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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery review - Harry Potter and the prisoner of microtransactions
Update (11/28/18): With rumors of a new Hary Potter game just around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to revisit Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Mystery.
It’s no surprise developers are clamoring for a piece of the relatively untapped goldmine that is the Harry Potter IP. Jam City’s Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is the first mobile game to take a stab at it, promising to let players work their way from a lowly first year student to full fledged wizard.
While it fulfills this promise, it’s going to cost you to get there. Just as you start to get whisked away to the world of Hogwarts, you slam into the first of many paywalls.
A new story in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The backstory of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is actually one of it’s strongest points. You play as a new student at Hogwarts four years after the birth of Harry Potter. This means the The Boy Who Lived and his friends don’t make an appearance, though the game is filled with references fans will love.
The game has a robust character creation system for customizing the appearance of your avatar however you see fit. Some cosmetic items have to be unlocked by leveling up (or purchased), but you can change your appearance or even your name at any time.
After the initial excitement of seeing your official acceptance letter to Hogwarts, a conversation with your new best friend Rowan (who is male or female depending on your character’s gender) reveals that your older brother was expelled and disappeared shortly afterwards.
Jam City spent two years crafting the game’s story, and it even features the voices of Michael Gambon and Dame Maggie Smith reprising their roles as Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, among others. It’s really cool to be able to finally play through the Hogwarts experience and interact with countless characters from the original series.
The graphics are decent in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, with fairly well-animated, Sims-esque characters. The legendary Hogwarts Express also makes an appearance, as well as Diagon Alley and the common rooms of all four houses.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery doesn't give you free reign to explore the castle itself
Unfortunately, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery doesn’t give you free reign to explore the castle itself. There are also a few immersion-breaking moments, like being able to choose your house rather than answering a few personality questions from the Sorting Hat. Personality quizzes that determine your house have been around for more than 20 years now, so it shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Tap, watch, wait gameplay
While lots of effort was taken in creating an interesting story, gameplay takes a backseat. If you’re familiar with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (there are more than 10 million of you, somewhere), Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery will feel familiar — it’s essentially the same game with a Hogwarts reskin.
The game is mostly story driven, and the decisions you make have at least some effect on outcomes. For example, performing a task well can earn points for your house (10 points for Gryffindor!) and recommending outfit choices for your friend Rowan changes his appearance. Your choices in conversations also affect your character’s courage, empathy, and knowledge attributes, which unlock new dialog options as you level them up.
The tasks themselves are where Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery leaves a lot to be desired. Each task has a time limit ranging from an hour to nearly half a day, and is completed by tapping on highlighted objects on the screen. Each tap will deplete your energy, which can only be regenerated by waiting long periods of time or purchasing gems through in-app purchases. A few energy-restoring secrets are hidden around the map, but you have to leave a task and lose all progress to get them.
The problem is how heavy-handedly microtransactions have been implemented
It’s understandable, if frustrating, that Jam City took this approach. They have to make money, and don’t want players to burn through the story in a few hours. The problem is how heavy-handed the micro-transactions are.
The first paywall is hit just 15 minutes into Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery (see above), right after completing the tutorial. Your character is trapped in a Devil’s Snare, and you need more energy than you have to complete the 8 hour task. You can either pay to refill your energy or wait an hour and a half to continue the story.
Even if you pay, in-game timers between classes present yet another barrier to playing through the story. You’ll have to wait 8 hours of real-world time to progress in the story.
If you’re the kind of player that can’t wait, you should be prepared to spend a lot of money (and time) to enjoy the full experience. The game’s extremely casual gameplay also appeals to children, so make sure to set up the necessary locks if you don’t want to be hit with an unexpected bill at the end of the month if your kid starts playing.
Die-hard Harry Potter fans will likely enjoy Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, regardless of the questionable money-grab design decisions made by its developers. It’s definitely not the magical adventure the rest of us were hoping for — hopefully that gap will be filled by Niantic’s release later this year.
What do you think of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery? Are you a big enough fan to overlook its flaws? Let us know in the comments! For those that do give it a go, be sure to check out our Harry Pottery: Hogwarts Mystery tips and tricks guide.