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4:40 AMPokémon GO types rant
I want to start by saying that I do enjoy the game overall. The data usage is basically negligible as long as you get game updates through wifi. It helps motivate me to do some of the exercising and exploring I ought to be doing anyway, and honestly enjoy doing anyway once I actually start moving instead of making excuses. There's just something about seeing these creatures from my childhood coming to life... more or less, anyway. And it's free to play!
That said, it definitely has its problems. There's no interaction between players except indirectly through king-of-the-hill-style fighting over gym locations. Status ailments don't exist. Monster spawns are often poorly distributed outside of urban areas. Eevees show up constantly instead of being rare enough that you can only get a single one in many of the games. A number of special monsters remain completely unavailable so far (though maybe that's better than if everyone were overusing them). The app chews through battery charge like no one's business. The interface's responsiveness always seems to stutter at the worst possible times. I've recently been having an annoying problem where all the nearby monsters sometimes vanish for a few seconds before coming back, sometimes several times in a row. Stability remains an issue months after the initial release, especially in the busier areas that would otherwise be the best places to play. The positioning sometimes gets so flaky that it thinks I'm driving too fast even when I'm on foot, or not moving at all. And let's not forget the cheaters.
None of those are my main gripe, though.
Pokémon makes extensive use of a fairly complicated elemental rock-paper-scissors system. Picking the right matchup gives a substantial advantage, while picking the wrong one does the opposite. This, along with the 150+ monsters and the gotta catch'em all slogan, is what the game has always been known for, and it makes up the heart of the battle system. Even the anime references this constantly, though Ash's Pikachu in particular sometimes defies it when the plot says so.
To explain the mechanics in a little more detail, let's pretend for simplicity's sake that all the monsters have the same stats and that all attacks have the same power, so that if both monsters have neutral matchups against each other, they both inflict 100 damage per attack. Striking a weakness doubles that, so if one does that while the other doesn't, that's a 200/100 ratio. Resistances halve damage, so if the attacker with an advantage also has a resistance to the other one's attacks, that's 200/50, for a net 4x difference in damage output. There's also a mechanic called the same-type attack bonus (STAB) that adds an extra 50% damage when the user's type matches the attack's type, so that would be a 150/100 ratio if one has it and the other doesn't in an otherwise-neutral matchup, or 300/50 (6x difference!) when the one with STAB also has an offensive and defensive advantage. Even when the opponent gets STAB too, that's still 300/75, for a 4x difference.
Just to pile it on, monsters can have two types, combining the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Now, if one type resists what the other type is weak against, those cancel out and it takes the same damage as in a neutral matchup, and if both types resist the same thing, the monster only takes a quarter of the usual damage. But if both types have the same weakness, that means quadruple damage. A Tangela (Grass type, resistant to Ground) using Grass moves against a Rhyhorn (Rock/Ground, both types weak against Grass) that for some reason insists on using Ground moves, with our all-base-damage-is-100 assumption, is looking at a 600/75 advantage (since they both get STAB). That's 8 times the damage of the opponent. That should mean an easy win, even if the Tangela is significantly weaker than the Rhyhorn.
From this, I think it's safe to make these statements about the game mechanics:
But that's in the core games. Pokémon GO works very differently, and not just because the battles are real-time instead of turn-based.
The battle system in Pokémon GO substantially dumbs down the type system. A weakness means only 25% extra damage (instead of 100%), while a resistance gives only 20% reduction (instead of 50%). That's better than nothing, of course, but the effects are small enough that it's not too hard to make up for a disadvantage with better stats. The ideal matchup for single-type monsters without STAB goes from 200/50 to 125/80, or a 1.56x net damage advantage instead of the 4x in the core games. STAB counts for a 25% bonus, so it's also nerfed, but not by nearly as much. STAB on one side gives a 125/100 ratio in an otherwise neutral matchup, or 156/80 when combined with weakness and resistance, still only a 1.95x damage advantage instead of the 6x we're used to. Even hitting dual-type monsters where it hurts isn't especially impressive. The same Tangela and Rhyhorn example as above ends up with a 195/100 ratio—no better than an optimal matchup against a single-type monster, thanks to the Rhyhorn's STAB effectively canceling out its disadvantage of a doubled weakness.
So, in Pokémon GO:
That turns the whole concept upside down. The core idea of effective Pokémon battling is supposed to be building up a varied team and shuffling them around to suit what you're facing. But in Pokémon GO? Just get a few good attackers, and a few blobs of health for holding gyms, and you can almost ignore the type system entirely. Any monster that doesn't make it into the higher stat tiers barely matters at all. The underemphasis on the type system even makes some entire types effectively obsolete, since monsters of other types with worse matchups can make up for it and then some with raw stats. Take the Grass type, for instance. It should be the best choice against both Water and Ground, thanks to having both offensive and defensive advantages against both, but in practice, a good Electric monster does better against Water, and a good Water type does better against Ground, despite lacking appropriate resistance, since even the strongest Grass types just don't have as much in the way of raw stats as fairly common higher-end Electric and Water monsters. They can't balance things out by inflicting any of the status ailments they often could in the core games, either, since Pokémon GO doesn't implement those at all.
