Niantic has learned many lessons since Pokemon Go! launched in 2016. They’ve learned to bring a game out of the Alpha stage of development before releasing it to the public. They’ve learned they needed much more stable servers that can handle millions of players. They’ve learned they actually need to diversify the gameplay.
And while Harry Potter: Wizards Unite! Is a much more stable and enjoyable game than PoGo was when it launched, it’s still not without several major gameplay issues.
As the initial trailer suggests, the world is in turmoil. Several “confouding” abnormalities and oddities are threatening to reveal the Wizarding World to the Muggle World at large. These abnormalities are referred to in game as “Confoundables.” These run the gamut of silly Harry Potter scenarios, from Fire Breathing Chickens threatening a box of Weezley Fizzbangers, to Death Eaters, to Pixies holding hostage various artifacts (and there are a LOT of pixies, for some reason). These animations are pretty charming, and look pretty silly in AR.
Pro-Tip: just like in PoGo, turn off AR and your phone’s battery will thank you.
There is a story that seems pretty well thought out. And (at least, in the beginning of the game) some pretty decent voice acting and music. However, because this is a mobile game, almost everyone puts the dialogue and music on silent anyway.
Still nice to see the effort going into it.
Your job, as an agent of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force, is to find and subdue these various Confoundables with a (surprisingly small) repertoire of spells. To “subdue” a confoundable, you must swish your finger along the screen in the shape given with accuracy and speed, though you can use a variety of potions to augment your spellcasting ability. Occasionally, there are little 1v1 battles that take place between you and a confoundable (usually Common Centaurs and Werewolves) -- these have you alternating between pointing a cursor at the creature, casting a quick spell, and then putting up a Protect charm to ward off damage. Neat.
After you subdue a confoundable (egads, this is getting tiresome to type), it goes into your Pokede-I mean scrapboo-I mean “Registry.” The good news is, filling out this registry gives you a large amount of experience and spellbooks, which, in turn, help you upgrade your player character in your chosen profession.
Oh yeah, there are professions in this game.
At a certain level, you can choose either Auror, Professor, or Magizoologist. Think of this as a kind of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” of effectiveness. Aurors are great against Dark Forces, but weak to Beasts, Magizoologists are strong against Beasts, weak against Magical Curiosities, and Professors are strong against Curiosities, weak against Dark Forces. This currently appears to only affect what you do in Wizarding Challenges at Fortresses.
One thing: this game is reportedly set in the modern day, or at least after the series, right? So why are some of these Confoundables characters we already know are… no longer alive? Have the events in the series not happened? Or have they happened… but are confounded by the… uh… you know. Also, for some reason, a surprisingly young-looking Ron Weasley seems to get in a lot of teenage-level trouble for being an Auror.
The world map may look, on the surface to be a direct clone of PoGo’s world, it’s significantly more populated with things to do. For one, “Gyms” and “Pokestops” are now “Fortresses,” “Inns” and “Greenhouses.” Fortresses are where you complete Challenges, Inns restore energy, and Greenhouses are completely and utterly useless at this stage in the game’s development.
It’s pretty disappointing you can’t customize your world map avatar as you can in PoGo. Sure, the Ministry ID picture is fun to mess around with, but it would be pretty cool to create your own Harry Potter character in the Harry Potter universe.
Each Confoundable (sigh) appears on the world map much in the same places Pokemon would appear in PoGo, as a small icon denoting its’ type. Even better, there are flags that appear on the world map that show you where certain types of those things will spawn most often. Super neat.
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of things to do and see, and ingredients to pick up, and Portmanteaus (Port Keys. Basically PoGo’s Eggs). There’s so much to do, it’s almost overwhelming at first.
However, this brings us to the game’s biggest problem: Energy.
Everything requires energy. Casting spells requires energy. Completing challenges requires multiple charges of energy. You start with 75, and you’ll burn through that extremely quickly.
Even worse, Inns give you a random amount of energy, from 1 to 10. It feels really, really crummy to travel to the only Inn in your area, only to get 1 measly energy, only to wait 5 minutes, and get another pittance of energy allowance.
And yet, it gets worse:
Energy does not recharge over time.
Yes. Again. ENERGY, the one thing you need to continue playing the game, does not regenerate over time. You know, like it does in literally EVERY OTHER MOBILE GAME.
Hell, in other, crummier mobile games, the developers shower you in energy at the start, to encourage you to play, to learn the mechanics, and to eventually pay more to get better stuff. EVEN the complete dumpster fire that is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery has that feature.
In Wizards Unite, you have to freaking PAY to even learn the ropes.
Granted, if you live in a more populous area, you may have more opportunities to recharge your energy at multiple Inns (most likely what they’re going for). But if the 3 random stops in your neighborhood are 2 Greenhouses and a Fortress? You’re totally SOL.
That’s frustratingly poor design.
The longevity of these kinds of AR games depends heavily on the strength and passion of the community. Everyone remembers PoGo’s legendary first two weeks. Wizards Unite has had a relatively good first weekend, but nowhere near the same level of success. And while a few Discord channels, Reddit communities, and Facebook Groups have popped up so far, it’s (again) not nearly as big.
We’ll see in the coming weeks and months if they can make this game more enticing for other players.
All in all, Wizards Unite is legitimately better than PoGo was at launch. There’s more to do, more to see, and a more interesting story. But until they find a better solution to the energy problem, it will hamstring the game’s appeal in the long term.
Spells, Potions, and Port Keys oh my! Lots to do and lots to see.
Cool designs and music.
Confoundingly confusing lore.
Rewards you for getting out and exploring your community.
The lack of energy is incredibly frustrating, and could limit the game’s lasting appeal for some.
4/10 JK Rowling retcons
At the time of this writing, the reviewer had reached level 9 ¾ and was playing on an iPhone 6S.