As someone who grew up with the Harry Potter books, I was understandably thrilled to hear about the new Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery mobile game. Since its release on April 25th, I’ve played through Year 1 (there are 7 years in total), and had a pretty fun time. The graphics are lovely, the storyline is intriguing, and some of the dialogue made me laugh out loud. But the game also has some glaring issues — namely, the energy system. So here’s my breakdown of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Year 1.
The start of the game is just magical — you get to live out the fantasy of getting your acceptance letter, going to Diagon Alley to buy supplies and get your wand, and then hop the train to Hogwarts to attend the feast and get sorted into your house. I liked that you get to choose your house, although I would have preferred a bit more of a “personality quiz” style of questioning before you make your decision.
The plot wasn’t brilliant, but it did keep me interested. Your avatar (you choose the name and gender) is a bit of a pariah at Hogwarts because your older brother was expelled for breaking school rules in an attempt to find the “Cursed Vaults,” which are hidden somewhere within the castle. The other Hogwarts students constantly bring it up, and the teachers judge you by your brother’s actions, so there’s a thread of “having to prove yourself” that runs through the narrative. As you progress through the first year, you get a mysterious vision of the vaults, along with a quest line to open a door that’s blocked by cursed ice. There isn’t really a resolution to the “cursed vaults” plot in Year 1, but I’m looking forward to finding out more as I progress through the years.
The lessons are very entertaining, mostly because of the dialogue. You complete normal tasks, like “Study” and “Listen to Professor”, but then there are other options like “Pass Notes,” “Gossip,” and “Insult” — the latter always involves Merula, the Slytherin bully whose insults are delightfully relentless. My favorite bit of dialogue comes from Flying class, in which every piece of flying advice that Madam Hooch gives ends with “or you’ll fall to your death.” You have to wonder how many casualties she’s suffered over the years, and why no one has thought to put levitation charms on the hapless first-year students.
There’s lots more I enjoyed–the graphics, the supporting characters, getting to duel other students, and so on. All in all, it has the potential to be a fantastic game that any Harry Potter fan would happily devour. There’s only one problem …
The energy system is just plain stupid.
It’s a pay-to-play game, so basically you have an energy bar, and you expend energy every time you do a task. The problem is that you use up your energy bar incredibly quickly, and it takes 4 minutes to replenish one energy charge — a full energy bar is ~25 charges. That means you have to wait ~100 minutes to recharge your bar. Most classes take about 2 full energy bars to complete — sometimes more — and you go through all your energy in maybe 5 minutes, tops. So you’re playing for 5 minutes, waiting 2 hours, playing for 5 minutes, etc.
Now, I get it. The game is free, and they have to make money somewhere. And maybe there are people out there who will happily spend money to recharge their energy bar over and over and over. But frankly, it just pisses me off. I would have gladly laid down $20 as a flat fee to play the game. But pay-to-play is so open-ended, with potentially no end to the investment you have to pour into the game. If you could just pay to get vanity items, like cool robes or a swanky broom, that would be different. But when your actual ability to play the game is impeded by long wait times and prodding to purchase more energy … not cool.
Implementing a flat fee is probably impossible at this point, since that’s not how the game was designed. But I think a very easy fix would be to shorten how long it takes for energy to recharge. Cut it from 4 minutes down to 2, for example, and suddenly people are playing twice as often, getting twice as involved in the game. Get the players to love your game first, then try to cash in, not the other way around.
I’ve been skimming reviews for this game, and most of the reviewers end off by saying “it’s a good concept, but I got too frustrated and stopped playing.” I’m really hoping that Jam City (the game developer) recognizes this as a serious problem and addresses it, because I’ve been dreaming of a Skyrim-style Harry Potter game for years, and if this mobile game fails, it might discourage future Harry Potter games from being developed.
In conclusion …
I love Harry Potter, and when I’m actually able to play the game (and am not just sitting there waiting for more energy), I genuinely enjoy it. So I will keep playing. But I categorically refuse to support micro-transactions of any kind, and that’s not going to change no matter how long it takes my energy bar to recharge. It might take a bit longer, and I might forget about the game after a while if it drags out too much, but for now, it’s on to Year 2! Time to solve the mystery of the Cursed Vaults. Wish me luck!