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Pokemon Go adds battles that actually make sense

Gyms get a total overhaul, and boss battles (perhaps against legendary Pokemon?) are coming soon.

Niantic
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Six Pokemon per gym, guaranteed.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

It's been nearly a full year since Pokemon Go swept the world -- and yet, the game hasn't changed a whole lot since it first hit app stores in July 2016. Aside from adding a second batch of Pokemon, a few critical fixes and a handful of balance and user interface tweaks, it's the same monster-hunting, candy-grinding, egg-hatching experience as ever. 

Until today. 

On the outskirts of the 2017 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Pokemon Go developer Niantic showed journalists two huge updates that are coming to the game -- one of them starting today -- which promise to make Pokemon battles interesting again.

First: gym battles. 

Gyms get overhauled

With an update rolling out today in the US and soon around the world, Pokemon Go is taking a wrecking ball to the current gym system you know and (probably don't) love. 

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Now, KO'd Pokemon have less appetite for battle.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

No more will you have to hammer away at a gym's lifebar, repeatedly, in the foolish hope of lowering its prestige level enough to knock a single Pokemon off the totem pole. 

No more will you have to fight a series of increasingly tough Pokemon to claw your way up to the top. 

No longer will the game's elite players be able to drop six Dragonite on every gym in town, making you feel like a worthless peon.

Now, each gym will always have six slots available for your team to contribute Pokemon, you'll fight the one that's been there longest first, and players will have to come visit their Pokemon (and feed them berries) if they want to keep them in peak physical and mental form -- they'll each have a "Motivation" gauge, shaped like a heart, which empties over time. 

Some other notes: Stronger Pokemon will lose their motivation faster, so they'll need to be visited more often. There'll be a limit of one of any given Pokemon per gym: no more stacking. You'll earn unique badges from each Gym which you can level up from Bronze to Silver to Gold, and they give you bonus experience points for doing things there.

And when you feed your Pokemon treats at a gym, you'll earn stardust -- one of the game's most valuable resources.

Oh, and there'll be another new reason to visit gyms: Each will now double as a PokeStop, so you can spin its sign to collect some items as well -- a change Niantic says it made to bolster some areas that don't have enough PokeStops to ensure a steady supply of items.

Introducing boss battles

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Like a boss.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

"Gotta catch 'em all" is Pokemon's famous catchphrase, but it's never actually been possible in Pokemon Go -- from the very beginning, the rarest, most valuable legendary Pokemon have been entirely off-limits. 

That's not going to change tomorrow, but at E3 2017, Niantic gave us a sneak peek of the new boss battle mode -- dubbed Raid Battles -- where those Legendaries will eventually appear. 

It's fairly simple: When you see a countdown timer and giant egg appear above a gym, you and up to 19 of your friends can fight an incredibly powerful Pokemon with literally everything you've got, again and again (healing your Pokemon, if necessary) until a timer runs out. You'll need a Raid Pass, but you can get one per day just by touching any gym.

If you manage to defeat the boss, there'll be rewards -- including new Golden Razz Berries which make it easier to catch Pokemon, Rare Candy that can help evolve any Pokemon, and Technical Machines that'll allow players to swap out their Pokemon's attacks.

Plus, each participant will have a set number of chances to catch (a weakened version of) the powerful boss Pokemon with special new Poke Balls. I totally caught a Tyranitar in our demo.

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Even Pokemon gotta eat.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

Mind you, those boss Pokemon won't necessarily be legendary to start -- Niantic is reserving those ultimate Pokemon for exclusive, invite-only battles, and the developer won't say how we're supposed to obtain those invites. At E3, Niantic would only say that "trainers who battle regularly" are those who should expect to get the chance. 

"Our focus now is to get the regular raids out, and get our users in the habit," says Archit Bhargava, the game's marketing lead. 

Niantic says we won't see Raid Battles, period, until the new gyms have rolled out across the world.

In case you're wondering, the company's still being pretty tight-lipped about Pokemon Go's first official real-world event on July 22, despite the fact that tickets are going on sale in just a few hours. Bhargava couldn't explain why people should fly to Chicago to attend, beyond the obvious opportunity to hang out with lots of other Pokemon Go fans in a park.

The only real hint he'd provide: "There might be some stuff in the park that affects the world of Pokemon Go, or vice versa."

Correction, 9:02 a.m. PT: They'll be known as Raid Battles, not Great Battles. We regret the error.