Niantic/WB Games

‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ doesn’t live up to the expectations set by ‘Pokemon Go’

Mobile developer Niantic's Pokémon Go was a massive success, and it's still attracting eager players with each passing month. According to Sensor Tower, Pokémon Go's loyal player base pushed its total revenue earned into the billions, as the game reached $2.6 million just days ahead of Niantic's next game's release: Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The studio's latest title touched down a day earlier than expected on June 21, and fans eagerly went to downloading it, amassing around $1 million in revenue for the company during the game's first weekend alone.

Niantic is looking to recapture some of the magic it previously drummed up with Pokémon Go now, quite literally, with its foray into the world of Harry Potter. Is it going to capture fans' hearts as completely as its previous hit? That's yet to be seen. But as far as what I've played so far, I'm going to have to say no.

Unfortunately, Wizards Unite it doesn't quite measure up to the higher standards set by its predecessor. While it's certainly rife with plenty of tasty Potter lore for players to lap up, it's also lacking in personality or exciting activities for players to actually take part in. Pokémon Go has several updates' worth of content to draw from and battle mechanics to make it much more appealing, where Wizards Unite feels like a rudimentary blueprint for eventual greatness. It just needs some more time in the oven.

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Harry Potter: Wizards Unite whisks you away to a magical world where you're tasked with joining the Ministry of Magic and combating the mysterious "calamity" that's overtaken the world. This means you'll be bringing the magic from the world of Harry Potter "into" reality thanks to the title's AR features. Unlike most mobile games (and like Pokémon Go is solely based on), you have to physically walk around your neighborhood or wherever you are with your phone in hand to play this game, as it's solely based off the map and landmarks around you.

Using your phone's camera and location-based tracking, you can happen upon a wide variety of Fantastic Beasts, characters from the Harry Potter series, and even artifacts just sitting out in the wide world somewhere. It's your job to clean things up and return all of these misplaced people, items, and creatures back to where they truly belong in the Harry Potter universe. Mischief managed!

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It may sound exciting, but it quickly becomes anything but. From the moment you open the app, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite feels derivative, as if it were nothing more than a fresh coat of Harry Potter-laden paint heaped upon Pokémon Go. Even the gameplay loop is a carbon copy of the developer's previous game, except there's even less to do now.

There's a very specific formula that Niantic has followed here. You're tasked with finding and returning "foundables" to their rightful place in history by casting spells and then adding your foundables to your registry. These can range from characters like Hagrid to magical tomes and everything in between. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's exactly like going out, capturing Pokémon by throwing Poké Balls, and then adding them to your Pokédex. There are analogues to Poké Stops such as landmarks you can visit on your map as well, including items to use and "gyms" to "battle" in, though they simply go by a different name.

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Each foundable is typically guarded by a being called a "confoundable" that you have to defeat before you can return it to your glorified sticker book. To defeat it, you've got to complete a spell. There's around a dozen spells you'll go through in order to take down the "enemy," and casting them is simpler than writing your own name. This makes using the spells extremely boring, especially since the same few tend to show up so often: Alohomora, Ebublio, etc. Some, like Ebublio, will trap the enemies in a bubble and they'll float away, leaving the foundable free to return to their place in Potter history. The effects after a successful casting change from spell to spell.

All you have to do is trace the shape that appears onscreen. You don't even have to do a great job. As long as you've at least approximated the shape, you can push through to victory. Supposedly the game grades you on how well you trace for each shape, but I've done some pretty awful tracings on purpose that the game has graded "good" and then some spot-on work that it deemed "fair." So it seems like something of a crapshoot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't — and for my iPhone X, which does a fantastic job of tracking my "penmanship" on the touch screen, that's pretty frustrating.

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Beyond the lackluster spellcasting and capturing mechanics, one of the biggest problems within Wizards Unite is its overall lack of interactivity. Where Pokémon Go feels like a living, breathing world you enter every time you take out your phone, Wizards Unite is more of a multimedia sticker book. There's no challenge. The only real thing to be excited for is what you might find waiting on the map somewhere, and that gets old after a while, too.

Of course, much of the draw for some players will come from the fact that this is an AR game that, as previously mentioned, requires you to go outside and get some exercise to play. But beyond that, it offers nothing in the way of exciting features. You can turn AR on or off in battle, which essentially means you can capture a creature with the backdrop of your living room or the sidewalk instead of a premade background. Honestly, I preferred the backgrounds because the notion that Hagrid would somehow be trapped in my living room floor seems a little ridiculous.

Further into the game, you'll have to get into some "true" combat at fortresses and in certain areas on the game map that will require a bit more than simply tracing shapes to proceed, but only slightly. These fights are far too simplified as well, and honestly, not very fun to play through.

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Unfortunately, several other issues I ran into made the entire experience a less enjoyable endeavor than I had thought it would be. When I found a particularly congested area with plenty of foundables to collect, it was then I started experiencing game-breaking bugs. I would tap on one to enter battle, and the game would hang at the loading screen indefinitely. This went on for an hour until I decided I didn't want to put up with it anymore, restarted my phone, and put it away.

Later that evening I tried again, and it began happening at such alarming frequency that I felt, in my heart of hearts, officially "done" with Wizards Unite. Granted, these are the same kind of problems that Pokémon Go suffered from when it first debuted, but they don't exactly bode well for the future of this Harry Potter endeavor. Given Niantic's push to continuously improve Pokémon Go since its debut, I was expecting much more from Wizards Unite. There's been plenty of time for testing what works and what doesn't, so what happened here?

For now, unless you're such a diehard fan that you can't bear the thought of missing out on the next great Hogwarts-centric adventure, you're better off playing casually or picking up something more rewarding — like digging out your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and re-reading it.