In the first year of Pokémon GO, I would argue that there were three major additions to the game that improved it dramatically:
A fix for the tracking system so you could actually hunt down specific Pokémon after enduring months of a broken tracker near launch.
The introduction of the buddy system that allowed you to “train” one Pokémon by earning candy specifically for it through walking.
The raid system, which joined gyms as a battling experience, but one that was vastly more rewarding than anything else in the game.
Year two has not been…quite as productive so far. We have:
Weather effects, which are neat and do change gameplay quite a bit.
EX Raids which everyone hates and are the worst and should be banished from the game.
I think it’s time to add something major to Pokémon GO that it actually needs, something gamechanging that’s on the level of raids, in terms of opening up a new dimension for the game. Weather, as cool as it is, and EX raids, as cool as those are not, do not do that.
As my title suggests, for my money, it’s time for Niantic to introduce wild NPCs into the game. I have been beating this drum almost since launch, but nearly a year and a half later, it’s time for Niantic to actually get it together and bring in the main thing they’re missing from the handheld games, which is a litany of NPC trainers to fight.
My initial idea is for trainers to literally be just wild spawns, exactly like Pokémon spawn now. Instead of Pokémon spawning in the wild near you or near Pokestops, you would have an actual human character pop up instead.
These could be all manner of characters. Pokémon has given us hundreds of different types of NPCs throughout the years, so there are countless options to choose from.
You could divide them up to tiers. Level 1 trainers could be ones like “Poke Fan” or that one guy who really likes comfy shorts. Level 5 trainers could be Team Rocket henchmen, with more powerful Pokémon and better prizes for defeating them.
It wouldn’t work exactly like the games. These fights wouldn’t be unavoidable, as in you make eye contact and here comes Swimfan racing across the map to battle you. You’d have to tap them to choose to battle them, as battling is obviously something that consumes resources like potions and revives.
But the point is that it would be something to grind, more than just catching wild Pokémon or battling at static gyms or raids. It would also be a way to put that new pre-set team system to good use, as there would obvious be themes to rival trainers (water type trainers, electric type trainers, etc.)
Depending on the level of the trainer and the strength of their Pokémon, that would dictate what kind of prizes you get. Easy trainers might just give you a couple potions, balls and a tiny bit of stardust and XP. The hardest trainers might give you legitimately useful items like incubators or evolution stones or on rare occasions, maybe even one of their stronger Pokémon (yes, yes I know it doesn’t work like that in the handhelds).
The point is that GO needs an entirely new activity introduced in order to stay fresh. Simply dumping in the rest of Gen 3 and then Gen 4 later this year isn’t going to cut it. The game has improved by leaps and bounds when major additions to gameplay have been made, and NPCs are one of the largest obvious things the game has been missing since launch.
I have always wondered if this is a Pokémon Company problem, where the original creators of Pokémon might be banning the concept of fight-able NPCs because it would make GO too similar to the handhelds. But if that’s true, it’s time to let that go. Pokémon on Switch will be one of the bestselling games of all time no matter what, and GO has introduced Pokémon to more people than the handhelds ever did with 650+ million downloads. It’s time to give it all the leeway it wants.
Ideally, this addition would also come with a revamp to the battle system, as fighting NPCs with GO’s limited battling functionality is not ideal. I’m hoping a larger rework of the battle system is coming, complete with status effects and the like, but that’s probably a topic for another day. For now, I really just want to see NPCs finally make their way into the game at last.