So you want to get back into Pokémon GO?

19 min read
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Since Pokémon GO’s debut two years ago, it has undergone many, many changes, most of which have been diligently reported on by this site (okay, mainly by me). User numbers may have dropped, but Niantic Labs have continued to update and improve their game for the core group of loyal players that have stuck around (again, that would be me).

Obviously, with the announcement of Pokémon Let’s GO Pikachu / Let’s GO Eevee on Nintendo Switch having crossover support with Pokémon GO, there has been a resurgence in player numbers. But if you logged on for the first time in a year to be completely bewildered by what’s on your screen, don’t worry. Here’s a breakdown where we are currently and all the new features you’re going to see.

If you’re a first time Pokémon GO player, this guide should help you out as well, though Professor Willow does walk you through the basics when you start. If this all seems incredibly overwhelming, jump down to the comments and I will do my best to answer any questions you have!

Generations

We’re currently up to Generation 3 with the Pokémon we’re seeing in the wild, but thanks to some pretty obvious anniversary artwork (shared on Twitter by The Silph Road), we’ll be seeing Generation 4 very soon. They usually start to introduce new generations towards the end of the year, I’m guessing you’ll start to spot Pokémon originally discovered in the Sinnoh region sometime between October and December, though considering Gen 3’s release, it may be sooner.

If you’ve been religiously counting generations but are getting confused with some of the Gen 7 Pokémon you’ve started seeing, you’re not losing it. Niantic did skip ahead in generations with the introduction of some Pokémon from the Alola Region, though they are still slow to appear. Most of them are hatching from special eggs you get from gifts (more on that later).

Items

Depending on how long it’s been since you played, you might not recognise all the new items you can get. Here’s a quick list of what they are, what they do and how to get them:

Potions and Revives Obtained from PokéStops, Gym discs, Gifts, Research Tasks and the Store
Potion Heals Pokémon by 20 HP (unlocked from level 5)
Super Potion Heals Pokémon by 50 HP (unlocked from level 10)
Hyper Potion Heals Pokémon by 200 HP (unlocked from level 15)
Max Potion Heals Pokémon to full HP (unlocked from level 25)
Revive Revives Pokémon with half HP (unlocked from level 5)
Max Revive Revives Pokémon with full HP (unlocked from level 30)
Berries Obtained from PokéStops, Gym discs, Gifts, Research Tasks and the Store
Razz Berry Increases catch rate of wild Pokémon and Motivation for Pokémon defending gyms
(unlocked from level 8)
Nanab Berry Slows Pokémon movement to make them easier to catch
(unlocked from level 8 )
Pinap Berry Doubles the candy you receive for that catch
(unlocked from level 8)
Balls Obtained from PokéStops, Gym discs, Gifts, Research Tasks and the Store
Pokéball Used to catch wild Pokémon
Great ball Higher success rate of catching wild Pokémon
(unlocked from level 12)
Ultra ball Even higher success rate of catching wild Pokémon
(unlocked from level 20)
Evolution Items Obtained from PokéStops, Gym discs, Gifts, Research Tasks and the Store
Sun Stone Evolves Gloom to Bellossom
Evolves Sunkern to Sunflora
King’s Rock Evolves Poliwhirl to Politoad
Evolves Slowpoke to Slowking
Dragon Scale Evolves Seadra to Kingdra
Metal Coat Evolves Onix to Steelix
Evolves Scyther to Scizor
Upgrade Evolves Porygon to Porygon 2
Other Items Obtained from the Store
Star Piece Gives you 1.5 times stardust for 30 minutes (can also drop from PokéStops, though rarely)
Lucky Egg Gives you double XP for 30 minutes
Hint: activate one when you’re about to do a lot of evolving, especially if you’re going to be evolving Pokémon into new forms that aren’t registered yet. It’s a big XP boost.
Incense Increases the spawn rate around you for 30 minutes (only for you, and you need to be walking around)
Lures Increases the spawn rate around a PokéStop for 30 minutes (area effect, Pokémon will spawn for everyone)
Incubator Regular incubator for eggs. Good for three uses before it breaks
Super Incubator Hatches eggs 1.5 times faster than regular incubators. Also limited to three uses.
  Obtained from Raid Battles and Research Breakthroughs/Rewards
Golden Razz Berries Increases the catch rate of wild Pokémon the most and maximises a defending Pokémon’s motivation
Rare Candies Candies that can be used on any Pokémon
Fast TM Teaches the Pokémon a new, random fast move
Charged TM Teaches the Pokémon a new, random charged move
Obtained from Gym Photo Discs
Raid Pass Can be collected once per day, allows Trainer to participate in Raid Battles
Premium Raid Pass Extra raid passes to do more than one raid in a day (only available to purchase in the shop)

