Pokemon Unite is a match made in heaven: the most successful franchise in the entire world coupled with the gold standard format for competitive gaming. This new MOBA from The Pokemon Company and Tencent brings the tenured series to a whole new world of competition, playing unlike anything with the Pokemon name on it. As such, those fans might have some questions about the fundamentals of Pokemon Unite, specifically ones like, “What the heck is this game?” and, “How does it work?” Fear not, loyal Pokemon trainer, as this is a handy guide that will give you the foundation you need to succeed on Aeos Island, whether it’s your first or 100th Unite match.
MOBA? What’s a MOBA?
First and foremost, let’s address the Phanpy in the room for longtime Pokemon fans: What is this “MOBA” you keep hearing about? MOBA stands for “multiplayer online battle arena,” a highly competitive multiplayer format featuring two teams of (typically) five in a giant arena. Battlefields usually include paths along the top, bottom, or middle called “lanes,” with areas between the lanes populated by monsters or, in this case, Wild Pokemon. League of Legends–the most popular MOBA game in the world–refers to these areas between the paths as “jungles,” but for Pokemon fans, an easy way to think of them is “wild areas” a la Sword and Shield.
A standard MOBA match’s objective is for one team to make its way across the map to the other team’s starting point, destroying checkpoints (or “towers”) in the lanes along the way to gain more access to the map. Eventually, the winning team will force its way into the opposing starting area, destroying a final tower (the “Nexus” in League of Legends terms) to claim victory.
The PokeMOBA Approach
So how does Pokemon Unite approach this MOBA format? While there is an arena with lanes and wild areas in between, the Pokemon Unite arenas are slightly different. First, there are only two lanes, top and bottom, with the entire section between the lanes a wild area populated by AI Pokemon. Second, instead of towers to be destroyed, lanes are dotted with goals in which Pokemon score points with Aeos Energy they’ve collected.
Goals can be destroyed through scoring points–more on the scoring format later–but unlike other MOBAs, victory is achieved by total points scored instead of objective destruction, so matches can technically be won without destroying a single goal. However, there is a good reason to destroy goals, as the area between two opposing goals is called a “Speed Flux Zone.” Any opponents caught in that zone will see their speed slowed until they make their way out of it, making them a prime target for attack while they’re in there. There are some MOBA tropes that aren’t included in Pokemon Unite, such as the lack of AI-controlled minions or “creep” and the removal of buying items mid-match. There are still items, but they are designated to be held by Pokemon before a match begins.
Understanding Pokemon Unite’sTypes
Let’s make one thing clear: This is a MOBA that features Pokemon; this is not a Pokemon game that’s also a MOBA. As such, there are a few conventions that Pokemon fans typically expect that don’t fully translate over. The most notable difference is Pokemon types. When a longtime trainer thinks about types, they typically think Fire, Grass, Water, etc. None of that applies in Pokemon Unite. Instead, Pokemon are split into one of five categories:
- All-Rounder (Charizard, Garchomp, Lucario, Machamp): Pokemon that are evenly skilled in attack and defense.
- Attacker (Alolan Ninetales, Cinderace, Cramorant, Gardevoir, Greninja, Pikachu, Venusaur): These Pokemon excel on offense, bringing the fight to the opposite team.
- Defender (Blastoise, Crustle, Slowbro, Snorlax): These Pokemon sport high defense stats and movesets focused on keeping enemies away from your goal.
- Speedster (Absol, Gengar, Talonflame, Zeraora): Speedsters play like assassins, quickly moving around the arena and strategically attacking.
- Support (Eldegoss, Mr. Mime, Wigglytuff): Supporters are focused on buffing and healing teammates to keep everyone alive and fighting.
Knowing the classes and how each Pokemon fits into that class makes a world of difference when first getting into Pokemon Unite. Knowing how they fit your personal style is paramount to victory, too; those familiar with Assassin classes in other MOBAs probably won’t fare well with Defenders here, for example.
Scoring Goals Is The Key To Victory
Victory in Pokemon Unite goes to the team that scores the most points in ten minutes, and thankfully scoring points is a simple, straightforward process. Players must use their Pokemon to collect energy from wild Pokemon in the arena, with each monster worth a certain amount of energy. Once the player has energy stored–up to a max of 50 energy points–they must head over to one of the opposing team’s goals and hold X to dispense them. The more energy the Pokemon is currently storing, the longer the player must hold X. When the meter fills, the Pokemon will throw the energy through the hoop, and points equal to the amount of energy held will be scored. Some goals limit how many points can be scored on them–80 to 100 are the usual limits–before they are disabled for the rest of the match.
There are ways to manipulate the goal in order to score points faster. If multiple Pokemon on the same team are standing in the same goal zone, the meter will fill faster while holding X. Defeating certain special wild Pokemon in the arena can render the goals “defenseless,” dramatically decreasing the amount of time needed to hold X in order to score. Conversely, there are ways the opposing team can hinder point-scoring, like interrupting the meter by attacking while the enemy is holding X and forcing the player to start again. Furthermore, goals will restore the HP of the Pokemon from that side of the arena, so if you’re approaching a goal and an opponent is standing in it, do not approach until it’s gone.