On the one hand, I kind of understand dumbing down types a bit, since the game gives you less control over your monsters' moves and less flexibility to pick what they do in combat. It's not very informative when it comes to helping you figure out which types work best, either. On the other hand, though, I can't help but think they took it too far. Maybe something more like +50% / -33%, leaving STAB at +25% where it is, might work as a decent compromise, and make my poor Venusaurs, Victreebels, Vileplumes (and one Bellossom) feel useful again.
But that's not even the part that bothers me the most.
In the core series, some defender types are flat-out immune to certain attack types. In Gen 1 alone, Normal and Fighting moves pass right through Ghost monsters, Ghost attacks can't touch Normal types either, Ground attacks can't reach Flying monsters, and Electric attacks won't conduct through Ground types. Later generations add to that a Steel type that's impervious to Poison attacks, a Dark type that blocks out Psychic moves, and a Fairy type that... scares off Dragon moves, I guess? Pokémon GO takes those deliberate and meaningful aspects of the type matchup system, shrugs indifferently, and treats them all like simple resistances. Not that the balance was ever perfect, but that's easily enough to throw it off completely, especially since monsters with immunities often have lower overall stats to even things out a bit. Dugtrio, for example, is honestly kind of pathetic for an evolved form, but between ignoring Electric attacks and inflicting triple damage thanks to weakness and STAB, it can still wreck a Pikachu's day. With a heavily nerfed damage bonus and no immunity, though, the only thing it's good for in Pokémon GO is filling in a space in the Pokedex. Similarly, all those underpowered Murkrow I keep struggling to catch exist almost entirely to give Psychic types a hard time, but they're virtually useless in Pokémon GO except to build up your catch count for Dark.
Let's use an Espeon (Psychic) vs. Umbreon (Dark) battle as a specific example. In the core series, the Espeon's best moves won't work thanks to the Umbreon's immunity, so it had better hope it at least has a non-Psychic attack to work with. The Umbreon, on the other hand, will have no trouble beating up on the Espeon's weakness to Dark attacks. The best case for the Espeon, then, is 100% damage (unless it's lucky enough to have Dazzling Gleam from a TM, and even then, that's still only 200% since it's not getting STAB), against the Umbreon's 300%. Realistically, the Umbreon will win that fight without even trying.
In Pokémon GO, though, that's not how things work. Espeon can only get Psychic moves, while Umbreon can only get Dark moves, so weakness, resistance-that-should-be-immunity, and STAB all automatically come into play. But since Pokémon GO eviscerated the relevance of types, the Umbreon can only inflict 156% damage to the Espeon's full 100%. The Umbreon still has the upper hand, yes, but it's not such a sure thing, and nowhere near the curbstomp it was meant to be.
It gets worse, though. Since Pokémon can have two types, some will have one type with an immunity and one without it. Immune is immune, though, whether the other type has resistance, weakness, or neither. At least, that's how it goes when the game respects immunities. But Pokémon GO doesn't. So when an immunity and a weakness collide, they just cancel out. Let me repeat that. A monster that is supposed to take no damage whatsoever from an attack will take just as much damage as a monster that has no resistance whatsoever to it. I can't make any excuses for that. It's just bad.
This wasn't as obvious before the Gen 2 rollout. With just Gen 1 monsters, the only attack type affected this way was Ground, and the only defenders affected were Zubat and Golbat (Poison/Flying), Moltres (Fire/Flying), Zapdos (Electric/Flying), and Charizard (Fire/Flying). The bats are too weak to realistically bother with anyway, and the legendary birds aren't available even now, so unless you're a big fan of Charizard, you probably never even noticed.
But Gen 2 more than doubles the list. Crobat (another Poison/Flying), Skarmory (Steel/Flying), and Ho-Oh (another Fire/Flying unobtainable legendary) all have the same weak/immune combination against Ground attacks. Girafirag, one of the oddball creatures that doesn't evolve, is Normal/Psychic, leaving it with the same problem against Ghost attacks, even though the immunity is the entire point of pairing Normal with Psychic (its only other effect is canceling out the usual Psychic resistance to Fighting). Gligar has an improbable Ground/Flying type combination, which ought to leave it immune to both Ground and Electric, but instead it takes full damage from Electric moves and only gets a small reduction against Ground.
And then we have Wooper and Quagsire, an family sporting a Water/Ground type combination. They look obviously watery, so I kind of get the impression they're meant to bait you into trying to electrocute them, only to find your moves have no effect while their Ground attacks wreck your poor monster. If nothing else, it at least should make no sense to use anything but Grass attacks against them thanks to that juicy 4x weakness. But not in Pokémon GO! Electric won't work quite as well as Grass, sure, but it gets the job done just fine. It shouldn't.
That's a problem. Again, given the differences in gameplay from the core games, I can understand not wanting to negate damage entirely. But immunity can't be treated as no better than resistance, and it can't be allowed to disappear just because the monster's second type has a weakness that ought to be ignored in this situation.
Maybe the gym overhaul that's reportedly in the works will change things.
(cross-posted to http://kwhazit.blogspot.com)
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