Buddies and Egg Hatching

Surely you were still around when they introduced the buddy system, right? I mean, that was early days! You didn’t quit before that, did you?

If you did, or if you haven’t played before, here’s the lowdown: choose one of your Pokémon as a buddy, and it will earn candies as you walk. Different Pokémon will earn candies at different rates, with the hardest to earn being a measly 1 candy for every 5km walked (I hate you Chansey. I hate your stupid face so much). That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Also, if you’re a first-time player, you also need to know about the Egg Hatching. You get Eggs from PokéStops and gifts. Stick them in an incubator and walk to hatch them. You get one incubator to start with, which is good for an infinite number of eggs (the rest you’ll have to buy).

2km (green) eggs will give you the common Pokémon, 5km (yellow) eggs will hatch into rarer (but still possible to get in the wild) Pokémon, and 10km eggs give you the very rare Pokémon. Special bright yellow 7km eggs come from gifts, and will only hatch Alola versions of Rattata, Meowth, Grimer, Sandshrew and Vulpix.

Shinies

Shiny Pokémon have been a thing for a while, but they’re becoming more common, though they’re still exceedingly rare. Like, ridiculously rare. Some players have had more luck with shinies than others, but your best bet to catch a shiny is when there is a special event or community day happening.

What’s the point of shinies? Well, honestly, they’re just cool to have, and their coolness factor is solely determined by how rare they are. In reality, it’s just another Pokédex entry. By the way, Shiny Pokémon are not to be confused with the sparkly, Lucky Pokémon, which have just arrived and can only come with trading.

Events

Niantic have been keeping up with user engagement thanks to more and more specialised events. We’ve recently had Adventure Week, the Easter Eggstravaganza, and the Water Festival. The Pokémon GO Summer Tour, featuring Safari Days in Germany and Japan, is currently ongoing, with worldwide events and bonuses changing regularly.

There’s almost always an event on, which keeps it interesting. Honestly, barring the daily streaks, I keep my Pokémon GO time to a minimum when there’s not an event, because even this hard-core fangirl admits that it gets a little bit samey after a while.

Community Days

Your best bet for catching a shiny in the wild, Community Days happen once per month, usually (though not always) on a Saturday or Sunday in the first weekend of the month. For a three hour window (generally 11am – 2pm SAST), there will be a higher than normal chance for a chosen Pokémon to appear.

So far, we’ve had Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Mareep, Charmander, Larvitar and Squirtle Community Days. Along with shiny versions, you’ll also get other bonuses, be it faster egg hatches, extra stardust or Squirtles with sunglasses. Lures always last for three hours during the event and the featured Pokémon you catch has a chance knowing a special move.

The next Community Day will feature Eevee, and is going to be spread over two days, Saturday 11 August and Sunday 12 August. Catch as many shiny Eevees as you can!

Gyms

One of the first big shakeups for Pokémon GO happened in June 2017, with the change in how Gyms work. If you’re used to the old system of prestige, training and collecting coins once a day, that’s all gone.

A Gym’s Photo Disc acts as a PokéStop, you can spin the Disc to get items. You get more items if your team controls that gym, and even more depending on how high your defender level is on that gym. Just be aware that, while spinning a disc contributes to your seven-day streak, you won’t get any Field Research tasks, you still need to hit up a PokéStop for that.

