Massively on the Go: First Impressions of Harry Potter Wizards Unite

    
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I know I’ve given Niantic hell when it comes on iterating on its Ingress formula, especially in terms of Pokemon Go, but Harry Potter: Wizards Unite shows that someone over there – if not Niantic, then one of its partners – knows how to make things better. WU takes many of Pokemon Go’s current features and puts them into a new game (aside from the offline step counter Adventure sync, which players are already lamenting).

That being said, I think there’s a good reason the game hasn’t made mainstream news the same way POGO did: It doesn’t respect the feeling of the source material.

Bare basics

The basic thing to know about Wizards Unite is that it’s a collecting augmented reality game, much like POGO. You are running around collecting things, not just magical items and creatures but memories, which obviously gives Portkey Games/Niantic/whoever the justification to show popular characters and scenes from the movies in the game. They’re in the real world and need to be returned, but for whatever reason, there are multiple copies you run into even after you’ve returned them, and nothing awful seems to happen if you fail so… the story, told via quest chat, feels rather flimsy. It’s nice to have a new MMOARG compared to POGO and its spectacular launch, but considering we have the movie version of the Ravenclaw mascot, I’m not sure how appealing the game may be to hardcore book fans.

It’s not that the writing is bad, just that it feels very skippable. I’m several hours into the game and basic gameplay feels intuitive enough if you ignore the story, but the game is quite a bit deeper than POGO was at launch. You don’t just have reskinned Stops and Gyms, as there’s absolutely no PvP. In fact, your wand, house, name, and icon are devoid of meaning, can be changed at will, and may not actually be seen by other players. Instead of Pokeballs, you need energy, gained by going to inns for food or greenhouses for supplies.

The inn is simple: Much as you do when casting previously chosen spells, you simply trace the on-screen icon and you’ll randomly get food to give you energy. The greenhouse, in theory, is cool in that it gives you not only a random amount of energy but also supplies for potions and planting. You can actually grow something everyone around you can make use of, but of course there are a few issues.

First, energy must be used for just about everything in the game: for recovering items, for fighting creatures at nodes, for tackling the game’s dungeons (yes, there are multiplayer dungeons, kind of), and for growing plants. Once the plant is done, items spawns on the ground for everyone, but it takes a lot of effort and time. You may not be able to actually use your own supplies or benefit from them, which is a major drag. Worse, because it requires a good deal of energy, most people seem to simply give up on the greenhouses, even for energy until they realize they’re one of the only sources for it.

Basic gameplay consists of finding an icon on the map (other than treasure chests, seeds, or potion craftables) and engaging in either immediate tracing of – if a battle is needed – hovering your wand over a mobile target before being able to trace. “Foundables” are your rewards as well as XP, though foundables (once all their pieces are collected) belong to something like sticker collections. These unlock other rewards, which help you level and work on your class skills (“lessons”), so you can do more dungeons and get more stickers ad infinitum.

Yes, this game has classes. There’s the Auror (the DPS class), the Magizoologist (tank and healer), and Professor (DPS/buff/debuff class). You can change classes at any time (though there’s no skill refund and you’ll be locked out of the skills you picked up along the way), and each has a rock/paper/scissor PvE strength and weakness.

Dungeons are a bit reminiscent of the guild challenges in Injustice 2, in that they’re a mixture of solo work and watching an ally battle and offering support mid-combat. You can either hope to find a group or (more likely) form one with friends in real life on the spot for the cost of a rune (which are earned in game or can be bought in the game shop). Join the same tier challenge and then you’ll have a lobby-like area where people choose an enemy to 1v1. While in the lobby, you can heal friends, hex enemy mobs, or buff your friends. If you beat enough enemies within the allotted time, you win. If not, you lose the match and even your rune.

It’s kind of cool, especially since there’s a timer that forces you to move, though it’s annoying when battles stall due to lag. It also makes the Magizooligist class kind of underwhelming, as the other classes don’t really heal but debuff/buff allies. I suppose if you toss everything you can at the MZ and your enemy targets, being able to absorb a lot of damage would allow an MZ to give out more heals or use heals/potions more effectively, but in my MMO mind, I just keep seeing “The tank is the healer,” and getting lost in how awkward that is with only three classes.

