Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Niantic’s follow-up project to smash-hit Pokémon GO officially releases today, but in some regions, including mine, it went live early yesterday instead.
I thought I would give it a shot, and what was supposed to be a short test run turned into a multi-hour playtime experience with me yet again discovering new places near me (parks! Whole Foods!) in my pursuit of magical artifacts to capture and evil wizards to fight.
Wizards Unite seems fairly overwhelming at first, especially compared to GO which has the basic “see Pokémon, catch Pokémon” system that follows the logic of the handheld games pretty easily. But Niantic is not going for a barebones launch for its Harry Potter offering, but rather is releasing a much more fleshed-out game than GO was at launch, and quite possibly a more fleshed-out game than GO currently is, even three years later after all its additions.
Harry Potter does share one central concept with GO, capturing things. But instead of Pokémon, you are capturing or freeing magical artifacts, creatures or even people, cast into the wild by some sort of disastrous spell called The Calamity (yes, Wizards Unite even has a story, complete with voice acting). You need to return all this stuff to its proper places across the Harry Potter universe, and to do this, instead of throwing Pokeballs, you’re casting spells by tracing patterns on your phone with your finger. The faster and more accurately you trace, the more effective your spell will be, and you can get the hang of it quickly. I already like it more than the Pokeball-throwing mini-game, frankly.
Pokestops are now Inns where food will give you energy to keep casting more spells. Energy is so far the one downside of Wizards Unite because it has a much, much lower cap than the total Pokeballs you can use in GO, and from what I can tell, does not recharge over time. This means you can run dry on spells at very inopportune moments, and if you don’t live near a cluster of inns, you will be asked to shell out a dollar for 50 energy frequently, sometimes even in the middle of battles you will lose if you don’t give in. It’s not a great system.
This is where the similarities to GO start to end, however. I vastly prefer Wizards Unite’s battle system, which avoids the incessant tapping of GOand has you casting offensive and defensive spells in “fortresses” on the map against creatures and dark wizards, and there’s some strategy aspect to it as well where you can place curses on enemies before you fight them, reducing their power or HP.
While like GO, I turned off AR when it came to capturing magic artifacts, you have to leave it on for Portkeys, which are hatched like GO’s eggs through walking, but once they’re ready, you place a literal portal in the real world, walk through it, then find hidden objects in a virtual room as you spin around it looking through your phone. It’s rather neat, and very rewarding.
As you level, you will discover than Wizards Unite has some decent RPG aspects, in that it has three “professions” that each have entire skill trees attached to them. I chose to be an Auror, and even with just a day’s worth of upgrades, I already found myself much more effective in combat.
There are enemies to fight, challenges to complete, artifacts and people to collect, mysteries to unravel and more. There’s a lot here, and it’s pretty easy to figure out and get involved in once you can start to make sense of it. There are some weird aspects, like the energy system, and the fact that you can’t customize your avatar past being a weird red shape on the map, but perhaps that will change in time.
I don’t know if Wizards Unite will be a massive hit on the scale of GO. Odds would say that’s unlikely, given how unpredictable GO’s massive success was, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Niantic has indeed created a second great AR game when no one else has even come close to creating a true GO rival all this time, so I would worry a bit about cannibalization between the two, but that’s a conversation for another day.
It’s a strange game, but it gets more fun the more you play it, and I expect that it will find an audience rather quickly. See you out there. Look for the Griffindor wearing a Death Eater mask.