I have downloaded Portkey Games’ “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” with the hopes that it would be the mobile equivalent to the classic “Harry Potter” EA-developed video games I grew up with. With features that let me make my own character, learn potions and spells, and even “create lasting friendships”, the app sounded like it’s the closest that you can get to being a Hogwarts student on your phone. That is, until it asks you to pay up.
“Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” is created by games studio Jam City, and is the first offering from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s new games label, Portkey Games. The app has several come-ons especially for Potterheads; you get to explore different Hogwarts settings, get sorted into a House, and some of the film’s cast members have also lent their voices to the game. Dame Maggie Smith for instance returns as Professor McGonagall, Michael Gambon voices Professor Dumbledore, and Warwick Davis is back as Professor Flitwick. The Pottermore website mentions though that the game is not written by J.K Rowling herself.
The first few sequence of the game kicks off with a lot of promise. You receive your Hogwarts letter from an Owl, shop along Diagon Alley, and get picked by a wand at Ollivander’s. Unlike EA’s “Harry Potter” games where you play the game as Harry and follow the events of the book, “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” let’s you create your own character, and to some degree, also your own story when you’re asked to make certain decisions in the game, which could lead to different outcomes.
The game also allows you to develop the personality of your character depending on how much Courage, Empathy, or Knowledge attributes you add. The storyline also lets you develop relationships with other characters, based on your responses to your conversations with them.
However, the storyline can only get you so far as you experience the rest of the gameplay. By the time when you get to the Devil’s Snare sequence, you’ll realize the game’s first frustrating hurdle: microtransactions.
“Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” asks you to use “Energy” as currency to do just about anything in the game that let’s you progress – from casting spells, reading incantations, to even the simplest moves like “glancing” or “whispering”. And with only 25 of these Energies in your counter, you’re bound to run out. At which point the game asks you to “buy” Energy. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for four minutes just to recharge one Energy count. It’s frustrating considering that there are actions that require you up to 5 Energy to make.
It’s not only that. There are also sequences in the game where you can only make progress by spending Gems. It’s either you spend, or you wait for nearly than 3 hours to progress. It’s ridiculously wearisome, that it’s offensive.
The game sneakily tries to make you think you’re not spending real money on Energy, by using Gems as currency. But then again, you’re rarely rewarded with Gems and on those instances; you may be getting only one. Since you need at least 20 Gems to buy a “Bit of Energy”, you’ll have to buy those Gems with yep – real-world money.
To be fair, “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery”, is not the first mobile game to require Energy to play. NetherRealm’s “Injustice: Gods Among Us” also asks you to recharge characters’ Energy before you can use them in fights. However, this doesn’t get in the way of gameplay. You can simply switch to other characters with more Energy, and you won’t need Energy at all to perform fighting moves. “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” on the other hand asks you to spend Energy with every wave of your wand or flip through a book’s pages.
“Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery” is a pay-to-play app disguised as a free-to-play game. It exploits Harry Potter fandom and nostalgia, with a gameplay that’s designed to make you spend in order to enjoy. Portkey Games needs to whip up some serious reparations soon or else the game will get to a point of broken that even a “reparo” spell can’t fix.