Pokémon UNITE launched on the 21st of July 2021, as a cooperative project between The Pokémon Company and developer TiMi Studio Group.
When it launched it was celebrated as a fun and fast take on the typically slow MOBA genre, all the while allowing players to fight as some of their favourite Pokémon. With a roster of fan favourites and underdogs alike, it was a game that every Pokémon fan should at least try once just to experience the thrill of playing as Pikachu or Lucario, or to see these lovable creatures in a new style of game. It was an instant hit and people loved it.
A year on, and while it is undeniable to say that the hype has simmered a bit, Pokémon UNITE still has a dedicated fanbase and is still receiving content. We are on the 9th Season of UNITE now, with each 40-day season bringing new Pokémon, new Trainer outfits, new Holowear and new events for players to partake in. There have been adjustments and additions to the ranked league, new ways to play in Quick Battles and of course a whole suite of quality of life and balance patches. The game is even celebrating its first anniversary with celebratory events and campaigns, including free Pokémon Licenses and Holowear.
Now that it’s been a year, is it worth coming back to play Pokémon UNITE or is it worth picking up for the first time? Yes… to an extent.
Let’s talk about Pokémon UNITE and how much it has changed (or how little for that matter) over the past year.
Want more Pokémon content? Check out more on KeenGamer:
- Pokémon UNITE Season 9 Launch And Anniversary Information
- 5 Must-See Pokémon Unite Tips for Beginners
- Pokémon Unite Review: A Uniquely Fast-Paced Take on The MOBA Genre
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
The most substantial addition is that of more brand new playable Pokémon.
When the game launched, it had a roster of about 20 different Pokémon, all categorised into one of 5 types: Attackers, Defenders, Speedsters, All-Rounders and Supports. The Pokémon included ranged from the series mascot Pikachu, fan favourites Charizard and Lucario, newcomers like Eldegoss and Cramorant and strange choices like Crustle or Mr Mime. It was an interesting cast, one you wanted to play and see how their unique move sets and typing would translate to a MOBA setting.
A year on, that roster has grown to almost 40 Pokémon.
Throughout several seasons and events, UNITE has added:
- Attackers: Gardevoir, Slyveon, Decidueye, Duraldon, Espeon, Delphox and Glaceon.
- Defenders: Blastoise, Mamoswine, Greedent and Trevenant.
- All-Rounders: Tsareena, Dragonite, Aegislash and Azumarill.
- Supports: Blissey and Hoopa.
If you are wondering where the new Speedsters are… then you agree with the rest of the Pokémon UNITE community, as there has not been a single new Speedster added in the last year.
These new faces that have been added to the roster have all been a nice breath of fresh air, with more beloved Pokémon and seemingly random choices changing up the meta and player choices at the right times. The more Pokémon they add, the more likely they are to add your absolute favourite and there isn’t a feeling quite like being able to battle as your absolute favourite.
That being said, there is still an obvious bias. As previously stated, there hasn’t been a new Speedster at all and Supports have only gotten 2 new additions. Attackers rule the roost and they are still receiving new additions while other categories starve. If you were hoping for anything different, I’m sorry to break you from that disillusionment.
However, new Pokémon and new characters will never be a bad thing and they are added at a good enough frequency (about 2-3 a season) that there is always something new to play with. Hopefully one of these new things will be a Speedster sooner rather than later.
League of Legendaries
What about the actual game itself?
For better or for worse, the standard team battles system remains nearly identical to how it was a year ago. You still face the same wild Pokémon to get levels, you still fight Vespiqueen and a hive of Combee at select intervals in the match and you still rotate to Drednaw while the rest of your team tries to get Rotom. Perhaps most crucially, the game can still be decided by who manages to defeat Zapdos in the final 2 minutes, completely flipping the scoreboard either way.
As I said, it is effectively the same game when it comes to Unite Battles.
A new map or even just a cosmetic upgrade would have been nice, as would some new Pokémon to fight. Quick Battles do satiate this desire somewhat, with unique modes and Pokémon to battles such as in the Christmas or Halloween-themed Quick Battles, but seeing new Pokémon rotated in for Ludicolo or Zapdos would be refreshing. Ranked may be the cause of this, to keep the game focused purely on team play, but it is a tad disappointing to see how little has changed.
Speaking of Ranked, they have increased the incentives for players who want to engage with it. A year ago, you got the recognition of whatever rank you were on your Trainer Card and some Aeos Tickets… that was it. Now, each Ranked season has plenty of unique cosmetics and even some Holowear for different Pokémon. While nothing mind-blowing, it does work in being an appealing and enticing part of the Ranked game.
