Home » » The Combat System of Pokemon Go Needs a Serious Rework [Opinion]

The Combat System of Pokemon Go Needs a Serious Rework [Opinion]

Balance means multiple viable choices.

Thankfully, Fast Attacks are much more tightly bound in DPS now: the best DPS without STAB is now 13 instead of 20, and the worst is... still 7.5. Not great, but a step in the right direction.

But Charge Moves are still suffering from some major imbalance. A lot of them got buffs to make them actually useful, so now spamming Fast Attacks isn't the best strategy for all pokemon. But for some, it still is: anything with more than 3 charge bars tends to do less DPS than spamming a Fast Move. Even 3 charge bar moves can be iffy, depending on that pokemon's Fast Move options.

And Fast Moves can still be terrible, like Karate Chop, which doesn't even have Fury Cutter's amazing Energy generation to make up for its rock-bottom 7.5 DPS. Low Kick is equally bad, which makes Rock Smash the only non-terrible Fast Attack for Fighting pokemon... and the only Fighting Pokemon that learn it are Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan, who both have abysmally low CP scores.

In short, a lot of work remains to be done to make sure every move has its place, and no Type is way behind the others. The whole Type system is only interesting if there exist actual checks and counters to each: it doesn't matter if Electric Type is meant to be a check against Water Type if all Electric moves and pokemon are trash.

Speaking of which...

WHY did you make all Speed based pokemon trash?!

This is probably the most readily obvious and glaring issue with the battle side of the game right now: CP values are hugely imbalanced toward slow, bulky pokemon, because the Speed stat is highly undervalued compared to the others.

Look Niantic. Listen. We understand if you don't want to make the Speed stat what it should be in an actual real-time battling Pokemon game, something that helps pokemon dodge better or attack more often. We would love it if Speed lowered attack and dodge cooldowns, but if that's too complex and hard to balance, fine. We get it.

But what on earth made it okay to weigh Speed so low compared to other stats in the game? The way converting the Base Stat Totals from the main games into Pokemon Go stats work:
  • Stamina = HP x 2
  • Attack = Square Root of (Attack x Sp. Attack) + Sq. Root of (Speed)
  • Defense = Square Root of (Defense x Sp. Defense) + Sq. Root of (Speed)
There are some really obvious issues here to anyone that does some quick math: for one thing, pokemon that are much stronger in one of the two paired stats, like having 100 Attack and 50 Sp. Attack, end up with a lower Attack value than a pokemon with 75 Attack and 75 Special Attack. This difference grows bigger the larger the gap is, so pokemon which are highly specialized are much worse off than pokemon that are jack-of-all-trades. Hence why Arcanine has such a massive CP relative to its Base Stat Total, and Onix has such a ridiculously low CP even considering his low BST.
But now look at Speed. It's also getting the square root of it taken and applied to both Attack and Defense, but that's not actually fair, because Speed is one stat, not two. So what you end up with is actually less than half of Speed being applied to Attack and Defense, which means that Speed is by far the worst stat for a pokemon to have in Pokemon Go, as the evidence demonstrates when comparing pokemon. It also shows that HP is the most valuable, since it just gets a straight doubling.
The solution is fairly simple: stop multiplying and square-rooting, and just add up the Attack and Sp. Attack, or Defense and Sp. Defense.

And for Speed, do the same thing: just give 50% of it to Attack and Defense. Better yet, give 70% of it to the higher stat (usually Attack, on quick pokemon) and 30% of it to the lower one. That way Glass Cannons still have some unique identity instead of becoming mostly bland middle-of-the-roaders.

And under this system, HP being doubled would be much less of an issue, because the other stats would be much more valuable.

And hey, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Niantic already tried this much simpler system and it horribly broke the game. That's totally possible. But either way, the current system is pretty broken too, and needs to be updated somehow to make more pokemon viable.

Fun means multiple good choices.

Some think the opposite of fun is boring, but I'd say Boring is the middle part of a spectrum that ranges from Fun on the positive side to Frustrating on the negative side, and nothing is more frustrating in this game than saving up 400 magikarp candy, evolving a Gyarados, and getting Twister as its Charge.

Why does Twister even exist on any evolved pokemon, let alone Gyarados? It's a move with less DPS than even most Fast moves, and certainly less than both Bite and Dragon Breath, which are the two Gyarados can get. It's a move with 1/2 the DPS of the second most powerful Gyarados charge move, Dragon Pulse, and 1/3 the DPS of its most powerful, Hydro Pump.

Twister utterly cripples any Gyarados that has it, and completely by chance. Gyarados is the most frustrating example, but there are dozens of other frustrations too. Vaporeon with Water Pulse. Exeggutor with Seed Bomb. God forbid, Mewtwo with Shadowball, whenever it finally shows up. We'll weep for all of us that end up with one.

