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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.

Microtransactions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Microtransactions in gaming have been around awhile now, and are likely to be with us for some time.  They’ve been covered in the gaming press over and over, and discussed by gamers on various platforms ad nauseam.  I did find a pretty good breakdown of the history of this practice, the whys and hows that I don’t want to bore you with.

If you want, hop over to the Intelligent Economist and take a look.  Despite what we think of them, there is a purpose to some of them and it isn’t entirely nefarious.  We, as gamers, also have to accept that to a certain extent we are responsible for how widespread they are and how long they’re likely to be around.  They aren’t all bad however, so if you’re expecting me to go on a long-winded tirade about the evils of microtransactions, you’re only half right.

The Good
There is some benefit to microtransactions, believe it or not.  The best example I have in my experience is with Guild Wars 2.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a popular MMO that’s been around for almost 6 years now.  It has no subscription model, and has been receiving constant updates, improvements, patches, and free content updates all that time.  It also has microtransactions.  They’re all cosmetic and convenience items though; nothing that’s considered pay-to-win.  It’s a necessary function of keeping a game going with constant maintenance and updates and it’s all optional.  If you want another character slot, you can get that.  A cool outfit?  They have that, too.  A better sword that you can only get in the online store?  No, not going to happen.

See, there’s a reason to have either a subscription model or microtransactions in this case.  I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet and online gaming.  When you bought a game in the early years of our hobby, it either worked or it didn’t.  There were no updates on the regular, or added content you could just log in and start playing.  We didn’t have servers maintained by the game company to play on whenever we wanted.  Even in the early days of online shooters like Medal of Honor, most of the servers were paid for and maintained by gaming communities and clans that paid a lot of money sometimes to make the game available to play online.

This was well before World of Warcraft revolutionized online RPGs, but there has always been a cost.  You don’t just make a game, put it out there, and expect the initial sales to fund the ongoing support, updates, and server maintenance.  Even now people still play the original Guild Wars on servers maintained by the company since 2005 with no monthly subscription.  Whether we like it or not, microtransactions in Guild Wars 2 help make that possible 13 years after release.

In these cases, I can’t really fault companies for using this model.  We really only have a couple of options if we want our games to be available with that sort of content and care for a long period of time.  It’s not like a game that’s released, and once purchased has no real contact with the developer any longer unless there’s a patch.  Some of these companies hire dedicated staff to do nothing but update a game while they also try to make new ones.  As long as they aren’t dipping into the pay-to-win or loot box model I don’t really see an issue since it keeps me from having a monthly bill just to play the game.

The Bad
Not all pay-to-win is bad, as long as there is a reasonable time gate sort of option to unlock the same content.  I don’t mind a game company offering early access to weapons or equipment for people who want to burn their money if I can do the same thing over a few hours of gameplay.  In a way, I like the feeling of achievement one gets from unlocking weapons and kits in games like Battlefield 4.  Sure, those higher tier weapons are better, and for a time people who paid to unlock those kits would have an advantage but it seemed like a fair trade off.  I’m going to play the game anyway, and I don’t care to spend any extra money just to have a weapon I’m going to get eventually.  Where it gets bad is when the time to unlock isn’t reasonable.

Battlefront 2 was a good example of this, though I thought the game was garbage before loot boxes were even mentioned.  Not only were there microtransactions, but there was also a randomized element incorporated into the loot boxes.  It was likened to gambling by some and in general it was just a bad idea.  The time it would take to unlock everything through grinding was exorbitant, which would leave players at a disadvantage in game for a lot longer than is reasonable.  The feature was met with a great deal of uproar from gamers, and EA made some temporary changes, but ultimately people still bought the game.  Sales for BF2 did suffer, and it has raised questions about what is acceptable regarding microtransactions.

The Ugly
The ugly truth is as long as people keep buying them, companies will keep doing it.  That’s sort of how the market works.  Companies try different things to make money.  If that thing sells, then the company will believe that is what the market wants.  If it doesn’t, then they try something else.  We can rant and rail all we want, but at the end of the day there’s only one language a business understands.  Will the awful sales of BF2 be enough to deter companies from using this tactic?  I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.  I can tell you if the next game from EA or Activision has microtransactions and people spend money on them, they’ll forget about the Battlefront sales.  It’s not a pleasant thought, but we are partially to blame for this marketing ploy.

The other ugly head of this beast is the manipulative marketing.  It’s one thing to present things for people to buy and let them decide.  It’s entirely another to make it so enjoying the game at all depends on spending more money over the purchase price.  It started with mobile games and the whole, “Pay another 99 cents to unlock 30 minutes of gameplay.”  The worst of what I’ve heard is from Activision recently though.  The idea is that, through matchmaking, they will encourage you to buy in-game items.  Pairing players who have good gear they bought, with those who have not purchased items, in order to trigger purchases through envy.  Manipulating our need to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ so to speak.

Personally, I don’t think I own any games with pay-to-win schemes built in, but if I do I can say for certain I’ve never bought any of the items.  I have purchased some convenience items through the Guild Wars 2 store, but as stated above I don’t see that as an issue in this debate anyway.  I think the only way we’re going to change these practices is to stop feeding the beast.  The publishers certainly aren’t going to just stop offering to take our money if we keep giving it to them.  The whole thing is a mess but we gamers have the means to change it for the better if enough of us want to.