Quick Battles are doing much better as the source for more innovation in the live game. Game modes such as 3v3 are a fun and entertaining break from the lane-based gameplay of the main battles, while the seasonal events serve their purpose as enjoyable side activities that do not overstay their welcome. The newest Quick Battle mode, Boss Rush, even has us clamouring for more like it, with the game mode asking you to team up with 4 other Pokémon to defeat a series of tough enemy bosses. It’s not Final Fantasy XIV or anything, but the need to pay attention to stacking mechanics or places to hide has been a refreshing addition: it’s a shame it’s only here for 2 weekends across the entire 1st Anniversary.
All battle types give a respectable amount of Aeos Energy to fill up your tank, but the actual rewards that you can get from it are sparse, to say the least. They have actually doubled down on bland rewards with a new system they call Boost Emblems, which can be redeemed for the same Aeos Energy as fashion items and are pretty useless aside from wanting to collect them all.
Overall, it’s still just Pokémon UNITE. Unite Battles are what you are going to be engaging with most of all and while Quick Battles have been branching out more and more, not much progress has taken place in the main battle system.
If you found it fun before, it’ll still be fun now, if a little samey.
UNITE Used Thief!
One side of the game that you may be disappointed to hear has gotten arguably worse is monetisation.
Pokémon UNITE is a free-to-play game on all platforms and can very easily be enjoyed as a free-to-play game but over the last year, prices have slowly gone up and more expensive items have been cycled in. An outfit for Alolan Ninetails known as Sacred Style was the first ‘transformative’ skin to be sold for Gems as opposed to being earnable in the Battle Pass and it cost upwards of $25. Now there are a ton of these skins available for a wide selection of Pokémon, with some even having two or more.
These are just cosmetics, but it has created a situation where the free portion of earnable outfits, for both Trainers and Pokémon alike, has started to dwindle. The items available for purchase in the Fashion Ticket store haven’t been updated in several seasons and the Holowear Ticket store has been similarly abandoned, as have the rewards offered through Aeos Energy. All the while, new outfits continue to roll through the store at ludicrously high prices, and now even Trainer outfits such as the Tsareena outfit are being offered exclusively for Gems.
Monetisation is not bad inherently, but some may see UNITE’s implementation as greedy – especially when you can still use the paid currency to buy power-ups via Item Enhancers (which while rare, still can occur). Add onto that the 40-day Battle Passes and Event exclusive cosmetics, even a monthly subscription service in the Trainer Club Membership and Trainer Club Account, and you have a system that many would rather just choose to ignore.
Pokémon UNITE can be experienced to its fullest without paying anything – but it certainly does want you to spend, and that desire has increased over the last year.
Closing – Mobile, Quality of Life, Lack of Evolution
Several great quality life improvements have been made over Pokémon UNITE‘s lifespan, from menu changes to UI alterations and the inclusion of more tips and help bars. The most recent patch notes are even included upon sign-in when loading up a game fresh from download, which is really handy. Soon after its release, the game got support on mobile platforms, allowing even more people to play. Add on to that the numerous events and challenges which are constantly being cycled in and there is always something to do in Pokémon UNITE.
So is it worth playing one year on? Yes… and no.
If you enjoyed how Pokémon UNITE played at launch and just want to get that quick fix of MOBA energy or you just want to battle it out as your favourite Pokémon, there’s no better time to come back. 5 new Pokémon are going to be added from now until the end of September, including Buzzwole and Tyranitar, so there is an influx of new Pokémon coming all with their own unique move sets and playstyles to adjust to. If you want to jump into Ranked again, you’ll actually be rewarded with something significant and there are always Quick Battles if you want something new.
If you were hoping for a little more change, then I’m sorry to disappoint but Pokémon UNITE is practically the same as it was when it launched in July of last year. No significant alterations have been made to the maps, to the adds you fight, to the rules or anything about the typical Unite Battles – it’s still the same as it was. That’s a good thing if you enjoyed it, but for those who burnt out on it quickly, it can be a bit of a bummer. Add on to that the frustrating monetisation and there are just as many reasons to stay away as there are to return.
Pokémon UNITE is still a frantic, fun MOBA, but considering that it’s a staple of the Pokémon franchise, it’s a bit of a shame that the formula hasn’t gone through any kind of evolution.
Pokémon UNITE is available on Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android mobile devices for free.