Many of us who grew up with Harry Potter have now reached adulthood and are still, for some reason, waiting for our own Hogwarts letter to arrive. The idea that we are secretly more than we think we are is a thrilling one, and even though we know it’s purely in the realms of fantasy the idea still lingers around at night before we sleep. If you could have superpowers, which one would you pick? If you woke up one day and could do magic, what would you do?
The trailers for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery generated a lot of hype. I signed up to be notified when the game had released out of a childlike excitement for more of the story I grew up alongside, and the game, developed by LA developer Jam City and published by Portkey Games (the official Warner Brothers publisher for all HP games since 2017), released on 25th April. But, unfortunately, Hogwarts Mystery does not ‘Exceed Expectations’. It scrapes an ‘Acceptable’ at best. But an HP mobile game has been a long time coming, so let’s start with some of the good things. Because there are good things. Right? Right?!
At first, Hogwarts Mystery is quite fun to play and being able to customise your character (albeit with unforgivable restrictions) is an attractive element. The graphics and design of the game are pretty cute. It’s got a Sims like charm shown through the facial expressions of your character, for example an exaggerated, bewildered look given when your character asks a question or doesn’t know something. The palette is pretty colourful overall and it’s pleasing to look at. The story is also okay and I’m invested in finding out what happens. Character dialogue is sometimes annoying or cliché, but on the whole it’s quirky and fun to read. But…that’s about it.
Hogwarts Mystery is another of those free-to-play tapping games, with the economy to match. Tap to do this. Tap to do that. Tap to make your character say they’ve done something. Tap to – oh your energy has run out. Well, you can either wait for two hours…or you can spend real money to continue playing. This is nothing new in the free-to-play market of course, but there’s one part in the game where your character is literally being strangled by vines, and if you run out of energy halfway through you just have to stay there, being slowly choked to death, while your energy meter racks back up. It’s ridiculous, and I wasn’t the only one to have that happen:
This fellow had the perfect reaction to the constant waiting that happens in this game:
So, did I download this game to play, or did I download it to wait? You can speed up the progress with Gems, the premium currency, but that involves spending real money. Money on something that is just going to be spent right away. Apart from various items of clothing you can buy nothing tangible, and certainly nothing that will help you long term. Your character is barely customisable, with clothing and hair items costing so much that you need to complete a stupid number of quests to be able to afford just one. New quests appear in your journal but only become available after a certain amount of time (sometimes an hour, sometimes three hours). Unless, of course, you speed it up with Gems. And so it goes. And it is such a SHAME.
I, personally, would far rather pay up to and over £5 for a completed, bullshit-free Harry Potter mobile game that didn’t try to manipulate me into spending £3 on 130 Gems. The largest purchase you can make is £86.99 for 3,125 Gems, for heaven’s sake. And given that to refill the meter completely costs around 55 Gems, speeding up an event can also cost you around 55 – 60 Gems, and some premium clothing items are upwards of 200 Gems, how far does your £87 go?
There was also a contradiction where Professor Flitwick excused me from a Flipendo lesson because I’d been caught duelling, but I was able to take the class anyway because the game required me to in order to move on. Can I get some continuity over here please?
At face value, Hogwarts Mystery is a children’s game, which makes the miserly tactics outlined above all the more deplorable. But really this game appeals to adults and young adults who can’t quite let go of the beloved series and will scrabble at another piece of the pie. And here is the crux of Hogwarts Mystery. It is designed, like many other free-to-play games, to goad you into spending real money, and they do it by creating a game with surface value but no substance. Just addiction. There are no challenges. No consequences. No game. Just a whole lot of waiting.
In response to the backlash over the microtransactions included in the game, the devs have recently blessed us with a sale on Gems. Now you can buy 575 Gems for the low low price of £6.49 – but it’s half price, so that’s okay.
I think if the people responsible for this game ever issue an apology for being such despicable money grubbers, this is what I’ll send over to them:
Incidentally, this is the only part of the game that stands up to scrutiny. This one line.
Except that little comma between ‘you’ and ‘is’, which totally breaks the flow of an otherwise utterly savage sentence. Goddammit, is there anything good about this game?