Can Niantic Take Back Its Biggest Mistake With Pokémon GO’s Legendaries?

We are now deep into the second month of Pokémon GO’s foray into Legendaries. After a month and a half of birds, we’re going to get at least three months of beasts ahead of us, in addition to Mewtwo when exclusive raids finally go live for everyone.

I’ve talked a lot about how I’m not terribly pleased with the current state of Pokémon GO, particularly due to how the game has been taken over by raids and Legendary raids in particular. But today I don’t want to talk about the concept of raids or the mechanics of the battle system or any of those issues. Rather, I think Niantic has made a mistake from the start in how they’ve handled Pokémon GO’s Legendaries.

There should never have been duplicates. You should not be able to amass enormous quantities of Legendaries through repeated raiding, which destroys both the concept of unique legendaries, and calls into question how any future battling activity in Pokémon GO is going to work going forward.

Legendaries, in the original handheld game, were truly one-of-a-kind Pokémon that were an enormous challenge to catch once, where you only had one real shot to do so most of the time, and once you had them, they were a prize you treasured indefinitely.

But Pokémon GO allowing frequent raiders to rack up, 2, 3, 6, 15 copies of the same Legendary totally negates that concept, and creates ludicrous collections like the ones you see above and below. Pokémon GO has never been fully on top of the proper way to handle rarity in the game, but now? The game is at a point where I can have 13 Articuno but zero Grimer. Something has gone wrong here.

It’s not just about the strangeness of these huge Legendary collections, however, it’s how this affects future content.

Many of the Legendaries in the game are among the strongest of their various types, if not the strongest outright. So what happens when Pokémon GO wants to make future modes involving assembling a Pokémon team to battle, and it has to deal with rosters stocked to the gills with nothing but the best Legendaries in the game?

This severely limits the future potential of many possible game modes. One fun thing that might be cool to add in GO is a gym battling system with NPCs who control type-specific gyms just like the original game. But how balanced is that when you’re fighting say, a water-type gym when you just throw six huge Zapdos at it? Or say Team Rocket invades or the Elite Four show up. What will stop a team of six Mewtwo? How do you balance anything when the upper tier of the playerbase now has 4-15 copies of the most powerful Pokémon in the game?

We’re already seeing hamfisted solutions, like banning Legendaries from holding gyms, but how much stuff can you ban them from before they’re rendered pointless? Granted, the game needs to get these other activities first, but the presence of a million copies of Legendaries does seem like it’s going to be a limiting factor going forward because of how this system was implemented.

Things didn’t have to be like this. The system I would have implemented is one that allows only one copy of a Legendary per account.

You battle and catch a Legendary in a raid. No small feat on its own for many players. It’s automatically a perfect 100 IV because well, it’s Legendary.

Now, in subsequent battles, you’re fighting for candy, as despite the high IV, the Legendary starts at a low CP. You can either walk a million miles to upgrade it that way, if you don’t want to keep raiding, or you can do more raids for the same Pokémon, and this time get a set candy amount if you beat/catch it again which you can then use to upgrade it.

This keep Legendaries rare and powerful, but rewards those putting in the game to raid a lot in order to make their singular Legendary stronger than others. Better to have one, super powerful Legendary after a ton of raiding than 20 copies of varying strength.

This, or something like it, would have solved a lot of issues with the current system. But now? I don’t know how you walk this back. You can’t just merge everyone’s Legendaries together, so this giant pile will stay, and everything will have to be balanced around it, whether that means more Legendary bans in future activities, or just…no future activities, and leaving essentially the end goal of Pokémon GO to just collect as many stacks of powerful Pokémon as you can, which is where we are now.

The decisions behind Legendaries and raids have taken us to a weird place. To me, it feels like the entire economy and stability of the game are starting to spiral out of control, but perhaps there’s a way to bring things back in line. But for now, I just don’t see it.