The best approach on how and when to score points depends on the type of Pokemon you’re using. Speedster Pokemon should focus on fast and frequent scoring, as their mobility gives them the ability to get in and out of opposing goal zones quickly. Defender and Supporter Pokemon, on the other hand, should only score when the opportunity presents itself. If the other team is crowding the top of the map, for example, a Defender or Supporter on the bottom has a chance to score with little resistance. These types will want to try and score eventually, though; getting knocked out with 50 energy could swing the momentum of a match to the enemy team.
Attacker and All-Rounder strategies fall somewhere between Speedster and Defender, depending on the flow of the game. These two types thrive when focused on wild Pokemon, but when the energy is filled, you’ll want to be close to a goal. However, if the team needs extra help defending a goal zone, both can step in and clean house. As long as you don’t get caught in a skirmish with low health and max energy, you’ll be golden.
Going Wild With Wild Pokemon
As mentioned above, multiple wild Pokemon appear throughout the arena, each holding energy that can be turned into points. Aipom, Combee, Vespiquen, Corphish, and Audino are a few examples of the familiar faces you’ll see when walking around the map. Attacking and defeating each Pokemon nets you energy, which eventually becomes points on the board once sent through the goal. A great strategy for defeating these Pokemon is the idea of “kiting” or luring the wild Pokemon to the edge of the area it defends, then attacking it as it walks back to its starting point.
A few wild Pokemon also hold special perks that are passed along when defeated, which could make a huge difference in the heat of battle. Let’s look at Remoat Island, the first arena you’ll play in Pokemon Unite and the arena with the standard 5v5 gameplay. Unique Pokemon on this map include:
- Bouffalant gives the Pokemon that defeats it an orange aura, which grants it the ability to slow down opposing Pokemon with every successful attack.
- Ludicolo gives the Pokemon that defeats it a purple aura, which powers up the Pokemon’s attacks when used against opponents with low health.
- Drednaw gives a temporary shield to the entire team of the Pokemon that takes it down.
- Rotom gives 20 points automatically to the team that defeats it. It then travels to the nearest goal of the opposing team. If Rotom makes it to a goal, it renders it defenseless for a short time.
The prime wild Pokemon targets are the Legendary Pokemon that appear in the Legendary Pit at the very center of the map. Remoat Island’s Legendary Pokemon is Zapdos, appearing only in the last two minutes of a match, and defeating it renders all opposing goals defenseless for 30 seconds. This advantage can turn the tide of battle in the late game, letting a team come from behind or increase its lead to unreachable lengths. However, do not try to take on a Zapdos alone; no matter what level you’re at, you’re going to have a bad time.
This leads to a very important tip before we move on: whether battling wild Pokemon or the opposing team, be mindful of your team’s goals and depend on them to restore health in a pinch. Retreating from a skirmish to heal and fight another day is far more advantageous than overdoing it, getting killed, and then having to wait the lengthy respawn time to get back into the fray. Your absence will leave your team in a huge disadvantage.
Gaining Experience And Leveling Up
You might have noticed that while you selected Charizard on the Pokemon select screen, when the match begins, you’re controlling Charmander. No, that’s not a mistake; along with energy, each Wild Pokemon on the field also gives experience when defeated. As a Pokemon gains experience, it gains access to more powerful moves–which we’ll get into shortly in the battle section–and access to more powerful forms. If a Pokemon evolves in the main Pokemon franchise, it can also evolve here.
Using the Charmander example, the fire dino will evolve into Charmeleon at level five and then to the big bad Charizard at level 9, gaining strength, defense, and HP accordingly. Pokemon with evolutions include:
- Alolan Ninetales (Alolan Vulpix, Alolan Ninetales at Lvl. 4)
- Blastoise (Squirtle, Wartortle at Lvl. 5, Blastoise at Lvl. 9)
- Charizard (Charmander, Charmeleon at Lvl. 5, Charizard at Lvl. 9)
- Cinderace (Scorbunny, Raboot at Lvl. 5, Cinderace at Lvl. 9)
- Crustle (Dwebble, Crustle at Lvl. 4)
- Eldegoss (Gossifleur, Eldegoss at Lvl. 4)
- Garchomp (Gible, Gabite at Lvl. 6, Garchomp at Lvl. 10)
- Gardevoir (Ralts, Kirlia at Lvl. 6, Gardevoir at Lvl. 10)
- Gengar (Gastly, Haunter at Lvl. 5, Gengar at Lvl. 9)
- Greninja (Froakie, Frogadier at Lvl. 5, Greninja at Lvl. 7)
- Machamp (Machop, Machoke at Lvl. 5, Machamp at Lvl. 9)
- Slowbro (Slowpoke, Slowbro at Lvl. 4)
- Talonflame (Fletchling, Fletchinder at Lvl. 5, Talonflame at Lvl. 9)
- Venusaur (Bulbasaur, Ivysaur at Lvl. 5, Venusaur at Lvl. 9)
- Wigglytuff (Jigglypuff, Wigglytuff at Lvl. 4)
Knowing when your chosen Pokemon evolves is just as important to your success as knowing its moveset. Speaking of which…
Learning Attack Strategies
Everything we’ve talked about so far centers around the battles your Pokemon will wage in Pokemon Unite, so let’s take a look at how you’re going to fight. Each Pokemon starts a match with a basic attack on the A button and two special moves on R and ZR. As the Pokemon gains experience and levels up, the special moves can be upgraded, first to a more powerful move and then to enhanced versions of that particular move. Special moves can be aimed by holding the attack button and using the right stick to aim, or they can attack the closest enemy just by pressing the button. Finally, there’s also the Unite Move at ZL, which unlocks at later experience levels and acts as the Pokemon’s “ultimate move.”
