Harry Potter: Wizards Unite review: Hands-On
When the Pokémon Go phenomenon swept the globe back in the summer of 2016, Harry Potter fans around the world began to ponder: imagine if we had a game like this set in the Wizarding World? It looks developers Niantic and Warner Brothers Games were listening, because we are getting just that this year.
We spent about an hour playing the mobile game on the streets of London, accompanied by some of the game’s creators. We bombarded them with questions while we had the chance. We were strictly forbidden from taking any photos, screenshots or video as we played, so those you see here are assets provided by Niantic and WB Games themselves.
We can, however, share plenty of first-hand hands-on experience of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite to give you an idea of what to expect when the game lands in app stores. For more, take a look at our top Harry Potter: Wizards Unite tips and tricks.
What is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite about?
When you first launch Wizards Unite, you’ll be introduced to the story that’ll propel you into the game. Set in the present, Witches and Wizards (that’s you) are being signed up to The Statute of Secrecy Task Force (SOS) to help save the Wizarding World from being exposed to Muggles.
SOS needs as much help as it can get, because a Calamity has caused magical people, artifacts, beasts and more to be scattered across the globe, discoverable by anyone, including Muggles. These various items have been dubbed ‘foundables’ in Wizards Unite, rather than collectables. That’s because you’ll need to dispel the Confoundable magic that surrounds them in order to send them back to the Wizarding World where they belong. So you don’t actually collect them at all.
You’ll bump into familiar characters such as Harry himself, who you’ll notice is an adult Auror in Wizards Unite to reaffirm the present day setting. WB Games has created additional characters just for Wizards Unite, too, including Constance Pickering and Gareth Greengrass.
There is more to the story than this, but that’s the basic premise. In fact, we don’t yet know what the rest of the story entails. There are ‘Mysteries’ throughout the game that players will need to uncover and delve into to find out more about how the Calamity happened in the first place. In the teaser, we saw mentions of the ‘London Five,’ who seem to be missing, but beyond that there have been no further clues about who the five are and the circumstances around their disappearance.
Niantic and WB Games describe the Mysteries as ‘multi-year narrative,’ and have suggested that Wizards Unite is a ‘forever game’ for Harry Potter fans.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Gameplay
Once you’ve been introduced to the story, you’ll create your Ministry ID Card, which lets you add a fun and customisable photograph of yourself, as well as your house, wand and more. We’re not yet sure whether your Hogwarts House will affect gameplay, as when we inquired about this the response was the scripted no comment line: “We are not discussing any game features beyond those already shown today.”
You’ll then be encouraged to get outside and begin discovering things in the environment around you. If you’ve ever played Pokémon Go, Wizards Unite is going to feel very familiar to you at first glance. If you haven’t, then a key point to make here is that Wizards Unite requires real world exploration. You’ll need to travel around in your neighbourhood and beyond to find new things to interact with.
It’s built upon Niantic’s real world engine, which started life as Ingress and has become more intelligent and advanced over time. This means the map you’ll be faced with looks and feels a lot like Pokémon Go’s with points of interest scattered across it for you to travel to and interact with.
While the map looks a lot like Pokémon Go’s map, there are plenty of things that set it apart. It has a bit more of a dark, gritty feel to it that fits the Wizarding World, and you’ll spot little items whizzing across the skies such as owls and interdepartmental memos that’ll remind you of its magic.
We asked whether players would ever be able to interact with these moving objects, to which the team replies with their scripted no comment, which makes us think it’s very possible that these will hold some significance in the game at some point.
When you’re ready to explore, you’ll see that foundables appear as coloured icons across the map called Traces, with each colour representing a different collection such as Dark Arts, Ministry of Magic, Care of Magical Creatures, Quidditch and more.
Click on one to begin an encounter. You’ll find a realistically rendered 3D model of an artifact, person or magical creature that you can view in Artificial Reality (AR). You can walk all the way around the item to see a full 360 view of it, which we found really quite impressive. Just be careful not to bump into people on the streets around you (or cars, for that matter!) whilst you’re moving around, because we found that it’s easy to become so immersed that you forget the world around you.
At launch, there will be over 100 AR encounters available, but we expect this number will grow rapidly as the game develops over time.
You’ll then need energy in order to cast a spell that, if successful, will dispel the Confounding magic and return the magical item to its rightful place in the Wizarding World.
If you’re out of energy, you’ll need to visit an Inn to eat a tasty energy-giving meal. These are essentially the equivalent of Pokestops for Pokemon Go players. You can also add Dark Detectors to Inns, which are stackable up to three, and will cause more Traces to appear nearby.
But if you do have enough energy when you begin your encounter, it’s time to cast some spells. You’ll see a dial that’ll tell you the threat level of the encounter – green is more common and therefore easier, but if it lands in the red you’re about to face something rarer and more difficult.
If you choose to proceed, you’ll be faced with a fun glyph tracing game that can take some time to master. During the hour we spent with the game we noticed a definite improvement in our spell casting abilities, but we had far from mastered it.
