When the trailer for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery first came out, I was beyond excited. The sweet, well animated one minute video promised to finally bring us the game we had been waiting for since we never got our Hogwarts letter at 11; with character creation and house choosing and everything. But unfortunately, the game doesn’t quite deliver.
You’re A Wizard Har… Whoever You Are
Hogwarts Mystery is about a character (you) who comes to Hogwarts and, next to being bullied by another stereotypically evil Slytherin girl, wants to find out what happened to their brother Jacob years ago, when he supposedly found the Cursed Vaults and Hogwarts and then disappeared. With this already challenging reputation, we start our journey.
The Monotonous Mystery?
Overall, the game follows the same routine over and over: You have conversations with pre-determined characters in which you get three answer choices. Usually, each answer determines something in the future of the game and some may increase your courage, empathy, or knowledge. For some answers you have to be a certain level of these to unlock it. Then, you explore Hogwarts by scrolling left and right on the screen and click on certain areas; so your character doesn’t actually walk. You have Gobstone games and conversations with your friends that help you get closer to them and unlock more content. When you get to specific events, such as fighting a Devil’s Snare or going to Flying Class, you have a set amount of energy you can spend on specified actions (“Examine broom,” “Listen to teacher” etc.), which in turn then help you fill up the bar that determines if or when you pass the event. Now this is when things get tricky.
Your first two events you do are easy and short, only requiring you do to a couple of actions each time. In the meantime, you are taken from Diagon Alley to Hogwarts and even placed in the house of your choosing. Then, in your first real mission, when you get trapped by Devil’s Snare, you promptly run out of energy. I felt really bad leaving my character hanging in the middle of getting squeezed to death by a sentient plant while I went to get iced coffee, but I was not about to pay $5-10 for more energy.
Some Sirius Problems
The game does give you long amounts of time to finish these events (usually one hour, but sometimes you can choose to take longer and get better rewards), but it does hinder your fun enormously. Just when the game gets good, just when you’re about to unlock a new spell or another mystery, you always run out of energy. This leaves you with typically only about ten minutes of playing before you have to wait to get filled up again and especially in the long missions, it quickly gets monotonous when all you do is wait, do three actions, and wait again. Further, it forces you to plan when to start actions because if you have 3/24 energy and you’re planning an eight hour event right before bed, you’re probably not going to make it through that. As much as thinking ahead in games can often be fun and realistic, you don’t want to have to think “Can I actually play right now or am I going to fail Potions Class?”
In my opinion, a game should always make you think “I really shouldn’t play right now, but I can’t help myself!” instead. I wish the game had given you something like unlimited energy for the first three days, or maybe two free refills a day; just something that really got me hooked right off the bat.
Unfortunately, despite being free to download, Hogwarts Mystery quickly becomes clear that this game is a typical pay-to-have-fun situation. From the energy issues I mentioned earlier, to simple character customization, everything costs absurd amounts of both in-game and real life money. The customization options you get for free are boring and scarce, not to mention lacking diversity. Once you raise your level, you get access to more hairstyles and clothing options, but they are incredibly expensive. For example, the events that do reward you with money may give you 100 gold coins max, but the first new actually exciting outfit in the game already costs 3000 gold coins. A simple pair of glasses costs 100 gems (the bigger currency in the game that lets you restock your energy and speed up other actions), and a dragon necklace costs 12,000 gold coins. Granted, outfit changes don’t add anything to your skill set, but given that this game is trying to make you feel like you’re actually at Hogwarts, having your own personal adventure, I should have the option to really make the character look and feel like me.
But the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery also has its good sides and there’s a reason I keep playing.
First of all, the story is incredibly compelling. Just like in the Harry Potter books, the plot unfolds just slowly enough to keep you hooked, but fast enough to not get boring. After every class, every conversation with another student, you find out more things about your character’s past and I’ve got to say, I really can’t wait to see what happened to their brother. Then there’s the characters: From Dumbledore to Professor Sprout, all the teachers are there, but there’s also new characters, such as your new best friend Rowan and the shy Muggle-born Ben. Given that the events in the game take place before Harry ever went to Hogwarts, we even have Bill Weasley and Nimphadora Tonks in the mix and I can’t wait to unlock them and hang out with them. Every decision you make in the game determines your friendships with people, which in turn determines who you become in the game. You can raise your friendship levels with people and not only get rewards, but also unlock new events and answer choices. With hints of dating in the future of the game as well, I am even more excited to get through all 7 years.
I am an especially big fan of Rowan because she is a sweet, somewhat passive but incredibly supportive character. She is always hungry for knowledge and knows how to tease you like a real best friend. She is basically your Ron and Hermione in one, if a little less aggressive. I also really like Merula, the game’s antagonist (basically your Draco Malfoy), because despite being Slytherin and therefore “obviously” evil, she gives you and your character a chance to show your courage and have actual adventures. Her constant sneers and taunts make Potions Class even more frustratingly fun and fighting her in conversations is a great way to explore where the game takes you.
Overall, the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery seems to have promised more than it delivered. The fun is constantly interrupted by the lack of energy and the expensive customization options don’t really give the adventure the unique flair I had been hoping for. However, the game’s characters and compelling stories keep me hooked and make me want to keep playing. For the future, I would hope that the developers rethink the costs of outfits and hairstyles, as well as either giving you more energy to spend or decrease the restock time. Otherwise my adventure at Hogwarts will soon come to an end.