Useless since forever, the pricey power-ups finally see a much-needed overhaul
Mega Evolution has been a useless feature in Pokémon GO for a long time now, ever since it was first introduced to the game in August 2020. For a few reasons, Mega Evolving a Pokémon was just not rewarding or helpful enough for the effort. Even after improving the system multiple times in the months and years after debut, they’re somehow still terrible.
That is, until this past April, when Mega Evolution saw a major overhaul. With a brand new progression system and improvements across the board that integrate them into the game’s long-term flow, it’s an exciting change. I’m not about to say that Mega Evolutions are amazing yet, but right now, I’d give them a solid anticipatory “good”.
Just like the main games, Mega Evolutions in PGO are temporary power-ups that sit a level above traditional evolutions. Spending however much Mega Energy will boost a Pokémon’s strength and certain stats above their usual limits for a short time – like a Super Saiyan, basically. Pokémon get bigger, stronger and glowy-er than they already were. In some cases, Mega Evolution will even give them an entirely new type.
In-universe, Mega Evolution is a brutal and cruel bit of animal exploitation, forcing a Pokémon past their genetic endpoint into a new form whose sole purpose is power. It’s a fascinating, upsetting and bizarre explanation for a mechanic that has already faded out of the mainline games, replaced with the also-odd Gigantamax forms in Sword & Shield. Considering they were both just excuses to give new designs to fan-favourites, The Pokémon Company took the weirdest and most unsettling route to that particular destination, but at least it eventually found the right one with ever-charming Regional Forms.
Regardless, Pokémon GO is still years behind the rest of the series and only just rolling out Sun & Moon’s Generation VII roster, so Mega Evolutions are still the New Hotness. Since Gigantamax isn’t on the horizon yet and there are still Mega forms that aren’t available, Mega Evolution will be a big part of PGO for a while yet. Thankfully, a new update means that they won’t be so easy to ignore.
If none of that sounds impressive
Before the overhaul, Mega Evolution in PGO had a small, barely useful and entirely negligible role. It was also very expensive.
At its core, Mega Evolution was a raid feature for the most invested and active players. That doesn’t mean that it was just those players who used it, but the high barrier of entry and almost non-existent rewards meant that there was practically no incentive besides adding new entries to your Pokedex (since it has its own Mega section).
A Tier 5 raid (the highest difficulty available, at least before May) for a Mega-evolved Pokémon almost always took up a slot in every raid rotation, and defeating one would net you 60 or so Mega Energy for that specific Pokémon. You’ll get an opportunity to catch a high-stat version of the base non-Mega ‘mon, too, which also has a high chance to spawn as a shiny (like any other raid).
Collecting 200 Mega Energy will let you Mega Evolve whatever ‘mon that specific energy applies to. Once you do, the evolution will last eight hours before the Pokémon reverts back to its normal form. While it’s active, you’ll have a buffed-up Mega, a power bonus to other players of that Mega’s typing during a raid, and also earn a bonus Candy for every Pokémon of their typing you catch. (For those who don’t play PGO: you spend Candy to level-up individual Pokémon, usually earning 3 species-specific Candy per catch.) For example, a Mega Pidgeot will add a buff to any Flying and Normal ‘mon during a raid (as long as it hasn’t fainted) and add extra Candy to any Flying- or Normal-types you catch during those eight hours.
If none of that sounds impressive, you read correctly: megas were slightly helpful for raids and not much else.
A Pokémon did see some benefits after it had been Mega Evolved, though. They’d take less Mega Energy to evolve next time – 20, 40 or 60 Mega Energy down from the original 200 – and also gain more Mega Energy while you walk with them as a “buddy”, meaning you won’t have to complete more raids just to Mega Evolve again.
Megas were almost like nominating a “Hero Buddy”. They make certain raids slightly easier and net you slightly more Candy, then gradually “reload” Mega Energy while you walk around. It was also expensive and hardly worth the effort beyond adding a new Thing To Do in a game that thrives on routine and personal organisation; it’s only worth doing once you’ve properly run out of Things To Do.
At best, Mega Evolutions are legendary-tier Pokémon that need to be constantly refuelled with Mega Energy and are probably outclassed by actual legendaries that don’t need maintenance anyway. Before the overhaul, their mild usefulness was rarely worth the effort.
Suddenly good – or just better
But at the end of April, Megas suddenly became good – or at least much better. It’ll depend on the player. Personally, as someone who spends too much time playing PGO, I’m into it.
First, as long as it has been Mega Evolved previously, a ‘mon can now be evolved once a week for no Mega Energy. You can spend Mega Energy to evolve it again before the week is up and this price tag decreases the less time you have left to wait. For example, once it’s back to normal, my Abomasnow costs 40 Mega Energy to skip the seven-day “Rest Period” and evolve again; two days later and five days left, it costs me 26 Mega Energy instead.
