Portkey Games and Warner Bros. recently released an early access/beta version of the upcoming mobile game Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Set in the decade before Harry Potter attended Hogwarts, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery allows players to create their own characters and experience life as a student at Hogwarts while living their own adventure – featuring a new story set in the universe of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World – and encountering familiar characters along the way, such as Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, Bill Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, and more. The game is the mobile game equivalent of a touch-and-click adventure where players tap various items on the screen to advance the story forward while collecting experience and other materials all under the confines of an energy meter system.
Last week, I made a video featuring my first reactions to the game and it wasn’t very positive. I abhor the mechanics of most mobile games these days. I’d rather pay a flat fee of like $10 and get to play the game at my own pace than have to operate under the confines of an energy meter system. Games that feature an energy meter always require far more energy to actually accomplish anything than you’re able to bank at any given time, so you get halfway done with an activity only to be forced to stop as you’ve run out of energy and are now unable to do anything. You can either wait for the energy to replenish itself over a few hours or you can – as the developers would prefer – spend some real money to buy some gems in order to purchase more energy so you can continue your progress.
In addition to the shenanigans with energy meters, Hogwarts Mystery (and other mobile games of its ilk) feature waiting times before you can do certain things. In Hogwarts Mystery, you’ll finish a quest and be told what the next quest is, but you can’t actually DO that quest for another couple of hours because you have to wait for the quest to actually open. You can, of course, use gems to skip the waiting times – but gems are hard to earn in the game itself and cost real-world money to buy if you can’t earn enough to do whatever you want to do. Like the energy meter nonsense, the game is structured so that you quickly run out of energy and you have to wait to continue the game until the game decides enough time has passed and you’re allowed to move on. They do this to encourage you to buy gems because they assume – correctly – that you’ll be too impatient to just wait. They are right that people are impatient, but they’re wrong that most people will buy gems and spend money to advance instead of just quitting the game altogether. It’s a gamble that the developers take. If the scheme works, as the developers intend, then they end up making much more money off of these microtransactions than they would if they just charged players a flat fee for the game and had no microtransactions in it at all. They’ll argue that these mechanics give the player a sense of accomplishment when they earn something, but it’s a bunch of nonsense. It’s just a way to frustrate players who want to continue playing the game into paying large amounts of money to continuously buy more energy or to skip waiting times. These waiting times don’t give players a sense of accomplishment; they irritate them into quitting the game.
Aside from my gripes about mobile gaming in general (and how Hogwarts Mystery is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with mobile gaming), how is Hogwarts Mystery otherwise? It’s fine. It really shouldn’t have advertised itself as an RPG, though. There is little actual gameplay in this game. All you really do is tap the screen in certain places when you’re told to do so and then read a bunch of dialogue. It’s more akin to a visual novel (like Doki Doki Literature Club) or a Telltale Games game (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, etc) than an actual RPG. This in itself isn’t a problem, it’s just a case of managing expectations. When you’re told to expect an RPG with cool gameplay and you get a visual novel where you tap the screen a lot to make things happen, you’re automatically disappointed.
It may sound like I have a lot of negative things to say about Hogwarts Mystery. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But I also have to be honest in saying that I’m still playing this game. Mostly because I’m interested in the storyline. The dialogue itself isn’t written particularly well; it’s pretty standard mobile game dialogue. unfortunately. But the actual story that’s underneath the dialogue is interesting. There’s a mystery hidden underneath everything that’s going on involving the main character’s brother. Said brother – named Jacob Cook in my game – got obsessed with some kind of secret vault hidden in Hogwarts, did something to get himself expelled, and then – according to rumors – joined up with Voldemort in the First War against Voldemort. Now the main character is at Hogwarts and living in the shadow of whatever it is their brother did. Shortly after arriving, they start to have visions about the vaults and overhear teachers talking about them and about some situation related to the family name (mine was “the Cook Situation”). All of that is really interesting and it’s finding out what comes next in the story that has me hooked. Most games hook you with their gameplay, but not Hogwarts Mystery. I’m still playing the game IN SPITE OF its gameplay.
So, in summary, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Express is a game that has a lot of potential, but lives up to none of it. As it currently is, this game would be better suited as a visual novel that you could spend like $10-$20 on upfront and get the whole story and the freedom to play through it at your own speed without any waiting times or energy caps. As it is, it’s a mobile game that was advertised as an RPG with cool gameplay mechanics, yet has gameplay mechanics that consist solely of tapping the screen when told and reading the dialogue of the game. It’s a mobile game that is marred by all the problems of modern mobile gaming: energy caps that run out far too quickly and excruciatingly long waiting times to make progress in the game. Both of those can be skirted around if you just spend obscene amounts of money buying gems (so you can buy more energy or skip waiting times), and the developers hope that by making the energy caps so low and the waiting times so frequent and long that they can trick players into spending more money through in-game micro-transactions than they would’ve spent just buying the game for a flat fee in the first place. Like most mobile games, Hogwarts Mystery is an excuse for the developers to try and make as much money as possible off a mediocre game. The plot is fun and interesting and the character interactions are somewhat unique, but the gameplay is lacking and the micro-transactions are abhorrent.
RATING: 3 out of 5 wands; the only reason it’s not lower is because the game is still in beta and some of this may change as the developers hear feedback. I’m not at all confident that any of my major problems will change, but it still seems unfair to give the game the rating it currently deserves until a more finalized version is available.