Go Fest Worldwide

I've been playing Pokémon Go for a little while now (as has Alison) so when it was announced that a real-world event would finally be coming to London this year I was quite excited. Obviously, that event was promptly cancelled, but so were all of the other big PoGo events, and by this point, that's quite a few. Niantic, the company behind Pokémon Go, now runs at least three flagship "Go Fest" events a year, as well as a number of small "Safari Zone" events scattered all over the globe, so a worldwide pandemic has slightly hindered their plans too.

To be fair to Niantic, they've adapted extremely well. For a company that makes games with a focus on going outside and socialising, COVID is pretty much a worst-case scenario, yet they've consistently managed to release new features and gameplay tweaks that have kept their content engaging. Part of that has been trialling a whole new Go Fest experience: a worldwide weekend of in-game quests, challenges, bonuses, and rewards, all for a single one-off cost. Not only did they bring down the price compared to a normal Go Fest event but, unlike the real-world equivalents, the ticket gave you access to both days. It sounded like fun so I convinced Alison to do the unthinkable and spend money on a virtual event taking place in a videogame😂

Both days ran from 10am to 8pm local time, which felt a little long at times and yet too short at others, so was probably ideal. Saturday involved "global challenges" and a rotating biome in-game, so each hour a different set of Pokémon were available to catch and battle, whilst all players across the world attempted to progress a specific challenge. The challenges weren't particularly difficult, and sometimes were completed in the first 15 minutes, but being able to watch the loading bar go up did at least provide a sense of community. As for the biomes, they ended up featuring five sets so you had two chances to make use of them, which provided time to put the phone down and do something else for a bit. Unfortunately, I don't think they quite balanced them well enough; for us, the Fire biome was like mana from heaven, with multiple rare spawns and an American regional exclusive available in the UK for the first time ever. Both "fire hours" were hectic, whilst other biomes felt quite sedate or even boring. Whilst the UK is generally poor for fire types in the game, which likely heightened that biome for us, I saw a number of people from warmer climates saying similar: it was just a better spawn pool in general.

That said, the real drag on day one was the lack of Pokéballs. Whilst the initial quest landed us with 200 Great Balls and we're lucky to live next to a Pokéstop, we still ran out almost completely by the midway point. It was extremely frustrating having to spend several hours passing over rare spawns because you needed to save resources for the potentially even rarer shiny instances. Speaking of which, whilst I came away with a good number of shiny critters, the general reaction in online communities like the Silph Road was one of disappointment at the end of the first day. For many of us, this was the first major Go event we had been able to attend and we had heard all manner of tales of insane shiny rates, so going hours without even a hint of one left a lot of people frustrated. I'm glad they boosted the rates a little and I'm aware that increased shiny luck was never an advertised perk, but I also think that Niantic slightly dropped the ball here. Ultimately, without the social element and with a resource drought, shiny hunting was the major draw of the first day and players are now accustomed to the boosted Community Day rates, which I think should have been more closely matched. It's a fine balance, but just a little nudge up for incense (so that players who were able to go outside weren't given an advantage) I think would have silenced the criticism and made for a genuinely exciting eight hours, rather than an exciting four and frustrating four.

As for the second day, I actually really enjoyed it. Each player was given a solo quest line (all the same, but just completed individually) to undo a massive Team Rocket takeover. I'll admit to not particularly caring for the Team Rocket stuff in PoGo, but they balanced it neatly for the event. It has never been easier to find the bosses and defeating each one gave you a chance to catch coveted Shadow Legendary Pokémon (the three OG birds plus Mewtwo, a new release for the game in Shadow form), so the grind was more than worthwhile. What's more, those legendaries were all IV boosted, so they were pretty much guaranteed to be worthwhile regardless of your playstyle, on top of which defeating Giovanni led to an encounter with a new Mythical Pokémon, Victini.

Whilst all of that was going on, we also had boosted spawns featuring a number of the more interesting creatures from the previous day, including the new event shinies and regional exclusives, as well as some genuinely interesting raid bosses that had the local raid groups buzzing on chat constantly. It made for a more relaxed day in general, where we spent the first few hours focusing on the quests before idling away the afternoon shiny checking and hopping into raids (via the new remote friends feature). It was also a lot less demanding on items, so the Pokéball complaints from day one all but vanished. Honestly, I feel like day one should have included a little more solo quests to keep people interested, whilst also offering balls or other resources as rewards, and it would have been much better.

Overall, though, I thought the event went really well. I had a lot of fun and even managed to get out for a brief walk both days when the weather permitted, which felt great to be able to do again. It's not the cheapest (or most interesting) way to spend a weekend, but if they decide to do another global event I think I'd be quite tempted to pay the entry price, particularly if they announced some small QOL upgrades.

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