In some cases, you’ll come up against a foe rather than a foundable, which means you’ll face slightly different gameplay in order to defeat it. During these combat encounters, you’ll need to line up your wand with the circular icons on the screen and react quickly to defend yourself.
During combat you can use potions to help defeat foes, or to heal yourself if your health is running low.
These potions can be brewed from ingredients you’ll collect whilst travelling across the map and from Greenhouses you’ll discover along the way. There will be ten potions available at launch.
Potions take some time to brew, but you can use Galleons to speed up this process. These can be earned whilst playing the game, but are also available to purchase using In-App purchases. The good news is they’re not essential, so if you’d prefer not to spend any of your hard-earned cash you’ll still be able to play Wizards Unite for free.
It’s a shame there’s not a fun minigame involved in brewing potions – the challenge is simply collecting the ingredients as you travel. We found a huge number of ingredients as we played the game, the more common ingredients can be found dotted all around the map and it’s as simple as tapping on them to collect them.
The types of ingredients you come across will also change in line with natural phenomenon, which have been integrated into the game to make it feel more in tune with what’s happening in the real world. For example, they may change depending on the time of day, the weather and even the moon phase.
Others ingredients are found in a minigame within Greenhouses, which are found around the map but are much more spread out. And in some cases, Greenhouses will give you other items beyond ingredients – we got extra energy whilst trying the game, for example.
If you successfully defeat an enemy or dispel the magic, you’ll be rewarded with a sticker. Within your Registry you’ll find loads of sticker books just waiting to be filled. Some stickers require just the one encounter to complete, such as Hagrid in the Care of Magical Creatures book, but others are more difficult and need to be found on more than one occasion. For example, Buckbeak needs to be found 10 times before its sticker is complete.
Less regularly but rather excitingly, you’ll also come across Fortresses while you’re on your travels. These introduce a multiplayer element to the game that we think players will love. Up to five players can join forces to take on a Fortress, in which they’ll face a series of combat encounters as described previously. But this time, your team is relying on you to be successful as they each take on enemies of their own.
There are some tactics involved here – you’ll be asked to choose Runes as you enter the Fortress, which may cause some advantages or disadvantages over certain enemies. Each player can choose a different Rune and can therefore choose to take on the enemy that best fits their abilities.
Some players within the team may choose not to take on an enemy and instead standby in the arena to heal players in battle, for example. Abilities won’t be available at the beginning of the game but as you play and level up, you’ll unlock new skills that you can equip to help you within Fortresses.
Something we didn’t get to try or find out much about during our hands-on with Wizards Unite is Landmarks, which are cloaked in mystery so far. We know that Landmarks will appear on the map, presumably actually at landmark locations across the globe, and that these are specific areas touched by the Calamity. But beyond that, we don’t know exactly what they’re for and what will happen when we come across them.
Perhaps they’ll unlock new Mysteries or tell us more about the narrative, but we’ll have to wait to hear more from WB Games and Niantic about these.
We also didn’t get much of a chance to explore professions, but upon launch you’ll find that there are three to choose from: Auror, Magizoologist and Professor.
Professions can be chosen right at the start of the game and you can switch at any time, but gameplay will help you progress in your profession to give you different skills and abilities to use within Wizarding Challenges at Fotresses. If you have a small group of friends that you imagine you’ll play Wizards Unite with on a regular basis, you may decide to ensure that there’s a mixture of professions to give you an advantage whilst in combat together.
There appears to be quite a complex tree for each Profession, which brings an RPG element into the game. It’s something we imagine will encourage players to continue to come back to the game, in order to make their characters as powerful as possible.
Also adding to the addictiveness of Wizards Unite are Daily Challenges that will reward you with Galleons.
And to encourage you to get walking, from time to time you’ll get Portmanteaus and Keys, which when combined require you to walk a set distance (2km, 5km or 10km) in order to transform into a Portkey. Portkeys are then used at any time to be transported into an iconic Wizarding World location rendered in a rather immersive VR-like experience.
During our time with the game we found ourselves in Ollivanders after using a Portkey, which was a lot of fun to see. We didn’t quite understand the point of being there aside from how pretty it was, but there were a couple of collectable ingredients available to find there which are perhaps exclusive to that location.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Early Verdict
Wow, that’s quite a lot of stuff, isn’t it? And we’re fairly sure we’ve only scraped the surface of the features and gameplay of Wizards Unite.
As huge Harry Potter fans, we were a little dubious about whether or not this game would live up to expectations. Would it be trying too hard to shoehorn the Wizarding World into Pokémon Go’s gameplay and style, or would it be a great game in its own right?
We’re pleased to report that, based on first impressions, this feels like its own game that both superfans and casual witches and wizards will enjoy. Many of the same underlying mechanics are there, with the added benefit of having learned from two years of tweaks and improvements to Pokémon Go, but the magic and mystery that’s been layered on top of that takes this game far beyond a reskin.
While we can’t imagine Wizards Unite having quite the same effect Pokémon Go did when it first launched, we do think it’ll be played by millions and that it’s going to be hugely addictive once you get started. We already miss it and are massively looking forward to its release later in the year.