“Do not pity the dead, Maddie. Pity the living, and, above all, those who have enough resolve to keep playing Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.” —Dumbledore looking down on me, probably.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery brings players into the world of Harry Potter and gives them a first-person experience of the magical school for the very first time. It is available to download on the iOS App Store, Google Play store, and Amazon Appstore.
In theory, the game is supposed to be exactly what fans have always wanted from the franchise. Its set in the 1980s, a time before Harry Potter entered the halls of Hogwarts. The mystery? Figuring out what happened to your brother, who went mad trying to find Cursed Vaults at the magical school, got expelled, and is now missing. It’s a great first impression for you! You will progress as a student and join one of the iconic four houses (Sorting Hat be damned—you get to pick yourself). Along the way, you’ll learn magical skills from your favorite professors (fair warning: Snape is still a dick in the ’80s) and form relationships with other students, including original game characters and those you may recognize from the books and films (haaaay young Bill Weasley!).
But in reality, this game is tedious and annoying to complete. It’s not for people who want immediate satisfaction or like to finish a game from start to finish within hours of its release. During a time when we’re used to consuming everything at once, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery seems like a miss, especially since this game was made for millennials.
This game plays EXACTLY like the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game (I was an A-lister, don’t @ me). Maybe you deleted it after playing it for five minutes, but don’t lie, you did download this. If you’re not trash like me/have self control and don’t know how the gameplay works, then let me explain:
You need to be really patient or you will pay the price—literally.
Hogwarts Mystery consists of a series of missions—or in this case, charms, potions, broom flight classes, duels, and other ways to investigate the mystery—that you must complete in order to move on between different chapters as you progress through your years at Hogwarts. All of this skill building requires you to complete mini tasks within the lessons, or sleuthing, such as gathering ingredients or paying attention to Snape brewing his concoctions in potions class, to accumulate stars. Simply tap on objects or people highlighted in blue to to complete them. Depending on what the task is, the game gives you between one and eight hours to get all of the stars. To complete these mini tasks, players need to use one to five pieces of energy. Each piece of energy takes four minutes to replenish.
Want to get through the game faster? Pay up. Everything you want to do to quickly play the game costs money. In-app purchases for gems let you buy energy and additional coins. You will earn small amounts of gems and coins during the game—like earning a reward between completing every star—but it’s just never quite enough to help you progress.
Players can use coins to strengthen their friendships with people and perform tasks like dueling. You can also use them to deck out your avatar with a new hairdo, outfits, and accessories. I got enough coins to buy myself a decent outfit and haircut at the end of Year 1 (Yo, that’s 3,000 for a T-shirt). Did Kanye West’s plain white T-shirt cost this much? I’m sure there would have been other ways to incorporate in-app payments into the game without completely ruining it.
Let’s break it down: the microtransactions are real. To replenish your energy by 30, this costs you 55 gems. Gem packages go from $.99 for 25 gems; $4.99 for 130 gems; $9.99 for 275 gems, $19.99 for 575 gems, $49.99 for 1,500 gems, all the way up to $99.99 for 3,125 gems. It’s easy to say, “oh, I’ll just pay a dollar to finish this one lesson,” but after so, so many, it’s just not worth it.
To add more frustration, for a story-driven game, you’ll have to wait hours to continue the story. Or—wait for it—pay precious gems, AKA more money to keep going on demand. This is only forgivable in that most of the time there are classes to attend while you wait for these precious moments. You learn the lesson before you can complete the lesson (TWO separate tasks), which doesn’t make any sense to me because it just adds more time you have to wait. Longer lessons earn more rewards, including racking up points for your house. It just goes back to the same issue of making players wait to progress in the story.
I’m currently waiting to continue playing the game because I completed all of my lessons and tasks, and have to wait eight hours for my next mission. It’s taken me nearly a week to get through the first year—and that’s including completing tasks as soon as I get the notification that my energy has been filled. Thank goodness this is my day job.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery developer Jam City seems to hear these player complaints loud and clear. The game launched last Friday, and yesterday, all players were given 100 free gems (read as: five gems less than what you need to replenish your energy by 30 twice). It also offered a one-time purchase, special deal for a package of 575 gems. Normally, players would dish out $19.99 for this, but it is $9.99 for this two-day promo.
Don’t get me wrong: When you are playing, you do have fun. When the story moves along, it’s great! The problem is that there is not enough content in between waiting for energy to be replenished to get enough momentum to get excited about continuing to play the game. It’s entertaining and I’m interested in the story, but I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep playing. It’s similar to Pokemon Go fanatics who quickly grew tired of catching 500 Pidgeys and Ratatas, waiting and hoping for the rare moment they MIGHT get a Pikachu. Eventually, you just give up. Then again, who aren’t active gamers or only check in on their devices a few times a day probably won’t mind the waiting periods as much.
As long as you can get past coming to terms with the ridiculous pay wall, it’s a magical experience. You get to duel with other characters, get to the nitty gritty of learning charms and how to brew potions, and trace lines and swirls to cast spells. At the end of the day, it’s what Harry Potter fans want: the experience of going to Hogwarts.
As you progress in the game, you’re building experience and courage, empathy, and knowledge, and level up within these specific categories. These really help in this system where your narrative choices impact parts of the story, such as answering a question correctly during class, or coming up with the right response when you’re getting in trouble from a teacher. Sometimes, you can’t respond with certain choices unless you are a certain level. Besides gaining more experience in some areas, I’m not sure if these interactions have a big impact on the overall game.
While meeting new characters is exciting, your main companions can get a tad annoying. You are immediate friends with Rowan because you’re both outcasts, and Ben is a reincarnation of Courage the Cowardly Dog. (You’re scared of flying because you’re Muggle born. We get it.) I’m sure these relationships develop and each player provides something useful to players as the game progresses, but I hope to whatever is holy that they become less insufferable as you complete your years at Hogwarts. Everyone also shits on your life for losing 10 house points ONE time, but at the end of the first year you’re the one to rack in the most points. Justice.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery delivers on its promise to be the first mobile game in which players create their own character, and experience life as a Hogwarts student. However, the microtransactions spoiled most of the potential that this games has, and I’m sorry it had to happen to Harry Potter fans. I’ll wait for the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite to come out and hope that receiving that Hogwarts letter will be more worthwhile.