Welcome Back: A Guide for Returning Players

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Article by David Teraoka

Three Part Guide


So, you joined the Pokemon GO craze in the summer of 2016, but you gave it up for one reason or another. Now you’ve downloaded the game again due to a windfall of new features or the release of Pokemon Let’s Go for the Nintendo Switch. Wow, everything looks so different! Where do you even start? Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out what you missed!


The biggest change to date is the addition of Raids to Pokemon GO. Raids offer the ability to battle powerful versions of Pokemon by yourself or with others. If you are able to defeat the Raid Boss, you will be rewarded with the chance to catch a level 20 (or 25 with weather boost) version of the boss. Many of the most useful Pokemon are obtainable this way, so Raids have become essential for team-building. Raids offer exclusive rewards and help to build local communities.

Legendary Pokemon

In July 2017, legendary Pokemon debuted in Pokemon GO as Tier 5 Raids. They are some of the toughest Raid Bosses in the game, requiring multiple trainers to defeat. Most legendary Pokemon up to this point have only been obtainable through raids, so get connected with your local community!

Generally, legendary Pokemon have been available for limited periods of time, between 2 to 4 weeks. Many of them have returned for a second wave months later. Many of the best Pokemon in the game, featured on our Attackers Tier List, are legendary, so take advantage of the limited opportunities to catch them.

Raid Rewards

Rewards for Raids vary by tier, with Tier 5 Raids giving a large amount of XP and items. Perhaps the most sought-after reward is Rare Candy, which can be used to power up or evolve any Pokemon. Raids also give TMs that can change a Pokemon's moves, special berries, revives, potions, and Stardust. Rewards are directly related to how much damage you and your team do as well as gym control. Players using optimal counters in small groups of color-based teams will get the most rewards.

EX Raids

Mewtwo is a very powerful Pokemon that once could only be obtained through an EX Raid. EX Raids are Tier 5 raids that happen at a set time, and only players who receive an invitation can participate. Only certain Gyms can host EX Raids; they are tagged in the top right corner when looking at the Photo Disc. Getting an EX Raid invitation involves completing a Raid at that eligible Gym, but there's more to it than just that. A returning player is best served following their local raid group’s methods to receive a pass.

Currently, Deoxys is the Pokemon exclusively available through EX Raids. 


To enhance the AR experience, Pokemon GO has incorporated local weather into the game! Your locale can display 1 of 7 kinds of weather, such as sunny or partly cloudy. It’s not always right, but it’s often pretty close to reality. It’s had a HUGE impact on the game. Each weather type corresponds to 2 or 3 Pokemon types, and those types get bonuses when the weather is active.

Pokemon of a particular type are more likely to spawn in their corresponding weather condition. These spawns tend to have higher IVs (minimum of 4 instead of 0) and also receive a 5-level boost. This means that you can catch wild Pokemon up to level 35! In addition to Raids, this is an essential catch-up mechanic for building powerful teams without having to spend any Stardust. Speaking of Stardust, weather-boosted wild Pokemon yield 1.25x Stardust when caught.

Moves of the right types get a 1.2x power multiplier in their corresponding weather condition. This can help make Raids easier, but watch out when you’re fighting a Raid Boss whose moves are boosted instead. Raid Bosses also get the 5-level boost in the right weather. On such a day, raiding boosted legendary Pokemon can be especially enticing.


Gyms underwent a complete renovation in June 2017. The system is very different from how it was before; the towers of 10 Dragonite or Blissey are no more. Under the new system, only 6 players can occupy a Gym, with all players required to place unique species. Players no longer “claim” Gyms for coins. Instead, you receive 1 coin for every 10 minutes your Pokemon was in the Gym, but not until your Pokemon is KO'd and returned (with a max of 50 coins per day).

Pokemon in Gyms no longer maintain their full power. Their CP degrades over time staying in a Gym due to losing "motivation," represented by a heart. You can restore the motivation of your or your teammates' Pokemon by feeding it a berry. You can even feed your Pokemon (and its companions) remotely!

