I'll admit, I was never much of an Ingress player. In fact, I'd never heard of it until Pokémon GO released, and Niantic's last game was finally given some publicity.
But now that I've caught, well, most of 'em, I'm looking for yet another game to get me walking around outside - a rare occurrence for myself, and many gamers.
Luckily Niantic just launched Ingress Prime, an updated and rebooted version of their original GPS augmented reality game. So I downloaded it and set off outside.
Somewhat like Pokémon GO's gyms, you'll be finding portals, which are landmarks in the real world, and taking control of them on behalf of your team.
The teams are interesting - two AI characters talk to you in Ingress' introduction, and convince you to either side with those who wish to enslave humanity, or those who wish to enlighten mankind.
If playing Ingress Prime sounds like a lot to take in, that's because it is. But bare with me here.
A lot to learn
As you walk you'll collect white dots on the map, XM, a currency which will allow you to perform basically all actions in the game. The portals you'll travel to are each surrounded by XM, so as long you're moving towards them, you'll have plenty.
Once you arrive at portals you can hack them - this is essentially like collecting items from PokéStops, for Pokémon GO fans reading this. You'll get items you can use to protect or attack portals, weakening the enemy's hold and strengthening your own.
Does this sound overwhelming? Because it's about to get worse.
You take control of portals by destroying enemy resonators, and once they're all gone, you can plant up to eight of your own.
There are several levels of resonators, as well of the weapons used to attack them. Naturally, the higher level the equipment is, the more effective it will be at either defending or attacking a portal.
Once you've got eight resonators attached to a portal, you can link it with certain other portals. Which other portals? I don't know. I just don't know right now. But I'm pretty sure you can't cross over the other team's control fields.
Oh, so like, when you've linked several portals - usually in a triangle shape - the inside of that shape becomes your control field. I don't know what a control field does yet, but it's big and looks imposing on the map.
Right. That's essentially what I learnt about Ingress Prime on day one. In case you can't tell, it's confusing as hell. And going through the tutorial step by step doesn't make the process much easier.
I'm definitely intrigued by Ingress Prime after my first day playing, but it's not friendly to new users whatsoever.
After a few days, Ingress Prime slowly starts to make sense, though if I said it were kind I'd be a filthy liar.
The fact is, the game almost feels like it's punishing for new players for not, well, having played as much, both in regards to the information it withholds, and the mechanics of the game itself.
For example. When attacking resonators on a portal in order to capture it, where you stand affects the damage you do. Also, you should hold the fire button in the app and time letting go with a circle closing.
What explains this? Why, a video on the Ingress YouTube channel of course. Not the game itself. But outside sources of information. Why? Because it sucks.
Ah, it's like I'm back in Destiny, looking up rubbish Grimoire cards online to figure out the story. Except in this case you need to do at least that much just to figure out how to play.
The game forces you outside of the game, by putting items in your inventory that, when used, open the YouTube app and start playing a video.
It's an admission from Niantic that the game doesn't make sense in and of itself, but it can, with enough dedication. And it's stupid.
Even after a few days the UI is frustrating to me. The darkened map and white dots are just a terrible, awful user experience.
In Pokémon GO, I open the app, look, and immediately Pokémon are visible, Pokéstops are visible, gyms are visible. In Ingress? I have to squint to see where portals are. Is that a white portal? Is that XM? Is that where I just happened to tap on the screen? Who knows!
Yeah, this isn't Pokémon GO. But this is a reboot of a game released before that. Niantic have surely had plenty of time to learn lessons about designing an AR game like this, and the fact is that this feels like steps in the right direction, in regards to polish, but a dozen steps back in regards to how the game looks, works, and plays.
However, I can't help but feel compelled to walk to blank portals I can place resonators in, and seeing links and control fields I have put in place stretching across the town I live in is pretty fulfilling. In a weird way.
I love marking my territory, showing my dominance, and since I'm actually quite timid in real life, the augmented reality space is a good place to do it instead. I just wish it were a less frustrating experience.
One interesting thing about Ingress Prime is that it has unique missions depending on where you are. These missions are rarely complicated, but they do give you yet another interesting thing to tackle while playing.
For example, should there be a number of portals in an area, there's likely a mission for the player to go to each one in a certain order. These missions will even give you a GPS map of where to go in order, and roughly how long each mission will take to complete.
The nice thing about AR games is that they are more than what you can see on your mobile screen. Like, I can show you screenshots of the game all day, but without being outside with me in the cold and rain, you're unlikely to get a full impression of what playing the game is like.
With these missions, you're given yet another task. It pushes you to explore new places, even in locations you already know all too well, and it's refreshing.
I mean, not only are you getting an extra task completed on your mobile game, but you're also exploring. Real life, I mean. You can find some cool stuff out there.
And again, yep, I'm going to make a Pokémon GO comparison. While Pokémon GO gets me out of the house, it rarely encourages me to go further afield than I have to. I'll cycle through the same gyms and Pokéstops happily.
With Ingress Prime, linking portals together to create control fields, and finishing missions, makes me move, well, more.
I walk to newer places, further out, just to finish my own custom grand designs, even if only other Ingress Prime players can see them.
So, for a while I was struggling to find what goals you achieve in Ingress Prime. Like, what do you work towards? I've probably made one too many Pokémon GO comparisons in this review already, but to add one more: it's not like there's a Pokédex to complete.
But then I realised it's actually more about player choice. You choose your team, you choose the portals to walk to, the missions you take on, and the control fields you put in place.
It's about making your mark, with massive control fields spanning your town that other players can't ignore.
It's about making friends over the chat function, and creating control fields as a team.
For some players, it's even about creating works of art, with Ingress Prime groups on Facebook and Google+ creating control fields spanning the country.
It's more than just playing the game, which is actually very fitting for an augmented reality title. The game continues while you're not playing and control field empires rise and fall.
It's a completely unique experience, even when factoring in Pokémon GO, which I have compared it to liberally. It takes AR seriously and tries to build a world on top of our own, a separate layer of reality that only Ingress players are aware of.
In theory I adore it, in practice I like, but I'm not sure I will continue with it. Ingress Prime is deserving of praise, but I still feel so lost when playing.
A definitive quest list to progress through or daily tasks would definitely help give the game more direction, though might strip away the nature the game has right now.
I have my complaints about Ingress Prime, but I also could barely look away from it when walking from portal to portal.
Definitely worth playing if you want another game that gets you out of the house and can help you meet new people in online communities.