For an example of how a moveset shakes out, let’s take Slowbro:
- Slowbro’s basic move is a ranged water attack, with every third consecutive attack being a “boosted” version.. The boosted version damages the target and any Pokemon in the general vicinity, while also decreasing their Special Defense.
- Its R special move is Water Gun, which can be charged for more damage by holding down the button and slows down any enemy it hits. Cooldown is 5 seconds after use. At level 4, you can choose between two more powerful moves to replace Water Gun:
- Scald lays scorching hot water onto the ground for area-of-effect damage, while also lowering the speed and attack power of any enemies hit. Cooldown is also 5 seconds, and at level 11, the area of effect increases.
- Surf sends Slowbro charging forward on a giant wave that can throw an opponent backward. Two more waves follow Slowbro, dealing additional damage, but at level 11, those waves do more damage and can knock opponents into the air. Cooldown on this move is 9 seconds.
- Slowbro’s ZR special move is Slack Off, where it lays down and recovers HP. The longer Slowbro can stay motionless, the more health is recovered. Cooldown is 11 seconds after use. At level 6, you can choose to replace Slack Off just like Water Gun, only this time with two different moves:
- Amnesia restores some of Slowbro’s health, increases its defense, and makes it immune to status effects. It also powers up the next use of Scald or Surf, depending on which you chose. Cooldown is 12 seconds after use, and at level 13, the move also increases Special Attack.
- Telekinesis makes a Pokemon float in mid-air temporarily, rendering them unable to attack. It also has a 12-second cooldown, and at level 13, the move’s speed and range are increased.
- Slowbro’s Unite move (ZL) is Slowbeam, which targets a single Pokemon and locks them in place, siphoning health over a few seconds. Unite moves are only available when the Unite meter reaches 100%
- Finally, every Pokemon has a Passive Ability that is constantly active during a match. Slowbro’s is Oblivious, which makes damage it sustains gradual instead of instant. Also, any successful attack from Slowbro restores some gradual damage and lowers the opponent’s Special Defense.
Every Pokemon in the game has a moveset that works this way, with more powerful moves at later levels and players choosing which moves to learn. Once you’ve chosen your main Pokemon, take time to understand its moves and the effects they yield. Sticking with the Slowbro example, you could find yourself depending on recovering health with Slack Off, only to lose the health gain by selecting Telekinesis instead of Amnesia. The more knowledgeable you are, the more intentional you can be in the heat of battle, instead of wildly flailing your special attacks around.
Not all Pokemon are unlocked when the game begins, as you’ll need to obtain Unite Licenses in order to use them. You’ll receive a few from the jump, but eventually, you’ll need to visit the in-game shops to build not only your Pokemon collection but also items for battle and new outfits for your trainer. The game offers a robust shop menu with multiple currency options, some are earned in-game and one is a premium currency for purchase.
- The Unite Battle Committee is our first stop, and this is where you purchase new Unite Licenses in order to use new Pokemon. Two types of currency can be used to purchase Unite Licenses: Aeos Coins which are earned after every battle, and Aeos Gems, a premium currency sold separately.
- The Aeos Emporium is the place where trainer cosmetics can be purchased. Hats, clothes, shoes, you name it and you can purchase them for your trainer here. There are sets themed after Pokemon–the Snorlax set is particularly cool–or more original pieces if you prefer. The premium currency Aeos Gems can again be used here, but so too can a different in-game currency called Aeos Tickets.
- Zirco Trading is where you purchase cosmetics for your Pokémon, special skins that can be worn into battle. Examples include Cinderace in a pirate captain’s outfit and Talonflame in battle fatigues, among others. Once again, the premium Aeos Gems are accepted here, but another in-game currency called Holowear Tickets can also be found and used with no purchase necessary.
There are microtransactions in Pokemon Unite, focused on the purchase of Aeos Gems, as well as a Battle Pass with 90 levels of content to earn as you play. The Battle Pass can be bought with Aeos Gems and is not sold by itself for real-world money. Make sure to be careful on how you spend those earned Coins and Tickets, though, as the currency flow slows significantly if you progress through the game without spending real money.
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