Free Game Spotlight: Snake.io

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Credit: Amelos Interactive

Developer: Amelos Interactive
Platform: Google Play  &  iOS

Snake.io is the spiritual successor to the Miniclip minimalistic games Agar.io and Slither.io. It is apart of the fine tradition of relaxing and chill mobile games meant for waiting in line at the grocery store or ignoring your rude cousin at a family gathering. I was never the greatest fan of Agar.io. I enjoyed its minimalist design and how easy it was to just continue after inevitably dying over and over and over again. However, I think where Snake.io shines and where Agar.io failed to really reach me is that Agar.io was too aggressive to me, too stressful.

There certainly are ways to be tactfully aggressive with Snake.io but mostly it feels like we’re all just swimming along in this weird world where we’re all just trying to eat yummy colorful dots. The tactics in the game, for me, don’t come in until I reach a large enough size where I can surround other players and slowly close in on them until they are forced to collide with me and then I eat their souls, yummy.

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One of my more successful runs.

Snake.io is just a simple game and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more. There are calls for some improvements like adjustable controls and there are criticisms of their offline mode that the bots are too easy. It’s not an original game. It directly uses the visual model of Agar.io and the game play of Slither.io but, despite the fact that it isn’t the original, I definitely prefer this version with a much cleaner game design, more accurate movements, and minimal lag.

Crymson’s Top 10 Mobile Games

Sitting in your dentist’s office? Completely board during that important meeting? Want to avoid talking during family dinners? We have you covered! Here is the list of my top 10 mobile games. Now, these are obviously games that I have played; I can’t add on games I know nothing about. If there is a game you want me to try and review let me know!

10.Fallout Shelter
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Fallout Shelter, for your daily dose of Fallout 4, when you can’t play or can’t afford it. This game is free, but after time will run out of things to entertain you despite Bethesda’s new content.

9. Ascension
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Ascension is based off the board game Ascension. The game is free but there are add-ons that you can purchase, giving you access to the game’s expansions. If you love the board game, you will love the mobile app and vice versa. Make your friends download it and you can play with them, random strangers or the AI.

8. How To Train Your Dragon: Rise of Berk
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Probably the cheesiest game on my list is HTTYD: Rise of Berk. I LOVE HTTYD. I started playing this on Facebook before downloading it to my phone. If you love Dragons or HTTYD, you will find this adorable.

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Elder Sign: Omens

Elder Sign: Omens Review
Fantasy Flight Games
Mobile Game

I picked up this one because I own Elder Sign, the board game, and I love it. I dipped my toe in the gaming world of H. P. Lovecraft with Elder Sign and I ran off madly into the night with Cthulhu soon after.


Elder Sign: Omens plays almost just like the board game, which to me is a huge bonus. I walked into this with a general idea of what I am doing. It has a similar array of characters to choose from. I say similar because I do not own all of the expansions for the board game, but have purchased most of the expansions for the mobile game, which run about $2.99 each.


You choose your Elder One. Some are obviously much harder than others. I’ve beaten all of them except Cthulhu himself, the Elder One of the first expansion you can purchase. After you have made your selection (it does tell you how easy/hard each Elder One is), you select four members of your team. You get to go over each of their abilities and, after a lot of practice, I do have my ‘dream team’ out of the characters that are already unlocked. I do urge you to always take Kate Winthrop with you, since she is immune to terror effects and I find her instrumental in the game.


You go from room to room, defeating evil and gaining items. You gain spells (they hold dice rolls that you may need), common and rare weapons (additional red and/or yellow die to add to your pool), clues (the ability to reroll all remaining dice in your pool), and Elder Signs. You need to collect enough Elder Signs before the Elder One’s Doom Track fills up. Once it fills up, game over. However, if you get the Signs first, you win.


Simple, right?

It’s amazingly well done. It never plays the same twice, even if you pick the same Elder One and the same team. If you love H. P. Lovecraft, or Elder Sign, or board games, then you have to pick this game up. It’s available in your app store.

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter by Bethesda
Mobile Game

So, I’ve had the pleasure of playing the crap out of Fallout Shelter for my Samsung/Android. It’s been out long enough that I’ve beaten it and now am working on new content that they just put into the game. There is a really good reason for the new content, but I will get to that.

You are in control of a Shelter and the goal is to grow your shelter and protect your people. Simple right? Not really. I think I went through 10 different vaults before I didn’t kill all my people.

You have to worry about power to your rooms. After that, you need food and water for your people. They also like to be happy. So you create your rooms, put people in them (when they are in the ‘correct room,’ the cursors on the corners turns green) and hope they aren’t killed by raiders or deathclaws. BTW, Deathclaws come when you have more than 50 people.

You create training rooms to increase the S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats of your people (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charm, Intelligence, Agility and Luck). You can also send people into the wasteland with items (the gun and armor you can equip and a max of 25 Stimpacks and Radaways). They will bring back armor, guns and caps. Be sure to keep checking on them to bring them back before they die out there.

Now that I’ve said all of that, let’s talk about what I think. I think it is a fairly awesome time kill that took me a bit to get started. However, I reached the ‘end’ fairly quickly once I got started. I have 200 people, which is the max. I have pretty good guns and armor doesn’t matter because I’ve been maxing out all of their stats. At this point, I’m trying to get all the collectables, which is difficult since I’ve maxed out my people.

I must admit I was surprised that they added Halloween decorations, which I loved, but I’m confused because they only did the diner and the living quarters, which seems a little half-hearted. Why not just do them all?

Now they have recently added a new mode: Survival. You start getting attacked immediately by larger groups and you can’t revive anyone that dies. I’ve started it and it is taking longer to build up than previous vaults. It is definitely interesting.

With all that said Fallout Shelter is a good game, a good time waster, but I really hope they do more with it. It’s awesome and short and a nice way to keep people interested in Fallout 4 coming out, but we will see if it holds up over time or fizzles out.