The summer of 2016 was a strange time to be outdoors. Every public space was jam-packed with people playing Pokémon Go. After the initial hype died down, Niantic continued adding new features, and the experience is very different today. With many of us at home and looking for ways to pass the time, there's an understandable desire to return to the familiar. However, it can be daunting to get back into Pokémon Go after four years of changes. There are tons more Pokémon, a completely revamped gym system, and even remote raids. Here's what returning Pokémon Go players can expect in 2020.

Catching and evolving pokemon

Pokémon Go launched in 2016 with the original 151 mons, but not all of those were even available at first. Now, there are hundreds of Pokémon from the first five generations in the game, although the core games are now up to generation eight with Sword and Shield. Still, you can catch fan favorites like Chimchar, Lucario, and Snivy in Pokémon Go now. Even if all you want to do is catch 'em all, there's plenty more content to enjoy.

Some of the most sought after Pokémon will be tough to find in the game as it currently exists. Niantic added special evolution items several years ago, which you can get from Poké Stops and completing quests (more on that later). For some evolutions, you need to collect enough candy and an item like a sun stone or metal coat. You'll also come across more types of berries in your loot these days. A Golden Razz Berry, for example, will make it much easier to catch a Pokémon compared to regular Razz Berries. The Silver Pinap Berry makes Pokémon a bit easier to catch and boosts your candy reward for doing so.

You probably won't be able to catch everything on your own, but your friends can help fill out your Dex. Yes, you can have friends in the game, and your in-game friendship level will increase the more you interact. You can trade special gift boxes with friends (usually a few berries or Poké Balls), and if they're nearby, you can trade Pokémon. It costs stardust and candy to trade, but a high friendship level lowers that cost and improves the stats of the traded Pokémon.

There's also more emphasis on the stats of your Pokémon. You can have your Team leader evaluate each of your monsters, which tells you if they have the potential to be a champion (a Pokémon's IV). This feature used to give you vague verbal hints about the stats, but now you get a little three-bar meter that lays it all out.

Battles and gyms

Gyms were available in Pokémon Go at launch, but the way you interact with them has changed a great deal. One of the things that made the game feel like a dead end in the early days was that heavy players would level up heir mons and stick them in gyms, leaving casual players with no hope of unseating them. Now, Pokémon in gyms slowly lose power over time, but you can boost them back up by feeding them berries. Regardless, it gives less experienced players a chance to take over gyms.

The first major addition to Pokémon Go after launch was the raid system. These special battles take place at gyms, giving you a chance to defeat and capture powerful Pokémon. Raids take place at various times throughout the day—the map shows an egg atop gyms with a countdown when raids are about to happen. When raids are active, the giant Pokémon will appear at the top of the gym, suspending all the regular gym battles. You can battle in raids alone or with other players in the same area. The battles are still very, very simple with only minor changes since launch. You tap and you swipe. That's it.

Battles with other players are slightly different than raids and gym battles. You can challenge your friends to battles, but there's also an online battle league now. In these battles, you get a team of three Pokémon and two single-use shields to block charged attacks. Attacking builds up your charge attack, but to use that attack, you need to swipe across a series of icons that fly around the screen. The more you hit, the stronger your attack will be. This adds just a hint of skill to the battles in Pokémon Go. Working your way up the battle league ranks is also a good way to unlock special Pokémon encounters and items.

Community, exploration, and coronavirus changes

Niantic has added several big features over the years to make the game a bit more engaging. One of the earliest was quests. These usually consist of using a certain number of berries when capturing Pokémon or catching specific types of Pokémon. When you complete quests, you'll usually get rare items or Pokémon encounters. There are also field research tasks available from Poké Stops. These simpler to-dos can unlock a "breakthrough" after you've completed tasks on seven different days. Again, you get rare items and a cool Pokémon encounter. Some of those Poké Stops will also be under the control of Team Rocket, allowing you to battle them and capture their Pokémon.

Walking was a way to hatch eggs even in the early days of Pokémon Go, but now you can walk with a Pokémon buddy. Your buddy finds candy as you walk, and the game plugs into fitness tracking platforms like Google Fit to track steps even when the app isn't open. This is a great way to get candy to power-up rare Pokémon. You can even bond with your buddy to unlock special abilities like higher catch rates and a combat boost. You have to earn hearts by interacting with your buddy, so this is a take on the friendship system in the core games.

For the last several years, Niantic has also run a monthly "Community Day" event. During these limited-time events, a specific Pokémon appears more frequently. If you evolve the Pokémon to its final form during the event, you get a special move, too. Niantic suspended Community Day in March because of the coronavirus. Community Day is back today (April 25th), though. At 11AM until 5PM local time, you'll be able to catch Abra at a higher rate. To compensate for the pandemic, incense will last the full duration of the event so you can catch at home to maintain the quarantine. However, the game's special ticket events are still postponed.

Pokémon Go has always been a social game that encourages you to get out of the house. Of course, that's not the best idea right now. So, Niantic has started making some changes that help you play the game even in quarantine. For one, you can spend a single Poké Coin to get bundles of Poké Balls and Great Balls. That should help you keep catching even without walking around to Poké Stops. You can also pay a single coin for 30 incenses, which will lure in pokemon for an hour instead of 30 minutes. Niantic has kindly restocked these special purchases several times, too. Niantic says Pokémon spawns are higher in general now, which should help you hunt for mons from your couch.

Raids usually require you to congregate near gyms, which is impractical in midst of a pandemic. Niantic has a solution (sort of) in the form of remote raid passes. Remote raid passes will allow you to access a raid from the comfort of home, but they won't be free. The developer plans to charge 100 Poké Coins for a remote pass—that's the equivalent of $1 for a single raid. Your monsters won't even do full damage if there are non-remote players in the raid. It's better than not being able to raid at all, but hopefully Niantic hands out some free or almost-free passes.

Pokémon Go is available in the Play Store below, but we also have it on APK Mirror.

Pokémon GO
Pokémon GO
Developer: Niantic, Inc.
Price: Free+