Like some kind of bizarre mashup of the worlds of Rick James and J. K. Rowling, “Augmented Reality” game maker, Niantic Labs, release their latest money spinner to the UK today.
Well, actually, I think you’ll find they quietly released “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” into the UK yesterday.
I still haven’t had an alert from their mailing list but I am already a Level 8 Professor in House Ravenclaw (naturally).
Over the last 6 years I’ve contributed to both communities and consider myself responsible for a large number of places of interest in Niantic’s games.
I’ve been looking forward to this latest venture, my Father and Nieces are big Potter fans and I’m not averse to dipping into the Potterverse (although I still haven’t read the books).
In the same breath, I’m concerned that I may become torn between the 3 games. I already play far less Ingress than I used to and may even drop it when Niantic remove support for the original GUI in September.
I got word of the early availability of Wizards Unite through the local Pokémon Go community; full disclosure, I was in the pub enjoying a post-work pint and natter with the chap that got me into Ingress.
On first impression, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (HP:WU) is far more complex than either of Niantic’s previous games but that complexity lends itself well to the world of Harry Potter.
On the face of it, the regular game-play centres around the discovery of “confoundables“, reagents, seeds, water and port-keys and places of interest (POI) as you walk around playing the game.
Confoundable encounters are similar to the random wild Pokémon encounters in Pokémon Go and trigger a simple single glyph matching game, to free an important item, creature or person from the confoundable. Glyphs are used to depict the casting of the relevant spell required to defeat the confoundable.
The POI interactions are centred on quick actions that can be accessed from those places familiar to us as Ingress Portals or Pokémon Gyms and Pokéstops. Niantic have pulled through far more POI from Ingress than they did in Pokémon Go but I’m not sure on why certain POI have been omitted.
I’ll be interested to see if my next Ingress Portal submissions make it through to HP:WU as quickly as they do in Pokémon Go.
POI in HP:WU (oh the acronymity) take the form of Inns, Greenhouses and Fortresses. There may be other forms but I’ve not found them yet.
Inns can be “hacked”, (to use an Ingress term) by swiping as imple “smile” glyph, to refresh your spell power. Spell power is used when casting spells in combat or when dealing with confoundables.
Greenhouses can be hacked by knocking a plant-pot over to release reagents that can be used to craft potions. You can also plant seeds at greenhouses, these then release specific reagents into the area in a manner very similar to “lures” in Pokémon Go.
Potions craft over time and can be very helpful in battles.
Fortresses are the closest kind of POI to Pokémon Gyms. They are venues for multiplayer battles against various creatures. Battles are tough to handle solo and could be a good source of team based play. They increase in difficulty but the rewards are worthwhile.
Finally, there are also “amplifiers” that aren’t based on POI but can have “dark detectors” deployed on them, again like the lures in Pokémon Go. I think these attract or reveal more confoundables but I’ve not tried that side of the game yet.
Niantic have put some thought to the walking side of the game. certain items can only be won by accessing secret areas through port-keys (the weird teleport items that wizards use to fast travel around the world). Port-keys can be found at random throughout the world but need to be walked for certain distances to activate. This is similar mechanism to hatching Pokémon eggs.
I’m not sold on the port-key quests when they’re activated. You have to use your phone to find items in the secret area and that’s not always easy to do when you’re on your daily commute. I’ll probably use my port-keys at home when I don’t look as daft spinning my phone round.
The levelling process seems pretty well paced. In around 4 hours of play time I hit level 8 and this has unlocked a variety of cosmetics for my “Ministry ID” as well as lore and information in a variety of quest-lines.
The items, creatures and people you save from confoundables also increase a level in certain areas of the game. Rescue enough students and your Hogwarts School level increases.
You can also educate yourself in various skills to advance a profession, which actually makes the game feel like a proper role-playing game (RPG). There are also a number of in game currencies that have to be gathered to slowly progress various elements, which adds to the RPG feel.
Performance wise, HP:WU is definitely a battery suck but the same can be said for Pokémon Go and Ingress. A 45 minute stroll at lunch took the battery down by 22% and that was only casual play as I was chatting with people on my lunchtime walking club.
One frustration that arose during casual play, is that the screen does not have an option to stay active like Pokémon Go does; like Ingress, you have to constantly keep your screen refreshed.
All in all, I think this is a really good offering and I’m looking forward to playing as the game evolves throughout the year. For a fresh release, the game feels really polished.
I’m not sure it will hold my attention as much as Pokémon Go did, that depends on how addictive the levelling remains and what new features Niantic throw in later on.
I think the sheer volume of references to Pokémon Go in this blog post speaks volumes to my current devotion to that game.
I’ll still be playing Pokémon Go but definitely need a new phone to play both games. My Huawei P20 Lite plays both games but Pokémon Go reloasd every time I switch between – which is something of a chore.
A warning to the curious: not all devices are capable of running HP:WU. Many of the local Pokémon Go community are unable to install the game, despite being able to run Pokémon Go.
One final concern is that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite appears to be heavily pitched towards making money – as many free to play games are.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve paid money into both Ingress and Pokémon Go over the years, less so with Ingress I grant you. From the get go, I can see many opportunities for hard earned cash to be thrown at the game: be that to increase storage capacity or just to buy in game currency that can be used to hurry along port-key and potion progress. That’s an observation, not a criticism.