When it comes to defending a Gym, there are six Pokémon slots per Gym, and each Pokémon placed at the Gym has to be unique. The longer your Pokémon is there for, the higher your Defender level gets, but the lower their motivation goes. You can increase your defender level by giving the Pokémon at the gym Razz Berries to increase their motivation, which will also net you some Stardust for every Berry provided.

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When your Pokémon gets kicked out of the gym, you’ll receive up to 50 coins, depending on how long they have been defending that particular gym for. You can get a maximum of 50 coins per day, across all your Pokémon, which can lead to some particularly harsh moments of having six defenders return to you over the span of a day, with only 50 coins to show for it.

Raids

The same big update that shook up the gyms also brought in Raids. The first step towards making Pokémon GO truly cooperative, raids bring Trainers from all teams together to defeat stronger than normal Raid Bosses. Spin a Gym’s Photo Disc to get a free Raid Pass (one per day) to join in on the Raids.

You can tell a raid is going to happen when there is an egg above a Gym. A timer will show you how long you’ve got before the raid starts. A pink egg indicates a smaller raid (or as I like to call them, a baby raid), where your chances are good of defeating them on your own. A yellow egg is really tough to take out on your own, you’ll generally need a friend or two to help out. The purple-ish/blue eggs are the Legendaries and you have no chance in hell of defeating one of those on your own, get a group together for those.

 

Once the raid starts, the timer will show you how long it will be active for. Defeating the raid boss obviously comes with big rewards, including special items and an encounter with a lower level version of Pokémon you battled against.

Read the full rundown on the Gym and Raid changes here.

Weather

The Weather effects are another big update from 2017 came with the first wave of Generation 3 Pokémon. The in-game map now shows weather visuals, with the current weather affecting which Pokémon are more likely to spawn, and which are stronger when you’re battling in Gyms and during Raids. Catching Pokémon that have a Weather Boost will also net you more Stardust per catch.

Clear or sunny weather means Grass, Ground and Fire Pokémon are more likely to spawn, while partly cloudy gives you more Rock and Normal types. If it’s completely cloudy, you’ll see more Fairy, Fighting and Poison types, and the Electric and Water types like the rain. Ice and Steel types spawn during snow (which I’ve obviously never seen), fog brings out the Ghost and Dark types, and lastly you’ll see more Dragon, Psychic and Flying types when it’s windy.

Hint: Dark, Ghost and Poison types are more likely to spawn at night than during the day.

Research

The first of the big updates in 2018 brought Research Tasks to Pokémon GO. You get two types of Research Tasks, Field and Special, each with their own unique rewards.

Field Research tasks can be picked up at any PokéStop (note, not a Gym’s Photo Disc) and will ask you to do random things like catch specific types of Pokémon, or battle in Raids and Gyms. The rewards are also semi-random, from Stardust, Berries and Pokéballs to specific encounters. You can complete as many Field Research Tasks as you want in a day, but the first one will earn you a research stamp. After you’ve collected seven stamps, you’ll have a research breakthrough, which will give you special items and a special encounter, possibly with a Legendary.

Hint: you don’t need to get one stamp per day, they will accumulate so don’t worry if you miss completing a task.

These research breakthrough encounters have a flee rate of 0 (they won’t run away), so while I suggest you start the encounter when you’ve got enough Pokéballs and time, you are essentially guaranteed to catch the Pokémon you’re facing. If you’re attempting to land a trick shot, like the excellent curveball you need to throw for the Special Research task, this is a great time to practice.

The Special Research tasks are more of an ongoing quest. Currently, the only Special Research is called A Mythical Discovery, where Professor Willow will ask you to do specific things in order (one of these is evolving a Magikarp, just FYI, so stash those candies). There aren’t any stamps to be earned, but eight task sets that you’ll take on, only moving on with the steps once you’ve completed the previous set. At the end, you’ll get a super special encounter with a mythical Pokémon.

