“Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” — Sybill Trelawney
Yes, it is likely you’ve already heard it muttered in The Leaky Cauldron or whispered between the shelves of the Hogwarts Library — but you can read it here as well:
The Calamity must go.
It never should have been the focus of the core gameplay for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and it has been holding the game back from true success. But is it too late?
The Failed Promise of Wizards Unite
From launch, I have been enamored with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. It put the universe and world-building of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. into the palm of my hand in a way many of us have clamored for since the release of Pokémon GO in the summer of 2016. It was immediately apparent that great care and attention was put into making this game. Wizards Unite was much more robust and involved on day one than Pokémon GO was when it made its record-breaking debut.
Yet, immediately something felt wrong.
Something was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it right away. Or maybe nothing was missing, but there was too much of something else like when Neville added leech juice and rat spleens in excess to his Shrinking Solution, making it a poison before Hermione helped him fix it.
The Basis of the Calamity
That ingredient for Wizards Unite has been identified as the Calamity. The Calamity, as many of you know, is a magical catastrophe postulated to have been caused by the wizard Grim Fawley. It conveniently pulls the people, places, objects, and memories that we all have spent over two decades knowing and loving out of space and time in the form of Foundables to wreak havoc for the magical governments of the world maintaining the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.
Make no mistake about it, this is merely a convenient way to shoehorn the already recognizable intellectual property of the Wizarding World, J.K. Rowling, and Warner Bros. into a game that is intended to be taking place in present day.
Was this the best way to create a Harry Potter game that rides on the coattails of Niantic’s Pokémon GO?
Does it stand up against Pokémon GO as a persistent and evolving game that is supposed to be using augmented reality to provide a sense of immersion for the player?
No, it does not.
The Success of Pokémon GO
What Pokémon GO succeeded at doing, where I think Wizards Unite does not, is providing the level of immersion that we crave. It’s not true for everyone, but even a slight nod at role-playing in a game like Pokémon GO and Wizards Unite will ripple throughout the gameplay.
Pokémon GO is simple. You are a Pokémon Trainer, and you’re in a world where Pokémon live. Your primary task is to catch and collect all of the types of Pokémon. Sure, nostalgia played a big part in its initial success, but the sustained interest in Pokémon GO lies in this very simple premise: when you pick up your phone and walk around your neighborhood, you can suspend belief for a moment and pretend you are a Trainer searching for these lovable creatures.
Everything else in Pokémon GO is just bonus, and they were very successful in making it a complete game that essentially has infinite replay value. They nailed it with the core premise of walking around your own town or city or places you travel to find Pokémon, and that’s all it ever needed to be.
Wizards Unite did not, however, succeed in the same way.
The Failure of the Calamity
How do you get players interested in Harry Potter and the Wizarding World off of the couch and out into the world to play a game based on magic? How do you capitalize on the cast of characters and items already seared into their brains?
I can tell you that the Calamity storyline was not the best option, and my opinion has been vindicated with each passing Brilliant Event as the storyline struggles (and ultimately fails) to progress in a meaningful way after almost an entire year. We are subjected to the same dialogue and questions that promote irritation and derision rather than the mystery that I imagine was the goal.
Do I think the Calamity storyline is without merit? No, I do not.
I genuinely enjoyed the Mysteries plot as it was spoonfed to me naturally while playing the game.
I do want to know what happened to the London Five.
I do want to know how the Calamity was created.
I am definitely holding out hope for a plot that will blow my S.P.E.W socks right off my feet.
But with each passing Brilliant Event dishing out absolutely zero substance as far as delving into the mystery of the Calamity, I grow weary and doubtful that this story has any real direction.
I know, I know, it’s very easy for me to consume this game and navigate the attempt being made to weave a relevant reality for witches and wizards around the world to feel apart of the Wizarding World. I applaud the level of detail and dedication to the artwork, animations, and the feel of this mobile game because it does match what I would expect as a life-long fan in terms of aesthetic and production value. However, it could be better.
The Calamity did not need to be the core mechanic that drives the entire game. Like I said with Pokémon GO, a simple impetus drove immediate results and continues to drive sales and great gameplay. What could that have been for Wizards Unite? I think I can answer that.
What Wizards Unite Should Have Been
The core gameplay for Pokémon GO is catching Pokémon, and the core gameplay for Wizards Unite should have been upholding the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy at the most basic interpretation.
The Statute of Secrecy Task Force, Reimagined
The Statute of Secrecy Task Force is a good idea. There is infinite gameplay potential with the rudimentary premise of keeping the Wizarding World a secret. We all know this is an extensive and time-consuming responsibility being upheld by wizarding governments all over the world.