Gyms now double as PokeStops. Compared to regular PokeStops, Gyms are more likely to drop potions and revives. When you interact with a Gym, the game awards a badge for that Gym. Gym badges have 4 levels: clear, bronze, silver, and gold. Ranking up a Gym badge nets you more items when you spin the Photo Disc.

The gym meta is not nearly as competitive as it was in 2016, but there are still reasons to battle:

  • The team that controls a gym during a raid gets +2 Premier Balls in the catch phase

  • Battling, occupying, berrying, and raiding at a Gym gives points towards its badge

  • Some research tasks reward trainers for winning Gym battles or using effective moves

Field Research

In March 2018, Field Research was added to the game in a welcome change embraced by casual and hardcore players alike. In addition to a storyline element (Special Research) which rewarded Mew, there are also regular tasks that you can do at your own pace with helpful rewards, which include various items, Stardust, and even Pokemon!

Once you have completed at least one task a day for 7 days, your receive a Research Breakthrough, which is an encounter with a legendary Pokemon in addition to other rewards. Field Research & Research Breakthrough rewards rotate monthly.

Tasks from Special or Field Research involve completing actions in game. Some might have you spin PokeStops. Others may require catching X number of a species or type of Pokemon. Once you complete the task, you can redeem it for rewards. Special Research tasks reward XP, stardust, and an item bundle. Field Research can be obtained from a PokeStop, and a player may work on up to 3 at a time. All players receive the same task and reward from an individual PokeStop, so work with your raid group to call out some of the more desirable tasks!

New Pokemon

New Generations

To date we have seen Generations 1 (Kanto), 2 (Johto), 3 (Hoenn), and Alolan Forms from Gen 7 released in Pokemon GO. Gen 4 is in the process of being released at the time of this article's publication. Pokemon from all four generations are available in the wild. Rare Pokemon are much harder to find in standard gameplay, but a combination of Raids, events, and Research has made them easier to get in general.

The introduction of hundreds of new Pokemon in conjunction with changes to the Gym and Raid systems created seismic shifts in the Pokemon GO metagame. If you're overwhelmed by all of these changes, or if you're unfamiliar with Pokemon beyond Gen 1, then you're in the right place.

Shiny Pokemon

Are you confused by the green Dragonite and black Charizard sitting in gyms? Niantic has trickled differently colored versions of some Pokemon into the game. These are known as shiny Pokemon. If you're focused solely on the combat aspect of the game, don't worry - shiny Pokemon offer no in-battle advantage. If you're more of a collector or completionist, shiny Pokemon are a dream (or nightmare).

Many shinies have been released initially during events, generally with no in-game or social media announcement. Pokemon featured in a Community Day (explained below) have to date always debuted their shiny forms during Community Day hours.

New Items

Many more items are available in game now. In addition, items are frequently bundled with other items in sale boxes that are offered for a limited time.

Exclusive Items

These items are only obtainable as Raid rewards and occasionally as Field Research rewards.

  • Rare Candy can be turned into candy for any Pokemon. These are essential for powering up Legendary Pokemon.

  • Fast & Charged TMs allow you to change the moves of a Pokemon. Remember when you evolved your Magikarp into a useless Twister Gyarados? Now there is an easy fix.

  • Golden Razz Berry increases catch rate more than a regular Razz Berry! They restore a Pokemon's motivation to full when used in a Gym. They are essential for Gym defense.

Premium Items

These items can only be obtained via the shop. Some are 1-time Special Research rewards.

  • A Star Piece multiplies Stardust gain by 1.5x for 30 minutes. They can be found in sale boxes and occasionally bundled in the store (400 coins for 8).

  • Super Incubators cut an Egg's hatch distance to 2/3 of its base distance. When available in the store they cost 200 coins, but they are cheaper in sale boxes.

  • Premium Raid Passes are needed if you want to do more than 1 Raid a day. They cost 100 coins apiece, but wait for a big sale before buying them in bulk.

Common Items

These items can be obtained by spinning PokeStops and Gyms and as Field Research rewards.

