Whether you think people still play it or not, Pokémon Go has become one of the most recognizable and widely played games in the industry over the past 12 months. Niantic's app is coming up on its first anniversary, and it's implementing some major changes to celebrate. I not only had the chance to learn all about these changes, but also see them in action in a demo while at E3 last week.

Starting soon, Niantic will implement a fundamental reworking of its gyms system. Not only are Pokéstops being added to gyms to grant players items when they visit (which should also benefit rural players with few Pokéstops around them), but a new raids system and a complete restructuring of how gyms work is on the horizon.

Gyms will no longer level up the way they do now. Instead, each gym has six permanent slots for members of the controlling team to add in without needing to train up. When I tapped into the gym screen, all six Pokémon were displayed at once, giving me a much better idea of which creatures I'll be facing if I try and take the gym. Niantic is limiting each gym to one of each species, meaning you won't see any more annoyingly impenetrable Blissey gyms. In addition, you no longer battle the Pokémon from weakest to strongest; you instead take on the Pokémon that has been at the gym the longest first.

Also on the gym overview screen is a meter for each creature in the gym. This meter shows how much motivation each Pokémon has for battle. This meter will deplete when the Pokémon loses battles or even over the course of time. This means you can't just drop your super strong Dragonite in a gym and reap the benefits for months at a time. The stronger the Pokémon is, the faster its motivation drops. You can, however, replenish a Pokémon's motivation by visiting the gym and feeding them berries. You can either feed berries to your Pokémon or another Pokémon in a gym your team owns to keep it strong. You also receive Stardust in return for throwing berries their way.

A low motivation level hinders the effectiveness of the Pokémon in the gym, and when the level bottoms out, the Pokémon returns to its trainer. Only after a Pokémon leaves the gym does the trainer receive the Pokécoins from having a Pokémon in the gym, giving you reason to let your Pokémon leave a gym occasionally. Just like it is now, the longer your Pokémon is in the gym, the more rewards you receive.

Each gym now also gives you a badge when you take it. The more you play at that gym, the more you can level up that gym badge. When you have a higher-level badge for a particular gym, you receive more experience and items each time you visit.

Occasionally, an egg will show up on top of a gym. The egg features a countdown, showing when it will be ready to hatch. Once it hatches, a Raid Boss with a timer will appear. Before the timer expires, you can join up to 20 players to take down the extremely powerful Pokémon. However, you do need a Raid Pass to participate in the Raid. You earn at least one each day by visiting a gym and spinning the newly added photo disc, or you can also purchase them from the in-game store.

The first Raid Boss I faced with my team of five trainers was a Charizard featuring an astounding 13,955 CP. While that would be an impossible battle for my Tyranitar, we grouped up on it and took it down with relative ease. After defeating the Raid Boss, I was rewarded with a bunch of items, including new ones being introduced into Pokémon Go like Rare Candy (give it to a Pokémon you own to receive candy for them), Technical Machines (teach Pokémon moves), and Golden Razzberries (make it much easier to catch a wild Pokémon).

I was also given the opportunity to catch the powerful monster. Following the Raid battle, his CP dropped back down to earth; the Charizard was only about a 1,200 CP monster following the battle. Based on my performance in the raid, I'm given a set number of Premier Balls. I did a decent amount of damage to the Charizard, so I received ten Premier Balls to use in that encounter with the Charizard. You cannot use your standard Poké Balls during these encounters, so once you run out of Premier Balls, that's it. You can, however, use any berries you have in your inventory to either make catching the creature easier or earn additional candy from the capture.

The Raid Battle system was fun to take part in, and I'm glad Niantic is giving players more ways to capture rare Pokémon. In the short time I played the updated build of Pokémon Go, I saw Raids featuring Charizard, Snorlax, Ninetails, and Chansey. I know plenty of players who got sick of only catching Pokémon like Pidgey and Weedle, so this should give them added motivation to jump back in.

If you use the Raid functionality often, you can earn an invite to Exclusive Raids, which feature more powerful and rare creatures. Niantic hinted that this could be the way legendary creatures will be introduced into the game, but we will have to wait and see.

While no date is given for these changes, Niantic assures us the rollout of these features will begin soon. It sounds like the company has big plans for the first Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago on July 22, so I would expect that we'll see many of the features I saw implemented before then.

 

Our Take
I can't wait for these features to be implemented. I've been playing regularly since launch and I've begun to run out of things to do in the game outside of powering up all my creatures. My short time with the new build of the app has me super excited for the coming weeks.