No one was prepared for the popularity of Pokémon GO when it launched in the summer of 2016. Least of all mobile developer Niantic Inc. Explosive would be an understatement. The augmented reality mobile game was uniquely poised to combine a well-known, beloved brand with meta-social real world gameplay. The result was a cultural phenomenon that lasted months as we ran around our towns and cities trying to catch ’em all.
Three years and many content-rich updates later, Niantic has returned with an all new AR game with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The similarities between Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Pokémon GO are impossible to ignore. Both are based on beloved and popular children’s franchises, and both are AR games that require physically moving around to collect resources. Wizards Unite has the benefit of learning from Pokémon GO’s limits and early stutters, resulting in an enjoyable and worthy followup.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite takes place after the timeline of the original books and movies. You play as a wizarding member of the Statue of Secrecy Task Force. Player customization is a delight as it uses my phone camera to snap a selfie pic. I can then dress up in suitable Harry Potter accessories, like round glasses, scarves, and witch hats. I can also select which Hogwarts House I prefer and my style of wand, though all appear to be purely aesthetic choices.
The choice of profession is an important one, however. After gaining experience I can choose from three different classes, Auror, Magizoologist, and Professor. Each has its own skill tree when taking on wizard challenges, and provide helpful skills and increased defensive and offensive power. I can freely switch between them to explore different skill sets, or to fit the needs of those around me.
The goal is to dispel, rescue, or collect “foundables,” various magical creatures, implements, and curiosities that have begun leaking into the real world. They appear on the GPS map similar to Pokémon in Pokémon GO, and come in several different categories such as Magical Games and Sports, Ministry of Magic, Dark Arts, and Legends of Hogwarts.
Instead of throwing Pokéballs, I trace spell patterns with my finger. It’s immediately more engaging and interesting than throwing my hundredth Pokéball at the screen. More difficult foundables limit my time and demand more perfect tracing. I can also drink potions to help increase my spell potency.
Ingredients for potions are found on the map alongside foundables. Potions take time to brew and come in several flavors, from increasing my experience gain for a time to healing me in the middle of a wizarding challenge.
Casting spells costs spell power, the primary limited resource in Wizards Unite. Spell power can be gained from finding Inns scattered around the world in similar gathering places as PokéStops, such as churches and parks. Sadly the same limitations are found here as in Pokémon GO, leaving more rural gamers with much more limited options for finding Inns, Greenhouses (for gathering large chunks of ingredients), and Wizarding Challenges.
A wizarding challenge is Wizards Unite’s version of a co-op raid battle, as multiple players can jump into a series of battles together. Instead of the mass chaos of everyone furiously tapping their screen in a Pokémon Raid, Wizards Unite offers a series of more strategic battles. Certain professions will do better against certain enemies in a Rock-Paper-Scissors format, so having a diverse group of friends and nearby wizards can help. Players choose a difficulty level and everyone antes up a runestone, which are gained from filling out our registries, leveling up, and opening Portkeys (Wizards Unite’s version of Pokémon Eggs, which present fun treasure-filled AR rooms to explore).
Players in a Wizarding Challenge are presented with a room full of enemies to battle. Everyone gets their own one-on-one battles, but players can affect each other. A Magizoologist, for example, can heal another wizard using their Charm ability.
Battling enemies still requires spell tracing, though now players have to watch their hit points, and protect themselves from counterattacks with the Protego spell. The Raid battles in Pokémon Go can be exciting thanks to their limited timed availability, but Wizarding Challenges are much easier to jump into, and the multiple difficulty levels ensures everyone can participate regardless of their level.
Surviving wizarding challenges can be a drain on spellpower. Aside from the aforementioned Inns, Wizards Unite also offers Daily Assignments. These goals help provide motivation toward achieving certain goals, such as picking up an ingredient, dinning at inns, using a potion, or completing a challenge. Longer achievements work similarly, tracking milestones like reaching level 10, successfully casting 120 spells, and using 10 potions in challenges.
Rewards include potions, spell power, ingredients, XP, scrolls (for leveling up my skill tree), and gold (for purchasing any items in the store). Each day features eight different assignments, while daily treasures give me a rewards just for logging in, with better rewards given out for more consecutive days.
All of these elements help make Wizards Unite a rewarding experience, and that’s without spending a dime. Wizards Unite does a fantastic job incorporating every bit of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter while taking full advantage of Niantic’s excellent AR gameplay. Even if you have only a passing interest in Harry Potter and have since fallen off the Pokémon excitement, it’s well worth giving it a go.