I spent an entire morning at the Niantic headquarters playing a preliminary version of the next game and I was not disappointed.
I’m walking to my bus after a long day at the office. Instead of dodging traffic or the guy who tries to sign a petition, I’m watching the magical beasts of the Harry Potter world. Dueling dark wizards and dominating magical beasts is a difficult task, but it is what you must do to keep the muggle world safe from unexpected calamity. And everything is happening on my phone.
The augmented reality game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was announced in 2017 and will be very familiar to anyone who has played the successful Pokémon Go . Using the GPS of your phone, you move through the physical world and interact with beasts, objects, places of interest and witches and wizards that you find on the game map. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a joint effort of WB Games San Francisco and Niantic under the brand name Portkey Games . It will be released before the end of the year, the developers said last week at an informational meeting at Niantic headquarters in San Francisco.
The game is so advanced in development that Niantic invited a handful of journalists to its offices last Tuesday to play a preliminary version. Looming along the coast of San Francisco on a rainy morning, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this experience that blends the world of Potter with Pokémon-Go .
What is Harry Potter about: Wizards Unite?
An inexplicable calamity is scattering magical objects throughout the Muggle world .
It is not clear who is responsible for all this or for how long the magical artifacts will remain hidden from Muggles .
As part of the Task Force of the Statue of Secrecy, your duty is to look for magical traces of that calamity and gather clues to discover the cause. When you find evidence, you enter it into a record of your discoveries about the anomalies.
The game is based on Harry Potter books and movies and the two Fantastic Beasts movies to create a fascinating and familiar magical world on your phone.
As a fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I was eager to enter the magical universe to cast spells, find beasts and face dark wizards.
What is the basic dynamics of the game?
Wizard’s Unite uses much of the same underlying technology as the other Niantic games – Ingress and Pokémon Go – to create the map, the points of interest and the augmented reality (or AR) environment. If you have used the map in those other games to navigate to a portal or a gym and if you have drawn a glyph or launched a Pokéball , you have an advantage here. But as familiar as the game feels, it’s clear enough that I did not feel like I was playing a redesigned Pokémon Go . Instead, I was in a new and strange world.
Part of the new experience comes from several tricks that are not found in Ingressor Pokémon Go and that enhance shared multiplayer AR environments. (You can have a look at this in this Niantic video .) And unlike Pokémon Go , you’re armed with spells in Wizards Unite . To launch one, trace a spell suggestion with your finger on the screen of your phone. The movements on the screen are not different from the glyphs you draw in Ingress .
How do I start?
To begin with, the first thing you should do is create your magical avatar. Use your phone’s camera to take a picture. Then you can dress him in witch or sorcerer outfits.
While cooperation is a big part of the game, your avatar is not automatically shared with others and is saved only on your device. (The game will also include parental controls to help adults manage the accounts of young children.)
You also choose your house from Hogwarts and choose your wand. But do not worry about your choices: you can change your house and wand at any time. If you prefer to be classified in a house than choose one, go to the official website of Harry Potter and let them choose a place for you.
You also choose a profession, you can be an Auror, a Magizoologist or a Professor, each of which offers specific skills and abilities for the job as you progress. As with houses and wands, you can change your profession.
How to play?
On your game map, you’ll see magical buildings, supplies on the ground and bright magic trails that indicate someone or something displaced by what the game calls the Calamity. The buildings include Posadas, where you collect magical food to use as energy for spells, and Greenhouses, where you collect ingredients to make potions. You can also find materials to make potions on the map, including the elements that appear only in different biomes and in different climatic conditions.
Along with posadas ( inns ) and greenhouses ( greenhouses ), you will find Fortresses on the map. Something like a gym in Pokémon Go , a fortress is where you join forces with up to four other players to dispel magical creatures and Death Eaters. You will fight in real time with other players in a shared arena. After defeating an opponent, you can move on to another until the Fortress has been cleared.
But the main attractions are the magical traces you discover on the map. “Magic always leaves traces, sometimes very distinctive traces,” Professor Albus Dumbledore told Harry. That is true in books and movies and also in the game.
