Have you ever wanted to attend Hogwarts? Have you wanted to be the star of an adventure in the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter where it was you and not the Boy Who Lived who could decide the fates of many? Have you ever wanted to see professors beam with pride at your accomplishments or get into a snark fight with Severus Snape? Well, I honestly wanted to attend Durmstrang, but I’ll take Hogwarts for now. But, I can now virtually fulfill the rest of those dreams with the new mobile game Harry Potter: A Hogwarts Mystery.
Harry Potter: A Hogwarts Mystery (Hereafter referred to as A Hogwarts Mystery, because Harry is not involved), is a narrative-driven click-adventure game set in the years after Voldemort was defeated. You are a first-year student at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry (you get to choose your own house), who happens to be the younger sibling of someone who was a troublemaker who got expelled looking for the Cursed Vault – whatever that is. Your older brother happens to be suspected of following He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as well, which, as we all know from the books and movies, means everyone assumes you’re just like him. The story begins as you enter Diagon Alley to find your school supplies.
Disclaimer. Leigh plays tons of mobile games. However, those who know me know that I don’t play a lot of mobile games. I try to get into them, but most of them bore me after a week or so, and I delete them from my phone. I tend to find the mechanics repetitive, and I really get frustrated by the tiny energy bar that refills at the speed of ice melting in a Scandinavian winter, which I know is a tactic done to make the microtransactions seem worthwhile. That annoys the heck out of me.
Now that that’s out there, I do want to say that, overall, I enjoy playing A Hogwarts Mystery, but the game isn’t perfect. So, let’s talk about the good and the bad of the game.
The Good. There’s a lot to say about A Hogwarts Mystery. First, the visuals are clean and clear, although, some of the characters look a bit odd. Professor McGonagall looks almost skeletal when you see a closeup of her face. There are a few lines of dialogue that use the voices of the various actors from the films, and the music score is nicely handled, giving the feel of being in the movies (somewhat). There are some neat mechanics that allow for variations, such as tracing the wand patterns when casting a spell and the Rock-Paper-Scissors dueling mechanic (as well as an AI that doesn’t always repeat the same pattern!). The story is engaging – I both want and need to know what happens next. And, I’ll be honest, the thrill of winning the House Cup and keeping it in the glorious hands of Slytherin House never gets old.
The Bad. There are three things that I really don’t like about A Hogwarts Mystery – the stupid energy meter, the overly sensitive tapping mechanism, and that, at key times, your choices don’t matter for the story. Let’s start with the first – I know I’ve already mentioned that this is a mechanic I hate in mobile games. Why? The quickly depleted/slowly restored energy mechanic only serves two functions: to get people “addicted” to the routine of the game (multiple studies have shown that) and to frustrate players so they will purchase energy restoration at between $1-2 per transaction. This is a mechanic that doesn’t improve gameplay – it’s only designed to get players to spend money. I’m fine with some microtransactions; I’ll pay $5-10 dollars for outfits for my characters. That’s fine. But I draw the line when games allow me to pay for boosts to ensure victory or expect me to pay – just to keep playing the game longer than 5 minutes at a time while I have to wait 3 hours to play it again.
Similarly, the game has a “wait until your quest is ready” mechanic that can be overridden by paying 55 gems – which cost almost $2 to purchase. For example, yesterday, Madame Pomfrey asked me to get some ingredients for a Skelegrow Potion from Professor Snape. I went and acquired those ingredients, but I had to wait three hours before I was allowed to return them to her – unless I handed over 55 gems (which are not super easy to acquire through gameplay alone). Why? There is no logic to that. It’s nothing but frustration that’s designed to encourage me to spend more money just to play the game. Look, I get it that the game is free, but most Potterheads would gladly pay $5 or 10 to play this game if we didn’t have to worry about these stupid mechanics. I actually would.
That’s my biggest issue with A Hogwarts Mystery, but I do need to address the sensitivity of the clicking mechanic. I know that Leigh and I have both found it easy to spend gems on energy restoration without recognizing it because the touchscreen click mechanic is super sensitive. Additionally, I’ve found that sensitivity an issue with tracing the wand patterns of the spells – it’s easy to fail at your spellcasting or “need improvement” simply because your finger deviated from the pattern by a millimeter or two. This doesn’t have a devastating effect on gameplay that I can perceive, but it is extremely frustrating to fail at something as soon as your finger touches the screen. A patch could easily improve this, so it’s not a game-breaking deal. However, it should be noted.
Finally, I’ve noticed that, at a few key points in the narrative, when I’m given the choice to do something dangerous or take a responsible route, the game railroads me into taking the dangerous option. To any game designers out there: if a player’s choice is not going to matter, don’t give the player a choice. Few things frustrate players more than realizing that, no matter what they decide, the outcome will always be the same. If this continues as I hit my advanced years, this may be the reason I stop playing this game.
Final Thoughts. I like A Hogwarts Mystery, but it’s not perfect. It’s got a good story, and the experience of Hogwarts feels authentic from a fan’s standpoint. It’s got some fun mechanics (especially the dueling mechanic), but it could use a greater variety to ease the slight sense of repetition that can happen. It has a few mechanics that I despise, and some that could use improvement. That said, overall, the game is engaging and enjoyable.
And, I’m open to any suggestions of mobile games that I might enjoy!
Rating. 3 out of 4 Bats in Witches Hats