In some ways, it feels more intimate than Pokemon Go ever did. Maybe it’s partially because of this game seems quiet in mainstream media during the release, but also because in POGO hotspots I visited solo and with a friend, the game just hasn’t caught fire. If you want to do a dungeon or find something rare, you really need to belong to a community.

Bumping into other players isn’t quite as easy, and it’s not just because of the lack of meatspace players. While broken, the POGO tracker gave you an idea of what you were looking for around you. Aside from lures, there’s nothing that feels like it draws me to an area where I might meet other people. While the POGO raids’ rigid timers make it so you have a small window of opportunity to PUG things, they’re at least well broadcast. Wizards Unite has no such systems that I’ve noticed.

On the one hand, it makes it feel like Wizards Unite just isn’t going to be a game I’ll probably be meeting new people in outside of the POGO groups that have given birth to Wizards Unite subgroups. On the other, it has made me try a little harder to get people into the game and to organize outings, though I’ve only had so much luck with that.

Getting immersion right

I want to start this section off by comparing Wizards Unite with Maguss and my first impressions of that game:

“As a single-player experience […] Maguss is, dare I say, pretty freaking good for a mobile title. You level, raise stats, find loot, even make simple pre-set conversation with other players you duel. However, dueling is basically the only multiplayer feature right now. As much as I think POGO‘s gym system was a band-aid on a content-wound that really needs to be removed at this point, at least it had that. If Maguss had implemented territorial PvP again, fine. If it’d done trading or group monsters, things might have been more interesting. But simple dueling feels like a beta kludge, and I’m hoping there’ll be something more social at launch to lure people in – if the monetization doesn’t scare people away.”

I know this may sound like blasphemy, especially with how upset I was with some of the UI issues and the gross over monetization the game had, but Maguss was the better Harry Potter ARG at release in a lot of ways, at least in terms of immersion. The spellcasting (when it works) is much more interesting, as is the combat system. The potion brewing in Maguss is a bit more tedious, in that you need to do a tracing mini-game at certain steps (which is time-consuming and awkward), but much more inspired than “press this button to start or this button to give us money to do it faster.”

The HP series has rarely focused on collecting things aside from supplies for an adventure (or to stop He Who Must Not Be Named). I’m saying this as a casual fan, but Harry Potter was about going to school, discovering a new world, casting spells, learning to brew potions, and occasionally fighting. It’s the same issue I brought up when we got the first hints of the game, but instead of adapting PvP among houses into something more “fun,” they’ve lost all meaning. Even something simple like House Points being tracked for certain activities, leading to special titles and a store sale for in-game house apparel (without any in-game effects) would have been a nice touch. Functionless Harry Potter Houses feels like an MMO without trading or chat (which this game also lacks).

We can’t have pets, we can’t experiment with potions, and we can’t even choose what spell we cast 90% of the time aside from in dungeon lobbies, not even the actual battles. The game is fun enough, if a bit cheap feeling. The dungeons are enjoyable enough, especially for a mobile game. But as a Harry Potter game, it feels too much like a forced Pokemon Go. I don’t need multiple megaphones once I’ve “saved” one, especially since I can’t make it stronger, more durable, or even use it, so having basic gameplay around that just makes the XP grind much more visible. And that’s really not something a game should be doing from day one.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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elenie

I’ve been playing the beta (Australia) and agree with the article. Specifically, having a collection of individual Pokemon is much more interesting than having a collection of foundables (just stickers in an album), more so than I would have anticipated.

I do like location based games, I like PoGO’s pet collection and HPWU’s RPG aspects, I just wish there was a deeper game with better monetization (like B2P/premium sub for a deeper feature list and much better social tools).

