I’ve been an avid Pokemon Go player for a while now, and also dabble in Ingress at the same time. These are both augmented reality games from Niantic, that mix your actual location in the world with game play. As you wander around your surrounding area you encounter various places and items that you interact with in game. In Pokemon, it’s random wild Pokemon that you can catch and add to your collection. In Ingress, it’s portals that you can hack to gain items, or destroy to take down the enemy team’s strength. These games are often very deep, and you can play them idly, as you go places. They also track your steps, and reward you for them, so it encourages you to get out and move.
This past week the newest release landed, Harry Potter: Wizard’s Unite. The basic premise is that some unknown force has been causing things to appear in random places around the world. To protect the secrecy of the wizarding world you must cast spells to free these items and allow them to return to their proper place in the world. You also encounter fortresses where you can do battle against dark forces, both solo, and with your friends. There is also a large crafting and leveling component to the game which promises some longevity.
As someone who’s been playing Pokemon Go for a while, there was an immediate comparison to that game, and how it did or didn’t measure up. In fact at first blush, I was very underwhelmed by Wizard’s Unite. I found it to be clunky and inelegant, with far too many things to keep track of. Many of the first reviews out there agreed, that this felt like too far of a departure from the beloved game style of Pokemon Go, while still just being a skin over the same mechanics.
However, I’ve now been able to spend more time with the game, and I’m changing my tune. The more I get to know the interface, and the various mechanics, the more I’ve found myself enjoying it. Yes, there’s a steep learning curve to really understand everything that’s going on, but once you’ve figured out the basics, it starts to become more natural.
Here’s where I think Wizard’s Unite get’s things right.
- Using the mechanic of tracing the outline of a spell works really well on a touch-based device. Once you learn the spells motions it becomes pretty rudimentary to cast them when required, and it’s different than just throwing a Pokeball everytime.
- In addition to casting the spell, the method for determining success is a fun balance between being careful and being quick. You might be able to trace a spell perfectly, but slowly, and that lowers it’s effectiveness. However, trying to go faster can result in missing the outline too much and failing to cast the spell at all. It ends up being a neat balancing act.
- The story throughout the game is fun and engaging. You’re trying to solve a mystery, and that’s always fun. As you unravel more and more of the plot, you get to meet more characters, and that makes reading the filler dialogue more interesting.
- The Harry Potter world is presented well, and despite the fact that many things are just cosmetic (like which House you choose to join), you feel like you’re in the actual world of Harry Potter. There are tons of references to books, movies, and extra material throughout the game that help keep you engaged.
So where do I think they got things wrong?
- The energy mechanic needs some adjustment, but not for the reason you may thing. Many people are bemoaning the lack of energy that they’re finding to cast spells, but much like Pokeballs in Pokemon Go, it takes time to build up your supplies. I think in time, balancing always having energy available won’t be such a big deal. My issue is that energy is used for too many things, and you can only replenish it at certain places. In Pokemon you can get more Pokeballs at any stop or gym. In Wizard’s Unite you can only get energy from Inns, and sometimes greenhouses. But yet you need to use energy any time you’re casting spells either in the wild, or in a fortress. Pokemon never asked you to use your own Pokeballs in a gym or raid. In Wizard’s Unite you have to spend not just energy, but runes as well, meaning that you’re using up two forms of currency.
- Spawn and de-spawn rates need some tweaking. It feels like the number of times that an encounter ends with the challenge disappearing is far too many. In Pokemon Go the wild creature can run way and you miss your chance to catch them. It’s not terribly common, but it happens. In Wizard’s Unite it feels like it’s happening way too often. Additionally, foundables seem to resist your spells way too often.
- Better guides online. This is a game that has a lot of depth built in to it. It would have been great if some of the tutorials would have been presented in a website or YouTube video (much like Ingress). I think they missed an opportunity to help people really understand what they were doing here.
Apart from that, I’m not finding much to hate on. The complexity of things like growing plants in greenhouses, or mixing potions could be simplified a bit more, but they do make the game feel like it has more depth than others. Perhaps in the future, some simplification of the number of spell ingredients would be nice.
I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m still playing frequently in a couple weeks, or if I’ve gone back to Pokemon, but for now I’m enjoying a bit of something new.