The magical traces are elements that the inexplicable Calamity has displaced from other parts of the magical world, past or present. Each trace points to a pair of elements: a “Fundable” and a “Confoundable”.
Touch a trail, for example, and you can discover Harry Potter (a Fundable ) under the attack of a Dementor (a Confoundable ). A magical exposure clock, like the one seen in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them , measures the threat level of the muggle trail , or as it is called in the USA. the No-Maj community, and it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be to defeat the confusing magic.
Cast a spell to dominate or discard the magic of “confusion” and return the found object to its proper place. If you discard a Confoundableobject , you will get rewards and advance level.
You can also find dark wizards on the map with which you can beat in duel. Duels are fast and you need to quickly switch between defensive and offensive spells to defeat your opponent. When you cast spells, you want to accurately track the spell tips on your screen. Be careful, since you are penalized if your work wand is too careless. Potions can help with the accuracy of a spell and heal the damage caused by an opponent’s spell.
For me, working on the mechanics of locating an opponent, aiming it, casting a spell and taking care of my health took a few battles. But after I discovered the process, the battles were very exciting. I’m not sure I’ve achieved the casual confidence of Sirius Black fighting the Death Eaters, but I felt more efficient than a first-year Ron Weasley.
And finally, you can find it on the map and then use a special key to transport yourself to a magical immersive place similar to virtual reality to explore and gather supplies.
Can I play it on my phone and in my country?
Niantic and WB Games San Francisco said that, to begin with, the game should be available in 19 languages, including English, French, Spanish, Japanese and simplified and traditional Chinese, but they did not say specifically in what regions it would be available at launch. Similarly, although they said the game would run on a wide variety of phones with iOS and Android, from high-end devices to older models, they did not give details about specific devices. Nor did they comment on whether the game would work with hardware accessories, such as a wand, or whether it will have integration with smart watches.
There is good news for those who fear that the game is full of microtransactions: Mary Casey, executive director of products at WB Games San Francisco, said the goal is to allow people to play without paying or without running into walls of microtransactions. The inns and the greenhouses have a period of cooling after gathering the supplies, as it happens with the pokeparadas (or PokeStops). And like in Pokémon Go , you can buy supplies if you wish.
When will it be available?
We still do not know with certainty. The only thing they told us in Niantic and WB Games is that the mobile game will arrive this year. We also do not know if it will be available in beta first.
When it comes to light, Jonathan Knight, head of studio at WB Games San Francisco, promises that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will be a deep “role play”, where the Calamity will form a multi-year history arc.
During the briefing, I saw a quick reference to “The Five of London”, four workers of the Ministry of Magic and a reporter of the “Prophet of the Day” who are missing. The five disappeared did not appear during the game I played, but they may appear at some point in history.
Will it be as popular as Pokémon Go?
Joining the popular Harry Potter and Pokémon Go franchises seems like a solid bet to make it a successful game. The developers of the game have also done a good job anticipating the excitement of the game among Harry Potter fans, giving community members early access with videos and promotional tips.
A ‘confused’ Niantic Labs and WB Games
This is not the first time that Warner Bros. has tried to create a game for Potter fans. Last year, Portkey Games worked with Jam City on Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery , a role-playing game set in the 11 years from Harry’s birth until his entry into Hogwarts. While the players seemed to enjoy the story and the gameplay, they complained that much of the game was handled by microtransactions. In the year since its launch, Jam City has worked to make the game less dependent on those transactions.
Fans will also have to wait for Niantic to have learned from the launch of Pokémon Go three years ago. The company was not prepared for the rapidity with which the game exploded in the summer of 2016 and spent months to catch up with the demands of the player community. After some stumbles with shaky servers and an unfavorable first festival, Niantic has done a better job of deploying updates in the last year.
Is this the game that fans of Pokémon Go and Harry Potter want? Niantic has shown that if players come and stay, the company will create a unique experience for the players. And I was surprised that the game felt comfortable and cool at the same time. I hope to play it when it is finally released to the general public.