  • Pinap Berries double the amount of Candy you get from catching a Pokemon. Evolved forms now yield more Candy, so a Pinap Berry on a Machamp yields 20 Machop Candy.

  • Nanab Berries help keep a Pokemon still. They still may move or attack, but they are less likely to when fed. Overall, they are fairly useless and best fed to Gym defenders.

  • Evolution items are rare drops from PokeStop. These items are needed to evolve some Gen 2 Pokemon. Sinnoh Stones are used to evolve some Pokemon into their Gen 4 evolutions.

Events and Community Day

Niantic realizes a game full of birds and rats can get tedious, so they have offered much more frequent events. In fact, 2018 has had more event days than non-event days! These events usually last a week to 10 days and feature some type of Pokemon and bonus. For example, there was a battle event which featured increased Fighting-type spawns all over the world. In addition, actions involving gyms rewarded you more than usual.

Events are often tied to a holiday or time of the year. The Stardust and XP rewards can be significant enough to drastically alter your style of play, and Raid Bosses may change with events as well.

In 2018, Niantic also debuted a monthly Community Day. For 3 hours on a specific day (a Saturday or Sunday), a featured Pokemon will spawn with high frequency. That Pokemon will have a shiny form available, and the evolved version of the species will have a special limited edition move. Lures last 3 hours, and either Stardust or XP will be boosted.

The goal of Community Day is for players to gather in parks and play together, so see what your local Discord or Facebook group is doing!

Friendship, Trading, and Lucky Pokemon

Trading and Friendship were features introduced to the game in summer 2018. With these features, we are finally allowed to interact with other players directly!

In your account, you will notice a friends list once you reach level 10. You can find a 12-digit code that you can send to other trainers to add them to your list. Once they are your friend, you can check out their trainer profile, send them gifts, and level up friendship. Friendship grants bonuses like extra Premier Balls when raiding, a small damage increase, and decreased Stardust trading cost. 

Once you attain the first level of friendship with someone, you can trade Pokemon with them! All Pokemon traded get their IVs rerolled (higher friendship levels mean better chances at higher IVs), but retain their moves. Stardust cost depends on the Pokemon traded. The most expensive trades are Shiny Pokemon not in your Pokedex, which costs 1 million Stardust per player without discounts. 

If you have any Pokemon caught before August 2016, you can trade them to receive a Lucky Pokemon, which costs 50% less Stardust to power up and has at least 12 IVs in each stat. This only works if you have registered less than 10 Lucky Pokemon in your account. 

Full details for friendship and trading can be found here

Trainer Battles

In December 2018, Niantic introduced Trainer Battles to the game, allowing players to finally settle the matter of who is the very best. Pokemon battle in teams of three in three different "leagues", separated by CP. Great League is Pokemon under 1500 CP, Ultra League is under 2500 CP, and Master League is unlimited. You can complete a Trainer Battle with anyone close in proximity to you or from any distance if they're at Ultra or Best Friends level. 

You can earn rewards from Trainer Battles 4 times per day (once daily for battling the Team Leader AI, 3 times daily for regular Trainer Battles). For more information you can check out our Trainer Battle Guide and Battle Analysis.

Team GO Rocket Battles

In 2019, the Trainer Battle system was implemented into PvE with Team GO Rocket Battles, a way for trainers to take down and catch "Shadow Pokemon".

Shadow Pokemon are available to catch after going to fight a Team GO Rocket Grunt at a "corrupted" PokeStop. Team GO Rocket Grunts have powerful Pokemon and should be fought while utilizing Super Effective attacks and resistances. 

Shadow Pokemon automatically know the charged attack "Frustration", and when they are "Purified" that move turns into Return. Pokemon also get powered up when they are purified. 

You earn rewards from Team GO Rocket battles as well as a Mysterious Component. If you collect 6 of them you get a Rocket Radar that will let you find one of the Team GO Rocket leaders: Arlo, Cliff, or Sierra. Fighting them will grant the ability to catch an exclusive Shadow Pokemon, with a chance at it being shiny. 

Check out their guides below!

