You know those long corridors you get before a boss battle? There's one of those in my town leading up to a cemetery, and on a cold November evening it is lined by the silhouettes of trees, backlit by foggy full moon light. It's the third place I'd searched for Giovanni, leader of Team Rocket, and as I reach the cemetery gate and Giovanni finally appears, all sharp suit and no eyebrows, ready for battle, the setting feels like it's been designed perfectly.
It hasn't, of course. I'm just doing what I do most evenings - walking around for a bit playing Pokémon Go. But in the last week I've been outside more than usual in order to battle Team Rocket and complete the game's challenging new questline. It's the best PVE content in the game so far.
Last week, Pokémon Go's Looming in the Shadows quest introduced battles against Sierra, Cliff and Arlo, three shadowy leader figures who formed a layer of Team Rocket middle-management. Each was introduced as a rival to the game's existing team leaders, with backstory seeded via online blogs. And they were tough to beat - far tougher than the Team Rocket grunt battles which have been in the game a few months.
Until Team Rocket was introduced, there was very little in Pokémon Go you couldn't just throw a Tyranitar at and muddle through okay - especially when battling raids with a team of other players. The game's Team Rocket battles are solo affairs, however, and fill a gap where previously there was no challenge for high-end solo play.
For Team Rocket grunts, you get clues as to what type their Pokémon will likely be. So, just as in a gym in the main Pokémon games, you know to pack a team of Fire-type Pokémon to blow away Grass-type opponents. Defeat half a dozen of these foot soldiers and collect items from each and you'll reverse-engineer a radar that pinpoints Team Rocket leaders.
Leaders have more variety in their line-ups and are allowed to use the Shield mechanic players have access to. They're a pretty close approximation to a real PVP battle and, as I've written already, the initially-frustrating waiting period prescribed within this questline's first steps has proven useful as Pokémon Go's community slowly works out which Pokémon work best as counters to their teams.
Which brings me to last night, and to the gates of that cemetery. I'd spent the hour previous ticking off the final specific Leader I needed to find and beat to unlock a more powerful radar - one which would lead me to Giovanni. After a few days taking out Leaders, they fell pretty quickly. It was time for the big boss - except, of course, there was a wrinkle. Sometimes instead of pinpointing Giovanni, your souped-up radar can instead find a disguised Rocket grunt decoy. The first two potential Giovannis I'd found had turned out to be these.
Just as with raids, Pokémon Go's Team Rocket gameplay gets switched off at night, lending a daily rhythm to play (and ensuring kids who play actually go to bed). With 30 minutes to go before Team Rocket's 10pm curfew, I'd been tipped off by a fellow player there were two more Giovanni locations at the other end of town. Would he be in the same place for everyone? Even as I approached the end of the road, I wasn't sure.
Wow, beaten Giovanni for the first time since Red and Blue in Pokémon Go... That took some work! Some tough battles along the way and a fair few potions later... genuinely feels an accomplishment ? pic.twitter.com/fmwgDn3cix— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsEG) November 12, 2019
The battle itself was relatively straightforward - equal to the Leaders in terms of difficulty but easier to reverse engineer counters to since Giovanni has two fixed Pokémon: his loyal Persian up front and a Shadow Articuno, the questline's ultimate prize, at the rear. His middle Pokémon for me was a Rhydon, and it took a second go around to switch out my Melmetal middle man for a tanky Gyarados which flooded it away.
And then he was done! Defeated! Although of course this is Pokémon so rather than dealing any lasting damage, Giovanni and his team simply slunk back into the shadows. I was rewarded with a heap of much-needed healing items, an in-game achievement, and a further set of rewards from the game's ecstatic Professor Willow as the questline wrapped up. I spent my walk home comparing notes with the friend who'd tipped me off - both of us keen to do it all again.
Over the week since Looming in the Shadows launched it has done a huge amount for the game. It has provided the endgame PVE challenge Pokémon Go lacked, given players a reason to puzzle out and power up counters to Team Rocket leaders, granted new Shadow Pokémon to find, and doled out the biggest chunk of storyline the game has yet had - way, way more than a certain recent premium story event.
Giovanni will return every month via a fresh questline (December's task, A Challenging Development, has already been found in the code), presumably with another Shadow legendary Pokémon as a reward. Maybe next time he'll only be down the road. At the bus stop. Outside the pub. It won't feel quite as cool to beat him up again, but I'm looking forward to trying.