Application, Gaming, Review, Smartphone

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Review: Not Just a Pokemon Go Reskin

Niantic, the developer behind the hugely popular Pokemon Go game, is back with a new location-based AR game. Initially announced back in 2017, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is finally here, and many are comparing the new game to Pokemon Go. Given the fact that both games share a number of similarities, it’s not all that surprising.

However, after spending some time with Wizards Unite, it’s more than just a “Harry Potter-themed” Pokemon Go. It has a number of unique differences here and there, and I can’t get enough of it.

On the surface, you’ll be familiar with Wizards Unite’s interface if you’ve played Pokemon Go. After all, they both share the same map data, though the PokeStops and gyms have been replaced with either one of three structures in Wizards Unite: inn, greenhouse, or fortress.

Inns function just like PokeStops, in the sense that they give you “energy” to cast spell. Energy, in this sense, is your “PokeBall” in Wizards Unite. In order to cast spells, you’ll need energy; by default, you can store up to 75 energy. Greenhouses, on the other hand, lets you collect ingredients to brew potions – they sometimes give you energy too.

By now, you would’ve probably guessed that fortresses are effectively gyms in Wizards Unite. But instead of going against different trainers’ Pokemons, you duel with a wide array of Harry Potter characters in “Wizarding Challenges.” You can take on werewolves, death eaters, dark wizards, and so on.

So how is Wizards Unite different from Pokemon Go? Now, there’s no denying that the former shares a number of concepts with the popular Pokemon game, but beyond these similarities, they couldn’t be any more different.

Dueling enemies in Wizarding Challenges, for one, is unlike gym battles in Pokemon Go. In Pokemon, all you have to do is keep tapping for fast attacks, hold to use your charged attack, and dodge occasionally. But in Wizards Unite, you’re required to line up your wand to a certain spot on the enemy you’re facing, and then trace a glyph to cast an attack spell.

When the enemy is attacking, you can also trace a defense spell to lessen the damage. Basically, it requires more interaction than your typical gym battle in Pokemon Go, and I really like that.

So what are these Foundables? Well, they can be anything from well-known characters to magical creatures and objects from the Harry Potter universe. In fact, even “memories” are Foundables. You can save a young Ron Weasley from a Confoundable, or even cast a Patronus spell to rid a Dementor from Sirius Black.

Given this premise, the idea of Foundables certainly don’t seem quite as convincing as catching Pokemons. After all, encountering the same character several times doesn’t exactly sound very…well, logical.

Anyway, the Foundables you have recovered will be placed in the Registry; sort of like a sticker album of sorts. Some Foundables only need to be recovered once, but there are others that need to be collected multiple times. In fact, there are Foundables that require to be captured over 15 times for them to be completed.

If you’ve completed a page in the Registry, you can “prestige” it to reset your progress for that particular page. You’d want to do that to upgrade the frame of the page, and it would increase the experience gained from recapturing these Foundables too. This can get grindy, no doubt, but it does make the leveling process a tad easier.

What really sold me to Wizards Unite are the three Professions: Auror, Magizoologist, and Professor. These are effectively your “class” in the game, and each of them have a very elaborate skill tree that impacts your damage output, defense, and special buffs.

In fact, this gives the game a MMORPG-like feel. Not only do you have the freedom to customise your skill build to your liking, each Profession have their own strengths and weaknesses. Aurors, for example, are stronger against Dark Forces, but they take extra damage from Beasts. Professors, on the other hand, deal extra damage to Curiosities, but are weaker to Dark Forces.

These Professions add a layer of complexity to Wizards Unite without being overly complicated, and it really sets it apart from Pokemon Go. Plus, if you don’t quite like the Profession you chose, you can switch any time. You’re not stuck with only one Profession for the rest of the game.

It’s been about a week since I started playing Wizards Unite in earnest, but there are still more elements of the game that I have yet to really explore. I haven’t figured out how to plant seeds at greenhouses yet (the game didn’t really explain the mechanic very well), and I’m still wondering how to make the best of potion brewing.

On top of that, I don’t quite like how the game pushes you to spend in-game gold – which can be bought with cold hard cash – either to get more energy or storage space. In fact, every time you try to pick up something with a full inventory, a pop-up would ask if you’d like to purchase more storage instead of giving an option to clear some space.

Inventory management could definitely be improved too. If I want to throw away a certain item, I’ll need to click on it, select “manage,” and then set the quantity of item I’d like to delete. To make matters worse, the inventory system in Wizards Unite is not unified.

Instead, you have three distinct inventories to manage. One for potions, another for ingredients, and a third one to store your seeds for use in greenhouses. If you need more space in either one of the three inventories, you’ll have to expand it individually. You’ll have to use quite a bit of gold to upgrade all three inventories.

Granted, if you manage your items well, you may not need to upgrade at all. That doesn’t make it any less annoying, of course.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is not quite as big of a hit as Pokemon Go was when it was introduced three years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good game. It has its own charm, it integrates the Harry Potter universe well (Harry is voiced by Daniel Radcliffe himself in this game!), and I love the Profession system.

Now, excuse me while I visit a couple of inns to get more energy – I’ll need to take on my next Wizarding Challenge.