Happy birthday, Pokemon Go! The mobile Poke ball throwing phenomenon is almost a whole a year old - yep, it's near a whole 365 days since the madness that was a man living in a Pokemon gym and people driving into police cars - and Niantic is giving the game a massive upgrade to get ready for another year. I got hands on with the new build last week at E3 2017 and there's a hell of a lot to get through so without further ado, here's everything you need to know to get you ready to jump back in. Starting with...
Pokemon Go now has RAIDS
While Pokemon Gyms have always been there to get you working alongside your team mates, there's never been a way to truly all jump in together and play at once. Raid Battles change all that. Taking place at gyms, Raids mean up to 20 Pokemon trainers can battle simultaneously to take down a seriously high level Pokemon known as a Raid Boss. An egg on top of a gym with a countdown timer will tell you when a Raid is starting. All you have to do then is get to the gym, and hit 'start battle.' Your friends will then have 60 seconds to join you to tackle a high powered Pokemon. Everyone who attends the gym while the Raid Boss is there will have a chance to battle it but you'll want to make sure you're all in the same matchmaking room, otherwise it's going to be an exceptionally short fight.
I had a lot of fun playing last week in the sunshine. Everyone was silently tapping away and if you defeat the boss within five minutes, you get a chance to catch a far stronger than usual version of that Pokemon. It's also worth noting here that to get to fight, you need a Raid Pass which you can pick up for free each day just by visiting a gym. But what do you get for beating a Raid boss except a lot of respect for being able to tap and dodge for five minutes? Well...
Raid Bosses come with all new items
Fancy some new exclusive loot? Oh, go on then. Raid bosses come with their own items that you'll only get from Raids. Rare Candies can be used as a Candy for any of your Pokemon, Golden Razz Berries will increase your catching odds if you feed them to wild 'Mon and then there's two different types of Technical Machines on offer. A Fast Attack TM will let you permanently teach your Pokemon a new speedy attack while a Charged Attack TM will let you do the same with a charged version. You can also win a slew of regular items and even another Raid Pass so you don't have to go hunting for another freebie. But the presence of Raid Bosses isn't the only big changes to Gyms.
Pokemon Gyms have removed the Prestige system and there's only six Pokemon slots
Fed up of Gyms packed with high CP Dragonites and Snorlax? So is Niantic. Pokemon Gyms have fast become only occupied by those with extraordinarily high CP and exceptionally strong Pokemon. Well no more, the studio wants gyms to be for everyone again so has made some serious changes. The Prestige system has been removed entirely and you're only going to be able to have one of each Pokemon in there. No more seas of the same Pokemon to wade through before reaching the highest powered Snorlax and inevitably losing. Another big change is that there's only going to be six spaces, making things considerably faster moving. Don't like what's in there? Maybe give it ten minutes. And, if that all wasn't enough, you no longer battle the Pokemon in order of power but the order in which they were assigned to the gym. Everything looks nicer too. Click on the gym and you'll see everyone standing in there ready to fight like a real team.
The key to all of these changes is Motivation. No, don't worry, you don't have to think about inspirational calendars. Motivation is what fuels your Pokemon and will gradually deplete over time when you leave them in the gym. Return to the gym regularly and feed them some berries and you'll keep it topped up but abandon your Pokemon to fend for itself and its CP will temporarily decrease along with its motivation, making it even easier to beat in battles. A truly good trainer then would return to the teams gym and top up the six Pokemon in there with some Razz Berries or the new Golden Berries that'll fill up a motivation meter in one sweet tasting hit. This even makes gyms more interactive if you're passing by. See a Valour or Mystic gym in need of a hit but maybe don't have time for a battle? Pop in and give those tired little monsters something to eat.
And one more thing... well, two
As an extra bonus, Pokemon Gyms are now also Pokestops. You can now spin the logo at the top of the gym to pick up your daily loot. It has the same refresh rate as regular Pokestops so if you're Raid battling or just trying to defeat the Pokemon inside, you can keep stocked with all the useful potions etc.
Finally, GYM Badges. They're here. Win at a gym and you'll be given a badge to wear proudly - well, have in digital form inside an app - but that's not all. If you regularly battle or visit a particular gym, your badge will reflect that, levelling up as you continue to spin the disc for loot or win battles. Even giving berries to the gyms inhabitants can level up your badge. This feels far more interactive and genuinely celebrates you having your own local gym to play with and genuinely feel a part of.
It's all a huge step for the app. Pokemon Go has been consistently updated since launch but this feels like a seriously big leap for the app that's taken feedback into account and is truly taking things forward in a positive direction. The bad news is that all gyms are going to be temporarily disabled while the changes take place. Keep an eye on Niantic's Twitter for updates. See you at the gym...