The new Harry Potter mobile game is fun, but you're gonna be shelling out your Galleons if you want to make the most of it. By Galleons I mean dollars.
Originally due out next week, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery has quietly gone live on iOS and Android. And while the premise makes for a fun romp through the wizarding world and the torment of Hogwarts, the game is a painful grind, beset with a series of timers that funnel the player towards microtransactions on a frequent basis.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is a new mobile game where you star in an original storyline taking place before Harry, Hermione and Ron attended the wizarding school. You play as an excited 11-year-old who's just gotten their Hogwarts letter. Unfortunately for you, your older brother had been expelled from the school and ran away, and you have to deal with suspicion from your teachers and peers, who think you might be just as rebellious.
You'll see some familiar faces, such as Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, as well as some new ones, such as your new best friend Rowan, who will either be a boy or a girl to match your player character, and your rival Merula.
Rowan is a great character. They grew up on a farm that grows wood for wands, but turned to books as they weren't hardy enough to tend the grounds with the rest of the family. They're a little offbeat and very loyal.
It's pretty cool that they can be a girl or a boy, but I wish I could have chosen their gender. Rowan's design as a boy, with messy hair and glasses, is a little bit better than their design as a girl, where she has a bland hairdo with side swept bangs.
Merula Snyde is very Draco-esque. She's an insecure bully who torments you because she suspects you might be a better wizard than she is. I can't wait until she gets her comeuppance.
I have a tattoo of the sign of the Deathly Hallows on my shoulder, so I'm an easy mark for this game. When I saw a Hogwarts acceptance letter with my name on it, signed by Professor McGonagall, I kinda freaked out.
The game itself is pretty charming. You attend lessons, make friends, and start looking into the mystery of your brother's disappearance.
Going to lessons reminded me of an undated version of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. You tap on the screen to complete actions, which depletes your energy, but you'll also trace symbols on the screen to perform spells, and have to answer a quiz in order to pass. Some of these things come up later.
Once you learn the light spell Lumos, which you perform by tracing an upside-down triangle on the screen, you use it outside of lessons, during the narrative.
I also got to play a game of Gobstones - basically wizard marbles - with my friend Rowan. She said she only loses when she gets distracted, so in order to beat her, and level up in our friendship, I had to pick the dialogue choice that would distract her the most. She's a big nerd, so telling her the library burned down helped me win, and I thought that was a really cute way to build out her characterisation.
Where the game falters is how it implements its free-to-play elements. I don't mind having to shell out some extra cash for new hairstyles and clothes, but I do mind that the main storyline is sometimes gated off by running out of energy.
I first ran into this problem in what seemed like a really dire situation: I had been tricked by Merula into getting trapped by the Devil's Snare plant, and I needed to free myself. Too bad I ran out of energy and was stuck looking at this screen for a couple ofhours, though.
This is not much different from the way that many free-to-play games operate, but I still wish that I could pay a one-time fee to remove these restrictions instead of using my premium currency or having to wait.
I'm a Harry Potter fan, and like a lot of Harry Potter fans, I'm eager for more Harry Potter stuff to dig my teeth into. Digging around in the character screen showed me that canon characters Bill Weasley and Nymphadora Tonks are also going to show up later in the game, so I really want to progress and see what they're like. I'm invested in this story. I wish I had a better way to access it.