Since July 2016, I have walked 438 miles playing Pokémon Go, reaching level 30 in the location-based mobile game. I’m not sure how much more walking I’ll be doing with the game, as I’ve downloaded its successor now.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, a very ambitious augmented reality mobile game from Warner Bros.’ Portkey Games and Niantic, launched on Thursday on iOS and Android after years of development. And you’ll see a lot more gameplay in this game than Pokémon Go had when it debuted.
The stakes are high for this game. Market insight firm AppAnnie estimates that Wizards Unite will generate $100 million in revenue in its first month. In three years, Pokémon Go which generated $2 billion in revenues.
Apple, which is working away on an augmented reality secret project, clearly hopes that AR is going to take off with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite as well as Minecraft Earth.
Niantic’s aim in creating its game is to get people outside and exploring the world around them, instead of staying inside glued to screens. It wants people to exercise more and become familiar with the monuments and other things around them.
Combining Harry Potter with Niantic’s exercise gaming is sure to trigger a lot more exercise for sedentary gamers. With Pokémon Go and Ingress, Niantic’s fans have walked more than 23 billion kilometers (14.3 billion miles) to date, said John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, in a press briefing in March.
The signs are good. My Facebook newsfeed lit up with Harry Potter comments and people listing their friendship codes throughout yesterday. The AR is better and more integrated into the game. And you have a lot more things to do than you could with the early Pokémon Go.
The back story
The title is built on the same mapping technology behind Pokémon Go, which puts an animated overlay on the real world map. You can walk to different points on the map to discover creatures and magical items in the real world. You can find animated objects or creatures and interact with them, including walking around 3D animations of locations from the worlds of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts.
In Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, players are new recruits of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force working to solve the mystery of the Calamity. Because of this event, the secrets of the Wizarding World are at risk of being exposed to ordinary people (muggles). Players unite to fight the threat. They will be able to explore their neighborhoods and cities to discover mysterious artifacts, cast spells, and encounter fantastic beasts and iconic characters along the way.
The game takes place after the events of the Deathly Hallows, the final Harry Potter book. All wizards and witches have to unite to fight the threat. Mary Casey, executive director of product at WB Games San Francisco, said that in the game, a law was passed in 1692 that created a Statute of Secrecy, which sought to keep the Wizarding World secret from muggles. The developers didn’t mention it, but that so happens to be the year of the Salem witch trials.
But a Calamity has occurred, threatening the sacred law and creating the risk of items known as “foundables” appearing all over the place. These are artifacts like wizards, beasts, and items that have been scattered throughout the mobile world. They are shrouded in a type of magic known as “confoundable magic,” but it’s not clear how long that shroud will last and the objects will remain hidden.
The British Ministry of Magic has called the wizards together to explore their neighborhoods, find the foundables, overcome the confoundable magic, and return the items to their rightful place. If you travel, you’ll find different creatures in different places.
The game kicks off with a call to arms to join the Statute of Secrecy Task Force and scour the world for the items. The game is built around a story with a multiyear narrative arc that will have players solving various mysteries, including the truth behind the Calamity.
Like Pokémon Go, Wizards Unite is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases.
Hands-on in the Wizarding World
I got a full briefing from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Niantic in March, and I downloaded the game yesterday and went for a walk in the park with my daughter.
From the very loading screen, the experience is more cinematic. The characters move and the world has more ambient activity, like owls flying around the sky.
You create a Ministry ID, create your avatar, pick your magical house (like mine, Gryffindor) and customize it as you wish. When you find a foundable like Harry Potter, you’ll see him being threatened by a Dementor. You have to cast enough spells in a synchronous battle to defeat the Dementor and liberate Harry.
While players explore the real world, they will find a variety of Wizarding locations on their map, such as inns, greenhouses, fortresses, and magical traces where players can trigger specific encounters. When you find an inn, you can go inside it and eat some food, which gives you energy so that you can cast spells. You can see more than 100 types of encounters in the game, and that will expand over time.
The basic mechanic to cast a spell is to precisely trace a pattern, or glyph, on your screen. If you do it well, you’ll have a better chance of doing damage to the creature, which you can view in AR or an animated mode. You’ll see magical trades on your smartphone screen map as you walk around. If you tap on them, you’ll try to beat their “confounding magic.” I had a little trouble getting great traces.
I’ve already got 13 friends. But I’m going to try to avoid being a friend slut this time. I got too many friends in Pokémon Go and I was never able to interact with them all.
While Pokémon Go focused on collecting at the outset, the Harry Potter game will start with more gameplay options for players. Eventually, over two-and-a-half years, Niantic added to Pokémon Go more features, such as friends, a greater variety of creatures, raids, trading, and player battles. Harry Potter won’t start with all of those, but Niantic now has the benefit of having developed those things in its previous games, and that could make them available in Harry Potter sooner, Hanke said.
The Harry Potter game also has more activities for hardcore gamers with Wizarding Challenges, which resemble the raids in Pokémon Go. With those synchronous multiplayer activities, players can team up and attack fortresses on the map. That gives players leveling-up experiences similar to role-playing games, with things like shared arenas, combat encounters, and group-wide arena effects.
I’ve done a couple of these battles with my kid. You have to make sure you drink enough potion to be able to stay in the fight long enough to beat all of the enemies.
Adding to the RPG gameplay, players can specialize in different professions: Auror, Magizoologist, and Professor. Players from different professions will be encouraged to work together to defeat Wizarding Challenges and unlock rare content.
And then, the game has treats for fans of the Harry Potter world in the form of Portkeys. Upon discovering and activating a Portkey Portmanteau, players will be able to reveal an immersive VR-like experience and transport themselves to explore iconic Wizarding World locations. In my preview, I saw one such place in the form of Ollivanders Wand Shop in the Diagon Alley area. This shop looked beautiful, and it is unlike anything you can do in Pokémon Go.
If you visit greenhouses scattered throughout the world, you’ll be able to collect different kinds of ingredients. With those, you can craft potions. The kind of ingredients available will depend on your biomes, with ingredients available changing based on weather conditions.
I’ve only gone out for a single walk with my kid so far, and it was too cold to hang out. We found we had to spend a lot more time standing around a given spot, because of the AR combat. Some people who want to walk more than they want to play might turn off the AR.
But that would be a shame, as AR adds more life to the game.