Written by Toralar | Edited by Denayed, Originally Posted August 30, 2021.
Pokemon Unite is the newest MOBA on the scene, and the first one set in the Pokemon universe. Developed by Game Freak for the Nintendo Switch, it launched on July 21, 2021 and introduced a new fast-paced playstyle to the MOBA genre. The normal 5v5 mode has a ten-minute timer, which is a stark departure from genre mainstays like Dota 2 and League of Legends. There’s even a quick match mode that’s only five minutes long! And, while the maps have lanes and jungle areas, the victory objective is significantly different from other MOBAs.
Most MOBAs are based around killing enemy champions and destroying towers or forts, with victory coming from destroying a central enemy structure. In Unite, however, a team wins by scoring the most points in the opposing team’s goal zones. These are the equivalent to towers in other games – with two in each lane – and can be destroyed by scoring a certain number of points, but they don’t attack enemy Pokemon. Instead, standing in an allied goal zone will give players a small shield and heal them at regular intervals. The final goal zone stands right next to the team spawn and is only accessible after at least one inner goal zone has been taken out. It can never be destroyed though, so it often turns into a hotly contested area in the late game.
There are also no minions dutifully trundling down the lane to their inevitable doom. They have been replaced by wild Pokemon scattered around the arena, waiting to be defeated by players from either team. Each wild ‘mon gives points based on how tough they are to defeat and there are different types that bestow buffs upon defeating them as well. Finally, three major wild Pokemon that serve as game-changing objectives spawn at set times and in specific areas of the map.
Rotom appears at the top of the map in between the first top lane goal zones. Once defeated, it moves toward the opposing team’s nearest goal zone. If it reaches its target, it scores twenty points and disables the goal zone defenses, allowing players to score instantly. Drednaw spawns in the bottom lane and gives every member of the team that takes it down a large shield and experience. Zapdos is the most important of the trio. It fills the role of Baron or Roshan, but it only appears in the last two minutes of the match. Once defeated, it gives a 2x bonus to points scored during the buff and disables the opposing team’s goal zones. It’s incredibly powerful, allowing for last-minute comebacks even for a team that’s behind by a hundred or two hundred points!
Items land somewhere in the middle between Heroes of the Storm and League or Dota. Instead of purchasing items in-game, each player chooses one active item and three passive items before match start. The active items give things like a short-range blink, temporary stat boosts, healing, etc., while the passive items give stat boosts and a passive effect. Each passive item starts at level one and can be upgraded to level thirty, with large power increases at levels ten, twenty, and thirty. It’s possible to buy the item upgrade materials with real-currency, allowing players that pay for it to greatly increase their item power and giving them a huge in-game advantage over players with lower-level items. Of course, the materials are also earnable without spending any real-world money, but it’s a much slower process to get every item to the maximum level.
When it comes to the roster, there is a decent amount of variety; Game Freak included some classics like Pikachu, Venusaur, and Charizard, as well as some newer ‘mons like Cramorant and Cinderace. The number of Pokemon to choose from is still limited, though. At the moment there are only 22 total, divided up among five classes: Attacker, Speedster, Defender, All-Rounder, and Supporter.
As is key to any good MOBA, they all have unique kits. Each Pokemon gets an effect that applies on every third auto-attack, a passive, two basic abilities, and an ultimate ability. Players can also choose between one of two evolutions for each basic ability. These are often very different and can significantly change the playstyle of the Pokemon. It’s a straightforward and enjoyable system that allows for players to switch it up depending on what the enemy team looks like.
And for the fashion-conscious, Unite has plenty of cosmetic items. There are skins for the Pokemon, with choices like Beach Venusaur, Magician Mr. Mime, Fashionable Absol, and more. But there are also clothing items for the trainer. Everyone gets a customizable trainer avatar and there are lots of cosmetics that you can mix and match in order to make a unique and recognizable trainer. Although the trainer model doesn’t show up in matches, it does appear on the main menu, in group lobbies, and on the player cards when loading into games, so it’s a fun way to show off your personal style.
Although Pokemon Unite does have its flaws, it’s nothing that the developers can’t fix with some work and player feedback. If you’re looking for a fast-paced game where you can nuke an entire team with Pikachu or smash an enemy Pokemon’s face in with Machamp, this is the game for you. Ultimately, it’s a great addition to the genre and a good entry point for Pokemon fans that have never played any of the other popular MOBA games.