Anyone even a little in touch with current events has probably heard of the newest mobile game capturing the imaginations of players all over. After releasing on July 21, “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” quickly jumped to the #1 spot in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
The new augmented reality (AR) game from “Pokémon Go” developer Niantic had a lot of hype surrounding its release. Fans set their expectations high, hoping for a great game that does the Harry Potter franchise justice.
As a Potterhead and proud Ravenclaw, I couldn’t wait to dive into the game for myself.
After a weekend full of play (and a dizzying amount of spells cast), I find myself thoroughly impressed with this game. While Wizards Unite isn’t perfect it is captivating, beautiful, and most importantly…fun.
When players first open the app, they see a montage of newspaper headlines following the events of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” I thought this was a nice starting point that allows players to connect to the original characters while also pursuing a new storyline.
Where “Pokémon Go” was heavily goal-oriented, “Wizards Unite” encourages players to explore the world as a member of the Statue of Secrecy Task Force. Every aspect of “Wizards Unite” is focused on story and exploration. Throughout the adventure, wizards will discover and collect Foundables, magic items, creatures, or people left behind in the muggle world.
However, “Wizards Unite” also has another level of conflict that makes gameplay rewarding. The Foundables that players come across are often under threat by evil Confoundables. Coming across one of these initiates a spell casting sequence.
From there, players cast spells by tracing a symbol on the screen. The game measures accuracy of the pattern and how fast you perform the trace to determine if the spell will be successful. I don’t want to brag, but my first cast saved Hagrid from a giant spider web and earned a “Masterful” rank. I suppose all the time casting spells at my desk with my pen has paid off.
Perhaps one of the most impressive features within “Wizards Unite” is the depth of the characters. Often, franchise-based games fail to bring beloved characters to life, resulting in a hollow gameplay experience. From the very first lines, “Wizards Unite” is the complete opposite.
Players are greeted by Constance Pickering, who guides them through the tutorial of the game in a way that cleverly explains all the main features. I had to do a double take when I first heard Harry Potter speak. It sounds so realistic to the movies I thought Niantic somehow got Daniel Radcliffe to narrate the game. Turns out it isn’t him, but the voice acting for Harry and the other characters is superb.
Characters aren’t the only good thing going on here, though. “Wizards Unite” introduces new creatures, characters, and spells that blend seamlessly into the original world. It’s refreshing to see a game developer create genuinely interesting lore for a fanbase that absolutely devours it.
Although casting spells is extremely fun, I think my favorite part of the entire game is the map. The developers went above and beyond when making it, likely responding to one of the main critiques from “Pokémon Go.” Where the prior game’s map was static and pretty plain, “Wizard’s Unite” features one jam-packed with detail.
At first glance, the earth-like tones caught my eye and fit perfectly with the Wizarding theme of the game. Instantly, I felt like I could be walking down the streets of Hogsmeade instead of my own neighborhood.
Colorful letters and owls fly around overhead and cloud cover changes from time to time. Once I logged back in during the evening, I noticed that the moon had replaced the sun, which was a nice touch. I was surprised again while logging on in the passenger seat of the car (please don’t wizard and drive) to find my avatar flying down the road on a broomstick. Considering it was keeping up on the freeway, I can only assume it’s a Firebolt.
Overall, the interactive map added a great deal of entertainment to my play experience—something that “Pokémon Go” never did. In a game where exploring is central to the experience, this feature helps make “Wizards Unite” special and entertaining, even if some tasks feel repetitive.
While “Wizards Unite” is (shockingly) free of most major flaws mobile games run into on their release date, it isn’t perfect. Somewhat surprisingly, though, is the fact that the two main issues I noticed also plagued “Pokémon Go.” I find it strange that Niantic wouldn’t do everything possible to eliminate known blemishes to a game with the same format. Nonetheless, the problems are minor.
The first issue I noticed is that the area directly around where I live is a wasteland. Not that I didn’t already know this, but seeing it within the game was a letdown. I had to drive to a park or go downtown to see any Foundables on the map.
Now, I get that some areas are going to have a lot more activities than others. However, it would have been nice to see Niantic looking out for people living in more rural areas who still want to play without making a field trip of it.
The second problem with “Wizards Unite” goes hand in hand with the first. When I actually went out somewhere to collect Foundables, I noticed that spell casting energy ran out lightning fast (pun intended).
In seriousness, though, any time I found myself casting a lot of spells in a short amount of time, the energy didn’t last. While this is no doubt a way to force players to buy in-game currency, it would be nice to be able to play for more than ten minutes without running out of juice. Especially so for players who have to travel to enjoy the game.
These issues are both more of a nuisance. Neither really harms the gameplay experience nor did they make me delete the app. However, it would be nice to see Niantic address them going forward as players deep dive into the game.
The Game That Lives
Some of the water cooler talk this week will certainly be about “that new Harry Potter Pokémon game.” Potential players should know that it is both unique and vastly improves on Niantic’s original blockbuster.
I had a great time playing throughout the game’s opening weekend and look forward to seeing how it grows as time goes on. There is a lot of potential here for a game that will still be fun to play even a few years down the road.
I happily give it my Potterhead seal of approval.