamed them Z-moves and given them out to all players in a simplified manner. Or, you know, not nerf Remote Raid passes, which already did this, increased accessibility in the game, built global communities, helped prevent unsafe actions in pursuit of being exactly at a raid on time, and generated money for Niantic.
Being able to see where my friends in real-time is the small bonus I assumed it would be, even in some odd ways. While testing the feature, my character had some GPS drift, which helped me find a rare pokemon. However, I wasn’t quite sure where I was before I rubber-banded back to our location. A friend was quick and noted where my avatar had been, allowing my other party members to walk over and get that pokemon too. Granted, the new UI does block a fair amount of the screen, making scouting your surroundings even trickier than it currently is.
But as it stands, I truly believe that Party Play would have been better if launched just with the ability to see a few friends nearby and grant Party Power raid bonuses. The weird Route limitations hurt both systems and further reinforce the poor quality of Niantic’s feature releases and ability to support its own stated goals. The quests are a cute concept, but giving rewards only created a problem Niantic didn’t need in a TOS-sensitive context it often tries to ignore.
Worse, though, is that for all its faults, Routes seem more worthwhile than Party Play, outside of raids or completing specific quests that require the new feature. Once the current event quests have been completed, I fear that Party Play will mostly be used by friends doing raid nights together, if that. Here’s hoping that, like the Mega system, it gets a revamp or two.
— Den (@Dengarsw) October 30, 2023
10/30 Update: Niantic has changed and/or added several tasks that are more tedious than before, making the grind longer without any additional rewards from tasks or the Special Research involved in completing them. Combined with a previous “buff” announcement that disappeared (and didn’t address Routes being blocked in Parties), it seems as though Niantic is toying with the feature without understanding it.