Potterheads rejoice! Niantic, Inc, the company behind Ingress and Pokemon Go, released Harry Potter: Wizards Unite on June 21, ushering the creatures, objects and characters from J.K Rowling’s celebrated book series into the real world for players to experience firsthand through augmented reality.
Wizards Unite was originally announced in November 2017 as a partnership between Niantic and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, who developed that game under the Portkey Games (a video game brand dedicated to “Harry Potter”-related gaming content) banner.
Published by Niantic, the game features the same augmented reality (AR) technology used in their previous project, Pokemon Go, the Niantic Real World Platform.
Similar in structure to the company’s previous mobile games, Wizards Unite allows players to travel to various real-world locations to perform certain activities.
Instead of stopping at Portals or Pokestops, gamers find Inns and Greenhouses. These destinations assist them in replenishing lost Spell Energy through hearty in-game meals or gathering ingredients for potions. Players can create various potions (starting at fourth level) by using these ingredients, and can reduce brewing time through gestures known as Master Notes.
Meanwhile, Pokemon Go’s Gyms have been replaced by Fortresses. There, up to five players, after sacrificing a Runestone, are sent into battle against a myriad of enemies. These challenges occur on increasingly difficult floors, and the players can earn experience and rewards from the game’s registry of Foundables.
Foundables are the Wizards Unite equivalent of Pokemon. Each item is an object or character from the Wizarding World (such as a Ravenclaw student, a baby Hippogriff or a Remembrall) that is held hostage by a Confoundable.
In order to defeat the guardians and return the objects to their proper place, the player must trace spell patterns on their screen quickly and accurately; better casts allow the user to free the trapped collectible more easily.
Some of these items come in fragments, which must be collected before the Foundable can be placed back in the registry.
A new factor that separates the gameplay of Pokemon Go and Wizards Unite is Professions, which are similar to the former’s Valor, Mystic and Instinct team setup.
However, instead of creating clans of rival gamers who swarm local gyms to demolish Groudons, Professions allow their users to approach battles differently depending on which of the three occupations they choose to pursue and which prominent franchise figure they wish to have as a mentor.
Aurors, led by Harry Potter himself, can take a high amount of damage but have poor defenses and rely on healing potions for better stamina. Magizoologists focus on healing their team while staying off the front lines of battle and are taught by Rubeus Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts.
Finally, Professors are a mixture of the Auror and Magizoologist; they are adept at combat while also easily supporting their teammates from the sidelines. They are instructed by Hogwarts Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.
Following encounters with Foundables and Fortresses, the player earns experience and has the potential to level up, gaining rewards such as keys for Portkeys (the Wizards Unite version of Pokemon eggs) and potions for combat and collecting Foundables. Useful features are also unlocked as the wizard progresses in skill, and these include potion brewing (at level four) and Professions (at level six).
I’ve been a fan of the “Harry Potter” franchise ever since I was a kid, and I enjoy Niantic’s previous augmented reality games. Ingress brought awe-inspiring team-based gameplay between the Enlightened and Resistance factions, while Pokemon Go assisted my generation in fulfilling our dreams of catching Squirtles and Pikachus in real life.
However, with Wizards Unite, Niantic fails to reach the same peak that it achieved three years ago.
One of my main issues with the game is that Pokemon Go’s system of play doesn’t translate well to the Wizarding World.
Wizards Unite manages to capture Pokemon catching into a new, though familiar, format by using Foundables and having players collect them for rewards, but the whole process gets repetitive and tiring due to the lack of variety in spellcasting.
This gets annoying quickly, especially when the same objects show up again and again to be rescued from their torment. With Pokemon Go, the aspect of wrangling the same object multiple times over makes sense; however, this logic crumbles when applied to “Harry Potter.”
Players like myself also get to personalize their avatar through portraits, customized wands and house selection. The problem with these customized aspects is that, unlike the varied Professions, choosing Gryffindor instead of Hufflepuff as your house (like yours truly) or a wand core made of dragon heartstring over phoenix feather does not matter even a little bit.
I like the idea of creating Hermoine Granger’s wand or being in the same house as Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom, but it just seems pointless since these selections have no effect on gameplay whatsoever.
Lastly, the game is wildly over-monetized. I do not wish to be begged for the millionth time to use gold (which can either be received through achievements or bought with real-world money) to speed up potion brewing, purchasing missing ingredients for said potions, upgrading my inventories or gaining more spell energy after running out of what was barely there in the first place.
The whole system of energy in the game is quite irritating to me, and I wish Niantic would raise the maximum amount so that more spells could be traced and more actions could be carried out more often.
However, I will say that the execution of Wizards Unite is quite well done. All of the in-game graphics, from the locations on-screen to the objects found, are incredibly detailed.
It also offers a grander experience with augmented reality than any similar AR app on the market, giving the user realistic, engaging gameplay that never feels completely stale. Plus, the game’s servers have been relatively stable since day one.
Overall, I enjoy Wizards Unite, and though the concept feels a bit lost when the franchise is given the same treatment as Niantic’s past games, I’ll still keep playing as long as there’s more to do. Rating the title, I’d give it a solid three and a half out of five stars.