Other New Features

Daily Streaks

In Pokemon GO, you are rewarded for playing every day. The first Pokemon caught each day gives additional XP and Stardust, while the first PokeStop spun gives extra items and XP. The bonuses on the 7th consecutive day of play are much greater than the regular daily bonus.

As stated above, Field Research also yields Research Breakthroughs for completing a task daily over 7 days, although note that you don't need to maintain an unbroken streak for this.

Buddy System

You may choose a Pokemon to walk with you as your buddy. This Pokemon cannot be placed in Gyms, but it can battle in gyms and raids. A buddy Pokemon generates a Candy after walking a certain distance (1, 3, 5, or 20 km) that varies by species. The buddy system provides another way to get Candy, but this method is slow.

Buddying is required to evolve some species: Eevee to Espeon or Umbreon (without using the name trick), Feebas to Milotic, and Happiny to Chansey.

Mass Transfer

Mass transfer is a huge QOL improvement that flies under the radar for many returning players. It's never explained in-game and is therefore easy to miss. No longer do you have to go through 4 clicks to transfer each Pokemon; by tapping and holding a Pokemon in your inventory, you activate the mass transfer UI. Now you can transfer hundreds of Pokemon in a matter of minutes!

Don't worry about accidentally transferring your most prized possessions. Favorited Pokemon, legendary Pokemon, shiny Pokemon, and event costumes cannot be selected in the mass transfer UI. Make sure you favorite your high IV Pokemon to prevent them from being accidentally transferred.

Adventure Sync

Niantic has integrated Google Fit and Apple Health into the game to allow players to track their steps while their phone is in their pocket! To use this feature, you must install Google Fit or Apple Health onto your Pokemon GO-playing device. Your distance walked will be tracked for Egg hatching and buddy distance. There are also rewards granted weekly for walking 5, 25, and 50 km. Rewards include Poke Balls, Great Balls, Ultra Balls, Rare Candy, Stardust, and Eggs.

GO Snapshot

In early 2019, Niantic introduced a feature that allows players to take Augmented Reality pictures with any Pokemon you've captured! Simply tap the Camera in your bag, select a Pokemon, and you'll be able to place it on your screen so that it looks like it exists in the real world. You can use this feature even without AR+ on. Some Pokemon - usually event Pokemon - appear only after you take a picture in GO Snapshot.

Skirting the TOS

3rd Party Maps

Worldwide sites like PokeVision and FastPokeMap are long gone. Over time they were replaced by local maps, many of which required a paid subscription to access. Since a recent API update, large scale maps have been defunct for months, and there is no projected date of return.

IV Tools

Niantic has cracked down on sources that access the server directly to check IVs. Overlay apps, calculators, or even programs that calculate IV from a screenshot are fine. Sites that use your login information to check IV are not. Using these sites will likely lead to a shadow ban (inability to see some Pokemon on the map).


While Niantic has taken action and certain security changes have led to account bans and suspensions, spoofing still exists.

Multiple Accounts

A combination of raids and boredom has led to an increased amount of people playing on multiple devices. Some areas and playgroups look down on this, but in many other places it is a common style of play. GamePress doesn't encourage multiple accounts, but don't be surprised if this is a common sight.

A Better Niantic?

Niantic’s communication has improved tenfold. While not perfect, they clearly have made an effort to let players know what is going on. Changes to the game are announced in an in-game "News" section. Events and Raid Boss rotations have a set end and start time. When something is broken, there usually is a tweet about it. In addition, they are listening to the players. Many of the improvements listed above are things that players have asked for.

But there are still going to be “Niantic” type moments. The dodge glitch that existed when you first quit is still present, bugs during event switches are very common, and much is still unknown about the future of EX Raids. It’s so much better than it was, but they still have room to grow.


You have found your way back to a much more polished game than the one you left. Many new features have been added, and the social aspect of the game is better than it ever was. Enjoy playing again, and GamePress will be here for your questions!

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About the Author(s)

David Teraoka is the news editor for GamePress News. He has been a contributor, manager, and editor for GamePress since 2017. Vinyl collector and lover of all games. From HI.