Second, Pokémon now have Mega Levels. The first time a ‘mon Mega Evolves, this unlocks the Base Level and all the original Mega bonuses: boosted raid damage, a bonus to catch Candy while evolved and less Mega Energy to evolve again. This initial “unlock” cost has now changed for certain Pokémon as well, depending on the species: low-tier cost 100, mid-tier cost 200 and high-tier cost 300 (like the just-released Mega Latias and Mega Latios).
Mega Evolving six more times unlocks High Level. This means that the Pokémon’s Rest Period drops from seven to five days, you gain a small bonus to Catch XP, and you have an improved chance of earning Candy XL (a candy type that unlocks at Level 40 and lets you upgrade ‘mon beyond the default max level). Skipping the Rest Period costs less Mega Energy, too: 10, 20 or 30 Mega Energy depending on their tier.
Once a Pokémon has been evolved a total of 30 times, it reaches Max Level. This means a bigger Catch XP bonus, an “enhanced” Catch Candy bonus (adding two Candy per catch instead of just one), an even higher chance of Candy XL, a Rest Period of just three days, and a “massively reduced” price of 6, 11 or 16 Mega Energy to evolve again. At this level, Megas might as well be free buffs.
Lastly, raids for Mega-evolved Pokémon are now Tier 4 instead of Tier 5 (except for Mega-evolved legendary Pokémon, which are Tier 6). It’s a small change that doesn’t mean much, since you still need a decent-sized group to complete one, but it nevertheless lowers the barrier of entry further for more casual players.
For the average player
What this means for the average player is that they might actually care about Mega Evolutions for the first time ever, even if it’s just the freebie you’re given as part of the overhaul’s debut.
For those willing to dig in further, Mega Evolutions add another regular system to keep up with and keep track of, another avenue for progression and growth in a game that’s entirely reliant on such systems. New levelling tracks for each Mega-evolved Pokémon run parallel with the rest of the game and give bonuses for investing time into it: more candy, more XP, stronger and new(ish) Pokémon. More stuff to do, collect and be rewarded with – which sums up what most people would want out of a live service game, really.
These changes also means that the worst Mega Evolutions, like Steelix and Slowbro, become more useful to casual play for their lower price and new bonuses. Their only real use originally was to buff other players during a raid, but their reduced cost and new level-up bonuses at least gives them a minor role during events and everyday play. For example, the event currently running in PGO is centred around Flying types, so Mega Evolving a low-tier Pidgeot is basically free candy for eight hours and another notch towards its next Mega Level.
The overhaul also gives the Buddy system a larger role, which is still the only way to earn more Mega Energy besides raids. Instead of just a casual, passive way to earn more Candy for specific Pokémon as you walk (alongside their other small bonuses), players now have more incentive to juggle between, pay attention to and invest in buddy ‘mon.
Gathering more Mega Energy means being able to more quickly increase their Mega Levels, which means accessing their higher-tier bonuses sooner. This was already somewhat true since you could already earn Mega Energy with buddies, but the lowered cost of Mega Evolutions and Mega Levels mean that buddies are more immediately rewarding and worthwhile than they were before. Instead of stockpiling enough gas for the one time in three months it’s worth popping a specific Mega Evo, they can play a regular part of PGO.
Mega Evolution being more easily accessible means that the raid bonuses are more pervasive, too. When players are more likely to be juggling Mega pokemon, the average raid will be slightly easier due to the raid buffs, which makes raids more accessible as a whole – which, typing that out, is probably Niantic’s main goal with this update.
Unfortunately, the one proper downside of Mega Evolutions in PGO is still the case: specific Mega Energy you need for the initial “unlock” of a Mega form is still gated behind raid bosses that will eventually rotate out with no other way to earn that Mega Energy in the meantime. You can only earn specific Mega Energy while they are currently available as a raid boss; once they’re gone, you have to wait until either the raid is available again (months, years?) or you find another event-specific way to collect enough.
Of course, Niantic’s reason for developing and releasing Mega Evolution in the first place was to add more exclusive and/or useful Pokémon to the raid rotation, another way to push people towards raiding in general. Pushing players towards raids means encouraging them to join a local group or join groups remotely (through an online community or an app like PokeGenie) in the hope that the player will both play the game more often (which presumably means that Niantic gets more location data to sell) and maybe convince them to spend real-world money on extra Raid Passes or event tickets. Either way, Mega Evolutions are another way to hook people into the long-term cycle of the game and that part hasn’t changed.
With little purpose for anyone but the most hardcore of hardcore Pokémon GO players, Mega Evolution has suddenly become worth caring about. Maybe. It’s finally integrated into the larger experience in a way that’s worth paying attention to, like choosing a “hero buddy” whose benefits now spread beyond raids and throughout the rest of the game.
While developer Niantic continues to roll the game back to where it was pre-pandemic, largely to everyone’s detriment, Pokémon GO finally sees a major feature update that not only fixes a lingering problem but transforms it into an appreciated new spoke of its daily hamster wheel.