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Krenian Kandos

I’ve been playing a bit on HPWU and I’ve kinda puttered off on POGO but there is something I’d like to touch up on this article:

The part where it’s stated that there is no real reason to go there as there’s no tracker to it: I think the flags that you see randomly on the maps, when you click on them, allow you to know where certain “Foundables” spawn more often. In that retrospect, it’s better than Pokemon Go simply because you can focus on a particular Foundable to get more of the items you require to finish your collection. Take a look at that the next time you’re in the game: Find a flag that’s in the middle of some field or something and click on it; it opens up a ‘range’ of a particular set of items. I don’t know what kind of increase it is, but it would make people want to go to those places.

A couple of other things:

1) I ‘much’ prefer HPWU’s method of catching “Foundables” over POGO’s throwing of the ball. It’s much more interactive instead of just tossing the ball. Furthermore, I feel like the Augmented Reality is a lot better than the one in PoGO. I had to turn the latter off nearly asap because I hated how I could not measure distance or how it just didn’t feel right to see it out the way it was. I had ‘way’ more of a success rate catching Pokemon and with a ‘finite’ amount of balls that yes, can be refueled by going to a stop, nothing irked me more than having to waste 4-5 balls to figure out the distance and where the pokemon was so I could catch it. In contrast, HPWU simply has you draw the spell and you don’t have to navigate the camera in any particular way to have an impact; it simply has you there to see the interaction in the real world. Some would say that makes things too easy and that it adds a depth of difficulty for PoGO. I digress; I found it more annoying.

2) I also MUCH prefer the way that HPWU has their gym/fortress set up. It was an entire sore point with me on how gyms are used in PoGO; there is literally no point other than getting coins and extra items from a Gym. A gym was completely static and to me, I dare say, went completely against what Pokemon was originally in regards to Gyms. I loathe the gym system in PoGO. I won’t deny that. I would have MUCH rather have a system like HPWU where the gym is actually a place where you can level your pokemon without having to find pokemon and use candy to evolve it.

I could go on and on about things I don’t like out of PoGo because to me, PoGo is the game that actually does not keep to the heart and soul of what Pokemon was. But in the end, it comes down to personal interest. While I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s opinion here, I was nodding to a few points: specifically the energy portion of HPWU where it is required for basically ‘everything’ so you are travelling a lot more often to the greenhouses/inns to get energy because it’s way more required in this game to do so.

One final note: Greenhouses only being able to be used by one person is downright annoying. I’m not sure why that decision was made, truth be told. I’m assuming they decided that they wanted to have a gym like feel to those without the real need to challenge to get said place so it’s more annoying to find a greenhouse to grow stuff in order to use the items you find in the world.

Kinda went on a ramble but I felt like I needed to chime on the subject.

Either way, enjoy whichever game you enjoy most!

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terminallynerdy

I think I would rather mess with Minecraft Earth when its released then this from the sound of it 0_0

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David Goodman

I can’t seem to get portkeys to work (it goes into camera mode, looking at my surroundings, and the boot to place a portkey never appears on my phone), but otherwise, it’s not a bad little AR game.

It’s certainly not as groundbreaking compared to Pokemon Go as POGO was when it released; building off of Ingress was a much larger step than from there to HPWU. There are a lot of things I think they can improve (bugs notwithstanding) to bring it up to the same level of polish.

Edit: Thinking of it this way: When POGO came out, I loved it, despite not giving one of my famously-absent F@#%s. When HPWU came out, even though I DO like HP, I was like, “Hey, neat, it’s POGO but with Harry Potter”. The impact wasn’t there, no matter how good of a game it is or has the potential to be.

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Coldrun ??

The biggest strengths to me so far over POGO:

1) The wizarding challenges are FAR more fun than any of the raid content, and they let play them solo.

2) I like the variety of spell-tracing far more than trying to land a pokeball.

I have some friends playing the game, but they live far away. Is it possible to join friends in another place in their wizarding challenges? If so, WOOO! If not (and I assume not based on no remote raids in POGO), that’s the one change I most want.

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François Verret

I do like the challenges as well, except that I timed out the second time around. I have to wait for my miniSD card to be delivered so I can download the assets to my phone and not have to rely on data (which would kill my wallet anyway).

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Minimalistway

Reading about the classes makes me ask: why there is no HP MMO yet? i could imagine what they could do with crafting or profession which some of them could work as a class, or can i dream of HP sandbox?