This Friday Harry Potter Wizards Unite, the Pokemon Go-style game Niantic created for the HP-verse, was released in the US. I’ve been playing every day since, and here are some of my initial thoughts.
Not as fun without the hype.
I downloaded Pokemon Go the second it became available despite terrible service and no Wi-Fi (it took thirty minutes) and then played it for well over a year, long past when the hype died down. Comparing the first weekend of Wizards Unite, the most striking difference to me has been the lack of community. What made Pokemon Go so stinkin’ fun was that after you convinced yourself that yes, it was worth it to go out in 110 degree heat, drive thirty minutes to the nearest urban area, and walk around for a few hours, there were literally hundreds of other people all doing the same thing. When you got to wherever you were going you bonded with complete strangers over the excitement of catching (or not catching…) your first Magmar. You competed with people sitting on the other side of the courtyard for the gyms, shooting them dirty looks the whole time. It was like the world’s biggest block party, and it was a blast.
Going out to play Wizards Unite this weekend was … not that. Granted, as a mom of multiple kids who still have to organize the entire day around nap-time, I know I don’t keep the same hours as the target audience. But y’all, I have yet to see see one single other person playing. And I can’t convince anyone I know to play with me. It’s just … not as fun by yourself.
Long-term gameplay is going to be there.
I started playing Pokemon Go because of hype, but I kept playing because the game was legitimately fun. Wizards Unite has been able to take the things that are great about Pokemon Go and add some longevity to them.
My favorite addition is the tasks. There are daily tasks (HELLS YES!), as well as story-line-ish tasks to complete, and they have left room for challenges. The daily tasks are simple, collect 10 fragments (whatever it is we’re “catching”), walk 0.25 km, visit 2 taverns (Pokestops), things like that. You get bonus’s for completing these tasks, but they are in no way required for gameplay.
In Pokemon Go, Pokestops shoot out varying levels of potions. In Wizards Unite the stops shoot out ingredients and we get to brew the potions! It adds an element of fun for me as a former Pottermore-addict, and the item collecting tickles my inner collectionist.
Finally, there are “lessons” that can be done in your career that boost your stats. The thing that was always lacking in Pokemon Go to me was how random all the numbers always seemed, and having some voice and choice in which stats go up is fun and exciting for me.
The concept is … contrived.
Pokemon Go… that made sense. When I heard they were doing a Harry Potter version I think I was not alone in scratching my head. What would we be collecting? After playing this game for nearly a week I can confidently say I AM STILL NOT SURE.
The story-line seems to be that someone (ooooOOOOOoooo) has enchanted magical items and creatures to wreak havoc in the muggle world, threatening to expose wizard kind. We have to “capture” them to keep our secret from the muggle world, and return the things to their owners. Yeah, a little contrived. Which means that a lot of the basic features are also a little head-scratchy. Like inns. Or the whole collection screen. Or the portkeys (which are egg replacements????). But whatever, I’m willing to suspend some disbelief. After all, I had no problem playing as a small plumber who jumped on ants and flying turtles as a kid.
There’s a little too much going on.
I think the basic problem here is less that there’s too much going on, and more that they kind of just SHOVE you in. There is a basic tutorial when you first open the game, but it doesn’t walk you through anything but capturing the fragments. It does nothing to explain how to brew a potion, what those things you’re picking up are, how to do the challenges and what level you should do, etc. There are a lot of different in-game currencies and I still haven’t quite figured out what each will be used for. There are probably a dozen ways/places to level up. It’s all a little overwhelming.
At this point I think I’ve figured out just about everything (except for greenhouses, can’t crack that egg…), but it took a little feeling clueless. I think the game designers could have done a better job easing you in by introducing things a little at a time.
They’ve added more need for “skill”.
One of my biggest critiques of Pokemon Go was always how banal it seemed. The battles in particular were stupid tap-tap things. Niantic has clearly listened to that criticism and added a lot more fine-motor-skill to the gameplay of Wizards Unite. When capturing fragments various spell shapes must be traced with the finger, and points are added for speed and accuracy. In the battles there’s some dexterity that must be mastered in lining things up. It’s nothing so difficult that a 7-year-old couldn’t play, but in my opinion is a huge improvement over Pokemon Go.
The game looks great.
The augmented reality works without crashing the game (woot!), and looks pretty good. The artistry and design into the creatures and objects is very good, and I like that it’s stylized. The menus are GORGEOUS. Overall they’ve designed a lovely game.
On that note I want to give a shout-out to all of the Harry Potter games that have been developed for great continuity. Spells have had the same shape as originally introduced by Pottermore across a lot of different platforms, and potion ingredients have stayed consistent too. That’s something the game developers didn’t have to do, and I want to tell them that I’ve noticed, and I appreciate it.