There is a promise of more Special Research Tasks to come, but for now, A Mythical Discovery is the only one available.

Hint: the Special Research Tasks come with big XP rewards, so claim them all when you have a Lucky Egg active for an extra XP boost. 

Friends, Trading and Gifting

The second big update to come to Pokémon GO in 2018 was the introduction of the Friends feature. Connect with real world buddies by sharing your unique Trainer Code and increase your friendship level with them over time by sending Gifts and Trading Pokémon.

Gifts are collected by spinning PokéStops or Gym Photo Discs. You can’t open a Gift you got, but you can send them to your friends (one per day to each trainer you are friends with). With the latest, Lucky Pokémon update (below), sending gifts will give you XP.

Hint: you can only get an Alola egg if you have an open egg slot at the time of opening the gift.

Trading Pokémon can only take place when two of you are within 100 metres of each other, and you are both level 10. Trades will cost you both Stardust, while Special Trades (of shiny or legendary Pokémon, or Pokémon not present in your Pokédex yet) can only take place once per day between Great or Best Friends, and need more Stardust than regular trades.

Hint: you can’t trade a Pokémon that’s you’ve marked as a favourite, so untag them first if you need to trade them.

Any trade will also give you bonus candy for the Pokémon you’ve traded away, with the number of candies increasing depending on how far away from each other the Pokémon being traded were caught.

Hint: if you’ve hatched eggs from gifts you received from international friends, trade those away with Pokémon that were locally caught. This guarantees a massive distance between the two for more candy.

Lucky Pokémon

The latest feature introduced to the game is the arrival of Lucky Pokémon, as a way of really punting the Trading feature.

Trade a Pokémon with your friend and they might become Lucky, so indicated by their sparkly background. Lucky Pokémon need less Stardust to power up, and the longer you’ve had a Pokémon before you trade it, the higher the chance of it becoming lucky when traded.

With this update, Gifts also have the chance of containing Stardust, and as mentioned, sending Gifts gives you XP.

Small Tweaks

Besides for the big updates, there have been numerous little tweaks in Pokémon GO that have improved the game, either by giving you something extra, or just making it more enjoyable to play.

The “Nearby” feature shows you which PokéStop you can find the Pokémon at, and you can click on them to help navigate to that PokéStop. You will still see some “Pokémon in the wild”, which you can’t navigate to, but this system is vastly improved from the previous “steps” mechanism.

To keep you playing every day (and trust me, it’s effective), you can earn XP bonuses for your first Catch and PokéStop of the day. The Catch bonus also gives you extra Stardust, while the PokéStop bonus gives you extra items. Keep this up for a week and on your seventh day, you’ll get even more.

Another way to get extra XP is by landing Nice, Great, Excellent and Curveball throws. Each Pokémon you catch will net you 100 XP, with Nice and Curveballs giving another 10, catching a Pokémon with your first throw or a Great throw gives you an extra 50, and Excellent throws adding an additional 100 XP to your catch.

Your Pokémon storage is much easier to work with now, not only can you order by name, Pokédex number, recently caught and more, you can also search. The searching isn’t just by the Pokémon’s name, you can also search for specific types, luckies, shinies and legendaries to see all the Pokémon that match that criteria that you currently have.

You can also mass select Pokémon for transferring to Professor Willow in return for candies, just press and hold a Pokémon to start multi-selecting them and you can transfer them in one go. This excludes special event Pokémon and any of them that you’ve favourited.

You can also use items like revives, potions, rare candies and Technical Machines directly on the Pokémon from the storage screen, instead of hunting through your items, then hunting through your storage again for the Pokémon you want to use it on.

Wrap Up

After the initial explosion and subsequent massive drop off, Niantic have done a lot to reward and incentivise players. If you’re thinking of getting back into Pokémon GO, or trying it out for the first time, I hope this guide has helped.

Last Updated: August 6, 2018

Tracy Benson

All about movies, board games, cider, sci-fi, fantasy and geek culture.

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