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The Good, Bad, and the Ugly with Harry Potter Wizards Unite

After playing Niantic’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite for a little more than a week, I find it’s a slightly different game than Pokémon GO. Instead of catching them all, it’s finding lost objects to send back to the owners and collecting ingredients to make potions. Doing both is very important in this game. The experience is not as much about expanding the universe J. K. Rowling created and I don’t recall hearing about her endorsing or approving the story behind this product.

The basics of what the Harry Potter universe is about is there. You are part of his team and join fellow magi to prevent the muggles (normals) from discovering this world. This game requires at least half an hour to an hour a day to accomplish the daily tasks for the in-game rewards. Missing a day won’t hurt. When players want free coins to spend, the game is still about grinding for them than creating an authentic franchise and augmented reality (AR) experience.

Both the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts worlds are put together and players are looking for those items and its guards—called foundables and confoundables—that threaten to expose the magical realm. Since only players can see this through the smartphone screen, no one is the wiser. The story suggests non-players should see something too, but in this case, nobody is going to notice unless players are not paying attention to their environment and get into accidents. 

Unlike the books/movies, players are not going to school and learning how to make magic. The whole part of choosing which house to belong to is merely cosmetic. In the real world, players have to decide to be either an auror, magizoologist or professor. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and I chose professor since it’s the best of the three to deal with the various opponents.

This game was limited during its first week of release because Niantic does not want the grinders to get the perks too fast. Not every foundable is out there and advancing up the skill tree is currently limited to tier three abilities. Players have to learn from the restricted section of the library and this part of the game is supposed to unlock this week. Like Hermione, you have to do a lot of studying before you can gain the skills to deal with stronger threats.

Unless players want to pay real-world money to increase their energy reserves and storage space, that’s all most players can do until more parts of Harry Potter Wizards Unite are unlocked. Nearly every action performed in the game costs spell energy and by day four, all I was doing was finding the necessary ingredients so I can brew potions and stockpiling. Unless you stop by inns and fuel up by eating lots of food, this limiter is a good thing. If this game was to emulate life, restoring a few points per hour to simulate sleep to restore spell points can make this game feel realistic.

The augmented reality is not perfect since players cannot decide for themselves on how to interact. A big part of the game involves matching the pattern shown on the smartphone screen with your finger in order to knock the opponent down. I’d like to have a choice between a few spells than deciding on one to get that snitch. It’d be fun to play tug of war with accio or force that ball to come to me with locomotor. Alternatively, Stupefy also works to freeze tough opponents. Harry loves to use this spell. Half of what’s encountered are beings than objects, so this spell can work–at least in theory.

The only time this game gets inspirational is when players use portkeys and get teleported to a game within a game, where all they are doing is playing a variation of Duck Hunt with their finger for bigger prizes. It’s a neat diversion, and I recommend playing this at home than on a bus. Moving the mobile phone around is required.

While part of the game is soloable, the rest requires the help of fellow players to defeat. Voldemort’s army is lurking about.

If a new war is emerging, players will have to team up en masse to take their forts. One day, I’m sure the game will show a death mark in the sky (for those opting to turn on the AR part of the game) and everyone has to gather to defeat the return of Voldemort. While the Harry Potter experience is not quite there, I can imagine good things to come when Niantic partners with Universal Orlando to provide truly interactive bits at the theme park.

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