Pokémon Go finally gets trainer battles in latest update

Since Pokémon Go was first announced in 2015 fans have been waiting to take on other trainers in head-to-head Pokémon battles. The announcement trailer promised such feats but, at the game’s launch, the closest budding trainers could come to battle was fending off rival teams at Pokémon gyms – hardly the tense battles fans had imagined.

That has finally all changed as today Pokémon Go developer Niantic has announced that Trainer Battles will be coming to Pokémon Go soon.

This new mode is designed to ape the classic battle mechanics of traditional Pokémon games without compromising on what makes Pokémon Go unmistakably unique to the franchise. It’s through these PvP battles that trainers can challenge others to head-to-head duels and prove their worth as trainers on an international stage.

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“The Trainer Battles feature infuses the spirit of Pokémon Go with the classic concept of battling Pokémon, creating an exciting competitive angle for Pokémon Go Battles that also feels familiar to Pokémon Go and main series fans alike,” said Matt Slemon, product manager for Pokémon Go at Niantic. “The upcoming launch of Trainer Battles marks the very beginning for what we envision for this new dynamic social feature which will grow and evolve over time with new gameplay mechanics.”

In Trainer Battles you can put together a party of three Pokémon and pit them against another trainer or Team Leader in real-time battles. Just as with traditional battles, the first person to have all their Pokémon knocked out loses. If the timer reaches zero before the battle is finished, the victor is the one with the most remaining health. It’s relatively straightforward and the idea to go for three Pokémon over the six found in traditional games is simply to speed up battles and make it all more accessible to an audience who may not have engaged with the original series.

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You’ll be able to participate in Trainer Battles either online with people you’ve already befriended or in the real-world through a new QR code-based Battle Code system. To allay fears around people walking up to strangers to battle them, and other general concerns that Pokémon Go has raised around player safety, users can’t see nearby players and go challenge them.

Yes, this does mean it’s perhaps not as authentic as the original Pokémon games in that regard, but those games also didn’t carry the threat of having your phone mugged from you.

Trainer Battles take four distinct forms, you can play against a Team Leader to help train you up and get some basic prizes or you can challenge others at three different league levels. Great and Ultra levels impose a CP level cap and Master Mode is open to absolutely any level of Pokémon. Niantic don’t see these leagues as skill indicators but simply different ways to play as each league has a set feel to it beyond simply who has the most powerful Pokémon. Win or lose, both participants will gain items and Stardust for battling and victors gain points to help them climb the ranks of trainers around the world.

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As part of Trainer Battles, every Pokémon in Pokémon Go also gains the ability to unlock a new Charge Attack for use in battle. Trainers can also tactically deploy a Protect Shield a handful of times in battle to shield against opponent’s Charge Attacks or attacks they feel could have a detrimental impact on their active Pokémon.

In actual play, these Trainer Battles are more involving than Pokémon Go’s Gym Battles. As you’re up against another opponent in real-time, you’ll find yourself thinking more tactically about when to deploy Charge Attacks, Protect Shields or simply switch your Pokémon out to gain a stat advantage over your opponent’s active Pokémon. In the build I played ahead of the new mode’s announcement it still had some teething issues regarding latency, but it’s a relatively slick experience and certainly not too complex for newcomers nor too simple for veteran Pokémon players.

If you’ve been wondering why it’s taken so long for Trainer Battles to arrive, it’s basically because Niantic wanted to make sure everything else was already in place. Without a friend’s system in place, trying to ensure battles worked would be almost impossible. Without a true, tight-knit community of Pokémon Go players available, community-run battle events just wouldn’t take off in the way Niantic want them to.

No final release date for Trainer Battles has been given just yet, but it’s expected to be the next major addition to Pokémon Go in a coming update.

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