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Initial Thoughts on “Hogwarts Mystery”

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It took almost two decades, but I finally received my letter from Hogwarts. And if you download the app for Hogwarts Mystery, you can get yours too!

Hogwarts Mystery is one of two mobile games set in the Harry Potter universe. The other, Wizards Unite, has not yet been released. While the latter appears to be similar to Pokémon Go, the former focuses more on the story and the chance to see yourself as a wizard in whatever House you choose.

After selecting a look for your avatar, you set off for Diagon Alley, as Harry did, make new friends and enemies, practice spells, and brew potions. You get to choose what rewards you earn for completing certain objectives in class. Every avatar has opportunities to level up in three ways: Courage, Empathy, and Knowledge. How you respond to various questions determines how fast you level up in each category, and sometimes an answer will be locked because you don’t have enough Courage/Empathy/Knowledge to say it.

You’ll also discover that your avatar has a mysterious family past: his/her brother got expelled from Hogwarts and disappeared. It looks like this will be the story arc that carries over for all seven years at Hogwarts. Luckily, your avatar finds a best friend in Rowan Khanna, who supports you in your quest for answers and defends you from anyone who tries to mess with you.

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I love her.

Rowan has been my favorite part of Hogwarts Mystery (outside of the wish fulfillment of going to Hogwarts). His/her gender changes depending on what gender you select, but I’ll refer to her as “she” for this review since that’s what I picked. She’s kind, funny, and loyal, and there’s something about her that just reminds me so much of the friends that I have in real life.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang out with my friends in real life while playing Hogwarts Mystery. I’d hoped that there would be some kind of multiplayer feature that allowed my avatar to interact with others. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be an option. Hopefully, it will come with an upgrade somewhere down the line, because I don’t want to imagine going to Hogwarts without my real friends by my side.

Hogwarts Mystery looks great, with fun, colorful graphics that remind me of the old Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets games that I used to play on my GameCube. There are times when my avatar’s facial expressions look awkward, but it’s not a deal breaker.

And speaking of those other video games, Hogwarts Mystery has some nice shout-outs to them as well. Your avatar will eventually learn the Flipendo spell, which never appeared in the books or movies, but was the go-to spell for just about everything in the video games. You’ll also learn how to brew Wiggenweld Potion, which Harry used to heal himself. It makes for a nice blend of the canon established by the books, movies, and video games, with something for every fan to love, regardless of how they were introduced to Harry Potter’s world. (Now, if they could just throw in a reference to A Very Potter Musical, I’ll be set.)

I’m enjoying the story so far. At first, I felt disappointed by the choice in setting because I wanted my avatar to be a random Hufflepuff having adventures during Harry’s years at Hogwarts. Now that I’ve actually started playing the game, I can admit that it was a good idea to place it in the time period between Voldemort’s initial defeat and Harry’s school years. This choice allows for an original story about your avatar and their friends, and we still get to interact with most of the teachers from the books, i.e. Professor Snape and Flitwick. Our avatar’s backstory has only been revealed in bits and pieces so far, but it’s intriguing.

I also like how we get to choose our House, rather than take another quiz. Granted, I never had a preference until Pottermore’s quiz put me in Hufflepuff. And if you like taking quizzes, you’ll find the Sorting Ceremony a little anticlimactic. But then again, doesn’t this tie into one of the themes from the books?  As Professor Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

So, the story’s great, the characters are wonderful, and the visuals look good. It’s a Hogwarts fan’s dream!

Except when it isn’t.

With a free-to-play mobile app, there will always be issues with micro transactions. After all, the developers have to make money somehow, and I don’t take issue with that. I do take issue with how the game prevents you from doing very much at any given time before you either wait for your energy bar to refill, or start paying.

Your avatar has an energy bar, and mine currently has a maximum of 25 points. Whenever you take lessons, your character spends energy doing things like studying, talking to Rowan, collecting potions ingredients, etc. And these are all things that you have to do in order to complete the lesson and move forward. More than once, I have run out of energy mid-lesson and needed to put the game on hold until the bar refilled. It’s also not very exciting or fun to tap away at your phone while your character “does” things and nothing’s really happening.

The game becomes more fun when you get to do things that don’t cost energy, like bonding with Rowan over a game of Gobstones and trying to guess the right responses to heighten your friendship. I’ve only just learned how to duel, but that looks promising as well. You need to pick whether to assume an Aggressive, Sneaky, or Defensive stance against your opponent, and then select spells or healing potions to use.

There’s one other major issue that I have with Hogwarts Mystery: the lack of customizable options for your avatar. Although you can adjust the shape of the face, nose, and eyes, all avatars have the same body type. You only get a handful of options for hairstyles and such when you first start the game, and everything else needs to be unlocked by spending gems and coins. This includes glasses. Why do we need to pay money to unlock glasses? Lots of people wear glasses. Harry Freakin’ Potter wears glasses. It’s not going to matter to most people, but it’s one of my pet peeves when a game doesn’t give you that option right from the start.

Given time, I’m hoping that the developers of Hogwarts Mystery will iron out the issues with the gameplay and find other ways to profit off of micro transactions. The game has a lot of promise with good characters, an interesting story, and shout outs to the Harry Potter franchise in all of its forms. If you’re a diehard fan, you will have fun here. But it requires either a lot of patience or a lot of Galleons to get the most out of the experience.