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Ingress Prime: Niantic invites a fresh look at a hidden world

Before finding worldwide success with Pokemon Go, Niantic was pioneering augmented reality gaming with Ingress. Now with the release of Ingress Prime, the studio has applied the lessons learned from Pokemon Go to its original franchise. The rebooted Ingress has been overhauled to welcome new players into its sci-fi universe and worldwide factional battles. Here's what you should know before jumping in.

Wait, what's this all about?

Ingress Prime is a sequel to/reboot of Ingress, the original AR game based on Google Maps, developed back when Niantic was still under the Mountain View umbrella. The pioneering game had players exploring their surroundings to 'capture' locations for one of two different factions. These locations were placed around real-life points of interests (artworks, landmarks etc.) which encouraged gamers to get out and about and engage with the real world around them.

Watch the trailer for Ingress Prime below:

While Ingress' competition for real-world territory built up a cult following around the globe, with over 2,000 in-game events being held, 5 million+ unique locations, plenty of real-life community meetups and spontaneous player-organized events, what really put Niantic on the map (ahem) was Pokémon GO.

The combination of Ingress' innovative concept plus a well-known nostalgic IP was a winner. A similar team-up is in the works with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. But if you really want to know how Niantic is building on Pokémon GO and what it has in store for the future, then it's time to get into Ingress Prime.

There's never been a better time to start

In a roundtable discussion with Niantic engineers and marketers, the company explained how Ingress Prime plans to capture the imaginations of gamers around the globe and keep them moving. Key to this will be the ability to recruit new players: joining the AR game in 2018, learning all the gameplay mechanics and then having to catch up with years of story, world-spanning alliances, politics and community activity, could be daunting.

Ingress Prime has been revamped to be easier for new players to learn. Not only is the UI more graphically attractive and intuitive, with 3D models and clearer access to information and items, but a comprehensive new tutorial guides new players step by step - making learning both the mechanics and story easy and logical.

Coming into the preview version as a newbie, I can attest that the tutorial did a good job of spoon-feeding information in digestible chunks. Tasks are interspersed with dialogue events that give a good idea of who the two factions are and what they stand for.

An original sci-fi mystery

In the world of Ingress, Earth has been seeded with a fantastic kind of matter known as XM. Capturing and linking the sources of XM (Portals, centered around artistic or cultural points) allows your to create zones of control for your faction. Special items harvested from Portals can be used as tools to sway the balance of power. The two competing factions are the Enlightened (who seek to accelerate the use of XM to advance human potential) and the Resistance (who are skeptical about the benefits of XM and would see it restricted and controlled).

ING Recruitment Poster
Two distinct factions with opposing philosophies. / © Niantic

Players participate in real-world events and challenges known as "Anomalies", in which the success of one faction or the other will determine a crucial story outcome. Anomalies can last a whole weekend and bring Agents from both factions together not just to play, but also for social meetups and celebrations.  For Ingress Prime, Niantic plans to host 12 large-scale "Primary" Anomaly events (three each quarter in Asia, Europe, and the Americas), alongside many more community-driven “Satellite” Anomaly events. The new events kick off on November 17 in major cities around the world including Barcelona, Austin, and Hong Kong, with a full listing available at www.ingress.com/events.

Which faction ends up being the good or bad guys depends on your perspective, and Niantic have promised that the in-game accomplishments of factions will determine story outcomes, which are released via various mediums, including dialogue from characters in the app, or short videos on the game's story website. The story is an intriguing sci-fi conspiracy mystery. There's a heavy X-Files vibe with a dash of cyberpunk.

Ingress Prime will also tie in to a new Ingress anime series that has already made its debut in Japan and will see worldwide release next year on Netflix. Without the easy win of a big-name IP behind Ingress Prime, Niantic needs to make more of an effort to promote their homebrew franchise, but their work with the Pokemon company will also help. In the roundtable, Niantic stated that 'Pokémon GO is the world's best onboarding for Ingress', and the millions of people who played Pokémon GO will certainly find Ingress more intuitive to grasp.

Veteran players will still be rewarded

The original Ingress has been around for almost 5 years, and while the community is much smaller than that of Pokémon GO, that's still a lot of gamers who need to be won over to the rebooted version of the franchise. Ingress veterans coming into Prime will see an offer to 'recurse' their high level characters down to level 1, with some enhancements and a special badge that marks their historical achievements.

What's new in Ingress Prime? Some key changes explained:

In addition, Niantic has stressed that "level versus level isn't all that matters"  and that they aim to quickly bring old and new players to a roughly level playing field as soon as possible. They want to make sure that there's a challenge in store for everyone. When we asked Niantic about player versus player features in the style of Pokémon GO raids, we only got a cryptic "wait and see" style response, so expect some more direct confrontation between players in the future.

There will be AI that learns from your actions

One of the interesting new features of Ingress Prime is that, aside from 'human' protagonists and antagonists that appear in the story, there will also be two real AIs - one for each faction, attempting to recruit players to their respective sides. These AIs will use NLP, or natural language processing, to learn from the players inputs and change their dialogue in response to the users.

This has the potential to be really cool, especially watching develop over time...or it could end up with the machines spouting nonsense, as has happened with several algorithms using language data from humans. Either way, it should be entertaining.

Other new features highlighted by Niantic include optimization to minimize the amount of battery and data the app drains from being connected on the go and a new tabletop planning. It will display the 3D Ingress map over a flat surface. 

Discover a new world right under your nose

Even without the nostalgic appeal of Pokemon, I've been surprised as just how engaging Ingress Prime is. At least in the first couple of days of learning the ropes, there's still plenty of novelty appeal. I'm interested to see just how the story develops and if the game can sustain my interest in the long term. But part of the fun has nothing to do with the sci-fi conspiracy in game, but discovering the real world history and artworks behind the portals. In playing, the game leads you to admire sculptures on your street that might have gone unnoticed, or to notice discreet memorials to local historical residents.

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Discovering real world locations around you is part of the fun. / © Niantic

For now I'll continue to explore the world of Ingress Prime and see what I can discover about the game's story and the city I live in, before delivering a more comprehensive verdict. For any who would like to join in, as friends or rivals, Ingress Prime is now available as a free download on both the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.

What do you think of augmented reality games? Will you try Ingress Prime?

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  • I don't know if I agree it is a good time to start. There are already so many millions of established players, and to succeed you need to cooperate with local groups which means joining into established multi-year-old cliques. The reddit is currently dealing with angry players discussing the new pay-to-win options in the store, so not sure how they will react to newbs asking newb questions that have been answered dozens of times already.

    Also, having tried the tutorial today, it is a bad introduction from the perspective of a player who knows nothing about the game. Very cluttered UI, vague instructions I had a hard time following ("travel to this node" sure, which one? There's no indication and I can see many), and no easily apparent feedback on whether or not what you are doing has any effect at all. At one point I was directed through a series of "click here" steps, but when I did I was told I didn't have an inventory item needed to complete the action. This should NEVER happen during a tutorial.

    My feeling, as an outsider who tried it today, is that there are 10 million players already, and it is too crowded so there's not enough room for anyone new to join. I'm not sure if the developers even remember what it was like to be a new player looking at a UI filled with symbols that mean nothing to them yet. I certainly did not feel welcomed by the game.

    I suspect the new player experience will get ironed out and a month or two from now will be a much better time to join once some patches go through.

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