I’ve been meaning to uninstall Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for months now. Yes, I have known for quite a while that this is not the kind of digital Harry Potter experience I want, which means they need to reveal whatever that open-world thing is as soon as possible or I must finally play my cheap-o copies of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the PlayStation 2. Heck, LEGO Harry Potter did a much better job of immersing me in the fantastic and fantastical world of wizards, muggles, and a secretive school for learning magic.
The game is naturally set in Hogwarts, but before the events of J.K. Rowling’s novels, featuring a customized protagonist, who you can see above in this blog post’s prominent screenshot. Yup, that’s me, eating the world’s largest sandwich. Alas, he probably looks like a lot of other players’ avatars because the customizing options are fairly limited or locked behind spending high amounts of your precious gem currency…just to get a different hairstyle. Anyways, your homemade student is a first-year and can attend magic classes, learn spells, battle rivals, and embark on quests. So long as you have the time.
Throughout Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery‘s story, players are able to make choices that affect the game’s narrative. Occasionally, these choices are locked if the player’s statistics are not high enough. As expected, your avatar will be interacting with notable characters from the series, such as Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid (aka, the best character ever), Severus Snape, and Minerva McGonagall. The main plot starts with your character meeting Rowan Khanna in Diagon Alley, a young witch or wizard–I think if you pick a male avatar, Rowan will also be male because Melanie’s Rowan was a young woman–who teaches the player all about the wizarding world. Later, a conversation with wandmaker Ollivander reveals that the player character’s brother, Jacob, was expelled from Hogwarts for attempting to open the “Cursed Vaults,” a hidden vault rumored to have existed at the school.
As a free-to-play mobile game, it naturally features a system with tasks costing energy to perform. Look, it’s just a staple of the genre now, so to speak. You have to tap on the screen–really specific characters or objects–to use energy during quests; when you run out, you can either wait for it to recharge over real time or pay gems to add more (don’t ever do this). The player also gains different levels of courage, empathy, and knowledge via the choices they make, and higher levels of a particular attribute allow the player to choose some different dialogue options or change the interactions of other students and staff. You won’t be surprised to learn that I focused mostly on empathy throughout my short, two Ravenclaw years at Hogwarts, because I’m a caring soul.
Here’s the part that I found really frustrating in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Many of the quests are limited not only by a specific amount of energy, but also time. For example, say you are trying to learn a new spell. Well, you have only an hour to complete the quest, and you end up being a few energy taps short after your first go at it. Obviously, you just need to wait a bit and come back to it, but I don’t like feeling tied to my cell phone all the time, and I’d often only return way later to learn that I had failed the quest and would have to do it all over again to progress.
The game looks quite good, but the writing is disappointingly bland. There are occasional moments of interesting stuff, but the side dialogue during quests is so generic it might as well not even be there. Every now and then you get asked a magic-related question to answer, and the questions are beyond easy, even for someone only faintly aware of the Potterverse. Dueling other students and casting spells is neat, but mostly just involves tapping and relying on a rock, paper, scissors outcome. Honestly, the waiting around for your energy meter to recharge wouldn’t be too bad…if you had more to do in Hogwarts. But everything requires energy. You just jump from space to space, looking for something interesting to engage in, and, shockingly, at a school where a professor can turn into a cat or staircases move on their own, there is nothing special to engage in. What a shame.
Ultimately, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery made me feel like a prisoner of Azkaban, demanding I check in on it sooner than later, and I am deathly afraid of Dementors…so no thank you.