Review: Harry Potter Wizards Unite takes the magic out of the wizarding world
While the Harry Potter literature series might have concluded in 2007 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, its mastermind J.K. Rowling has been busy cashing in with all kinds of special projects: a multi-billion dollar film series that concluded in 2011, a multi-city attraction with Universal Studios, a studio tour with Warner Bros, a stage play at London's West End, and the on-going Fantastic Beasts spin-off.
This week, the wizard world has come alive yet again through an location-based, AR game that's produced by Niantic. If that name sounds a little familiar, they are the same guys behind Pokémon Go.
Since flipping over 600 pages or sitting through a two-hour film takes way too much commitment, I decided to give the wizarding world a shot for the very first time as a freshie. That's right; I've never read or watched a single Harry Potter book or film, and I blame my mother for that. Back in 2001, when The Philosopher's Stone dropped, I was just a clueless six-year-old kid. My mother — like many mothers at that time — believed that the 'witchcraft' depicted in the movie was satanic.
When I installed the game on my iPhone 8s, I imagined that it would be as simple as wielding fancy wands, casting fabulous spells, and killing ugly monsters. I was wrong.
Compared to Pokémon Go, it feels that Wizards Unite has attempted to provide a more in-depth and personal experience. For example, players are able to create their own in-game avatar, and even customise their own wand. Later in the game, players are able to choose their professions (Auror, Magizoologist, and Professor) and even use 'portkeys' that teleports the player to safety when they're faced with an overpowering adversary.
What I liked
It was interesting that each player has their own 'Ministry ID', which allows them to customise their names as well as the house that they want to belong to. When taking a photo for the ID, there are a handful of interactive AR options and face filters that take the 'passport photo' experience to the next level.
Characters that I encountered were pretty realistic as well. I came across a couple of golden snitches and a couple of massive trolls on the way to work. I had to spin around in circles to get my hands on a golden snitch, which might have been pretty hilarous for anyone watching.
What I disliked
For a newbie like me, the gameplay moves at a very fast pace. I was being introduced to many new functions too quickly that the learning curve felt confusing and off-putting. The long dialogues between tutorials didn't help at all. It eventually turned me off the game's 'walkability' experience.
There are some obvious similarities with Pokémon Go, so it felt disconcerting that such a massive fanchise lacked a sense of originality.
Allegedly, some local players weren't able to play the game in some neighbourhoods in Singapore such as Yishun, as the features haven't been populated across some regions of the map.
The game is also buggy at times, and took some time to load on several instances.
While true die-hard fans might be more invested in its advanced gameplay, rookies might find it difficult to progress enough to unlock promising content.
It may also be that the game caters to a younger demographic, and especially those who are enjoying the Harry Potter books and films for the first time.
To be fair, the game is still in its early stages, but right now, all I want to do is get into a portkey and teleport back onto my bed.