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Pokémon Go reinvents a classic Pokémon feature: Routes

Explore like a local

A man and woman walk along a route with Pokémon Zygarde, Pikachu, Charizard, and Leafeon through a park in artwork for Pokémon Go Image: Niantic/The Pokémon Company
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

A new feature for Pokémon Go rolls out Thursday, letting players create and explore custom Routes. Unlike in classic Pokémon games, the Routes feature in Pokémon Go will introduce in-game pathways that lead players from destination to destination with, hopefully, exciting encounters and intriguing sights along the way.

Routes in Pokémon Go are designed to be something like an in-game walking tour, connecting the game’s PokéStops and Gyms in creative ways to encourage players to get moving and to discover interesting landmarks.

Players will also be rewarded for walking the game’s Routes, Niantic said in a blog post, doling out extra XP, Buddy Candy, and other bonuses as they explore players’ creations.

In an interview, Pokémon Go senior producer Chad Jones told Polygon the goal with Routes is to give the game’s players a way to explore cities, towns, and parks like a local. Routes, Jones said, will let trainers “share knowledge that they have about the world to create the in-between spaces between the points of interest that we already have.” That means things like interesting hikes or “cool secret paths that people wouldn’t know unless they were a local — hidden gardens or art or things that they are just aware of that most people wouldn’t be,” Jones said. He likened the feature to other popular mapping apps, like AllTrails and Strava.

“In my neighborhood, we have a park where we have a back entrance that goes over a wooden footbridge, and is like objectively more enjoyable for humans, who are just walking around the world that Google [Maps] wouldn’t lead you to it because they don’t know about it — and it’s inefficient,” Jones explained. “You wouldn’t know about it unless you were there with a local. We’re hoping that trainers will have an experience that they get to be shown the world through the eyes of people that are locals.”

One can easily see other examples of useful Routes: historical walking tours, pub crawls, “raid trains” leading to Gyms where Pokémon Go players regularly raid together. Routes can be short (500 meters), or very long (up to 20 kilometers), and can also be just, well, interesting drawings on the map. Using Routes, players could draw a map that looks like Pikachu, for example. (Don’t draw inappropriate things, Niantic says; players’ Routes will go through a review, so your rude drawing probably won’t make it through anyway.)

Players will be able to create Routes in-game, simply by choosing a PokéStop or Gym as their starting point, hitting “record” to start mapping their Route, writing some info about the Route, and submitting it for review. If approved, other players will be able to see it in-game from the Nearby menu.

To entice players to walk Routes, players will get the following bonuses:

  • A new Route Badge by completing a Route
  • Earning Buddy Candy more quickly
  • More Pokémon attracted to Incense when exploring a Route for the first time
  • An XP bonus for the first Route completed each day (completing Routes for seven days in a row will offer an increased XP bonus)
  • A Buddy Heart when completing a Route while adventuring with your buddy

On Routes, players will also find a new item: Zygarde Cells. Pokémon Go is adding Zygarde, the “Order Pokémon,” as part of a new Special Research story called “From A to Zygarde.” While that Zygarde will be relatively weak upon catching it, it can be upgraded with Zygarde Cells (stored in a Zygarde Cube) to change Zygarde’s form. In its Complete Forme, Niantic says, Zygarde is powerful enough to overwhelm fellow Legendary Pokémon Xerneas or Yveltal.

Jones says Niantic expects Routes to benefit not just players in larger towns and cities, but those in more rural areas as well. “The rural communities are where we’re hoping it has the hugest impact,” he said, “because it’ll be a massive way for them to really get after it and start progressing the way that they would be able to if they lived in an urban area.”

Niantic itself has created a handful of Routes, but some Pokémon Go players using the company’s Wayfarer app have already started creating Routes ahead of the feature’s launch. It sounds like Route creation will roll out to players over time, and that Niantic has plans to evolve the feature with improved ratings and recommendations, perhaps even some kind of rewards for players who create well-liked Routes.

“We’re open to all sorts of different things,” Jones said, “with the intention that [Routes] becomes a nice addition to how trainers think about their normal play sessions.”

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