Things like this add nothing to the game but more frustration and a longer grind. Some people might say it's good that you have to evolve a pokemon over and over and over again for the best moveset, since there's nothing else to do in the game and it keeps everyone from easily having the best ones. But there are two objections to this:

1) For now it's not too hard for a dedicated player to grind out Vaporeon until you get a couple with the best moveset. But getting optimized pokemon is only going to become harder when new generations are released and the pool of pokemon is diluted, which will give older players a massive advantage over anyone who joins in the future, even above the level disparity. Think a Venusaur or Dragonite or Gyarados is hard to get now? Wait until there are 350 pokemon in the game taking up spawn points, let alone 750+.

2) The better solution is to have more effective move diversity.

Redundant moves need to go.

What does "more effective diversity" look like? Let's take Victreebel as a great example.

Both its Fast Moves have similar DPS: 11.9 and 12.9. The one with higher DPS is slightly slower, so since both generate the same Energy per hit, the higher DPS one generates less Energy. And that's great: that means the lower DPS option isn't strictly worse.

But there's one more important factor here: both moves are of different types. One is Poison and the other Grass, so if you want a Victreebel that does mostly Poison damage, you'd focus on that one, and if you want a Vaporeon slayer, you'd want the Grass one.

Charge Moves are similarly good: Sludge Bomb is the Poison move at 26.4 DPS and Solar Beam the Grass at 30.6. Solar Beam requires a full bar, while Sludge Bomb is split between 2 bars and has a faster animation. There's reason to be okay with either.

The only mar is with the third option, Leaf Blade, a much lower DPS Grass move than Solar Beam. What's worse, it's even lower DPS than Sludge Bomb, making it just a waste of a slot, and all Victreebel that have it immediately inferior.

But Victreebel's Charge Attack options are still much better designed than Vileplume's. One of them is Moonblast, which thanks to the lack of STAB, is highly inferior to its other two Charge moves, which have 5 and 10 more DPS than it. And those other two moves are both Grass, which means there's no Vileplume with a pure Poison focus. And since the other two moves are Grass, there's no reason NOT to go for the higher DPS one.

And lest you think having an option for a Fairy move is good...

STAB is too strong, or Type interactions are too weak.

In the core pokemon games, STAB is 1.5x the damage, while Super Effectiveness is 2x. This means that, if you have to choose between two similarly powerful moves, being strategic with your move choices and having more coverage to get a Super Effective attack in rather than just an attack that's the same type as your pokemon is a better option.

Not so in Pokemon Go, where you ALWAYS want to use a STAB move, since both STAB and SE attacks do 1.25x more damage.

So even if your STAB move isn't super effective against an enemy, it might as well be... it will get the SE bonus against every enemy that doesn't resist it, and double up on the 1.25x bonus against what is weak to it. It's like making Super Effectiveness the new default, then just losing it against certain types. Much less strategic gameplay needed.

And yes, there are situations where your STAB move will be resisted by the opponent while a Super Effective move might do more damage. But why would you pick a move for such edge cases? Gimping your pokemon against 95% of their matches by missing out on the STAB bonus (which will also have its own types to be super effective against) is a terrible tradeoff just for those few rare circumstances where the weaker move is about the same anyway.

Think of it this way. If you had:
  • Attack A with STAB
  • 1.56x against 3 types (STAB x Super Effective)
  • 1.25x against 12 types (STAB)
  • 1x against 3 types (STAB x Not Very Effective)
  • Attack B without STAB
  • 1.25x against 3 types (Super Effective)
  • 1x against 12 types
  • .8x against 3 types (Not Very Effective)
Why on earth would you ever choose Move B? You wouldn't. It's strictly inferior.

Not convinced? Still think there are some cases where STAB isn't the better choice?

Okay, so let's compare the worst offensive type (Bug) to the best offensive type (Ground) on a hypothetical Bug pokemon that has access to both types of moves.
  • Bug Attack with STAB
  • 1.56x against 3 types (STAB x Super Effective)
  • 1.25x against 8 types (STAB)
  • 1x against 7 types (STAB x Not Very Effective)
  • Ground Attack without STAB
  • 1.25x against 5 types (Super Effective)
  • 1x against 10 types
  • .8x against 3 types (Not Very Effective)
You still get the same amount of 1x and 1.25x attack, 15, and you get the 3 1.56x attacks against Psychic, Grass and Dark types (who aren't in the game yet, but eventually).

In Pokemon Go, STAB moves are always better than near-equivalent DPS non-STAB moves. Period.
And that greatly dilutes the value of the Type system.

My suggestion is to make Super Effective damage multiplier 1.5x, and Not Very Effective multiplier .67x. That way, STAB will usually still be a safer bet, but if you really want to specialize a pokemon against a specific Type, choosing a non-STAB move might be beneficial, like choosing a Venomoth with Psychic attacks specifically to kill Venusaurs.

In conclusion

Basically, there's still a long way for the combat in this game to go to be as fun and balanced as it can be. There are a dozen other examples We could give, and a dozen more suggestions for things that would improve the battle side of the game (let alone the catching side), but for now we'll leave it at this, and hope that another major patch by Niantic fixes at least some of these issues.