The Ministry of Magic is almost entirely dedicated to detecting and neutralizing these byproducts of magic gone awry and Dark Forces at work.
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement itself could fuel an immersive game on working to quell these instances that jeopardize the Wizarding World at large.
Throw in work done by the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad and Obliviator Headquarters of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, and addressing incursions by magical beasts done at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and you now have a wealth of tasks for players to roleplay in-game while wandering around the real world.
What makes more sense? Walking to the park to find Dumbledore rolling around on the ground being harassed by an Inferius or walking down the street to neutralize a tea kettle that is spewing green fire in front of Chipotle?
The core gameplay for Wizards Unite of finding magical Traces in our world and addressing them to maintain secrecy is already there, but it does not and should not need the Calamity.
Instead of spending the resources to animate the augmented reality animations for every single aspect of the Harry Potter lore that we expect to see, the Traces we find on the map should have been a large list of generic magical mayhem and mishaps. A Dementor is roaming the streets of Los Angeles–I better go out and take care of that. A cursed necklace is floating around the playground. A young witch or wizard attempted unlicensed Apparition and has Splinched themselves. A generic Muggle was a little too observant and needs to be Obliviated. A Unicorn is hurt after entering Muggle occupied space. A copy of Quidditch Through The Ages has been bewitched to attack passersby.
A large collection of easy to animate and easily modified everyday occurrences for the Statute of Secrecy Task Force makes for a natural game that satisfies immersion far more than watching the same animation of Hagrid stuck in some cobwebs over and over again. Fighting a Dementor or a Boggart in my city 1,000 times is believable. Seeing Percival Graves dueling a young Rosa Parks lookalike 145 times, or whoever the Calamity is manifesting as, is not.
This would allow for easily achievable themed events too. It could be Halloween, so expect to see charmed Jack-O-Lanterns that need to be stopped. It’s Valentine’s Day, so the aforementioned fire-breathing tea kettle’s animation can easily be changed to spewing pink Love Potion or hearts.
The amount of manpower going into animating Harry on a broomstick could have likely yielded a few Traces that are generic and malleable and don’t need the Calamity storyline to make sense.
A Different Approach to the Calamity
But what about the characters and objects we want to see from the books we’ve all read and movies we rewatch? THAT is where the Calamity comes in.
If you want to see Dumbledore, Dobby, Sirius, Lupin, or anyone else, then you animate those Traces and confine them to Brilliant Events. This way we are not bored out our minds being desensitized by seeing Tonks feebly fighting a Dementor or whatever it is those Garden Gnomes are doing to that poor baby Niffler.
This way the Mysteries section of our Registry could have been spread out to prop up the weak plot offered in the Brilliant Events dialogue, and the Wizards Unite developers would have more time to figure out the direction they’re going with that debacle.
Collecting Chocolate Frog Cards
That brings us to the Registry. Let’s not mince words, the Registry is a glorified sticker book, and it doesn’t offer the same sense of accomplishment or ownership given to us by mechanics like filling out a Pokédex or catching Pokémon to keep as your very own.
What is truly maddening about this aspect of Wizards Unite is that there is already an analogous solution in the Wizarding World.
Where on earth are the collectible Chocolate Frog Cards?!
Sure, keep the Family sections and the way they show up on the Map to easily identify what you’re getting into and the potential rewards you expect to get, but make the actual magical incident you’re fighting random, and make the reward a Chocolate Frog Card from that Family.
For example: I see an Emergency level Magical Games and Sports Trace on my Map. When I tap on it, it’s one of the generic Traces at risk of exposing wizards. In this instance, it happens to be a Devil’s Snare. I successfully fight the Devil’s Snare with a masterful Incendio, and I end up on the Rewards Page. Awesome, I just got the Chocolate Frog Card for Quidditch Captain Harry! That’s the last one I needed to combine my X number of Cards to prestige to one Golden Chocolate Frog Card of Quidditch Captain Harry.
The Chocolate Frog Card aspect of the game as it is in my head truly should have been the bread and butter of the way we are collecting rewards from battling magical Foes, capturing magical creatures, and returning Brilliant Event Traces that are brought to us by the Calamity. The cards would offer a real solution to the aspect of the game that is present in Pokémon GO, but is lacking in Wizards Unite.
Let’s even say we can forget about animating the cards like they would be in the Wizarding World. It’s a LOT easier to make static artwork in Chocolate Frog Card form for anything and everything you can conceive of in the Wizarding World than it is to animate augmented reality Traces for each of these characters. The opportunities for endless gameplay are, well, endless!
Here’s the part that gets under my skin — the Chocolate Frog Cards can be easily modified for events as well to multiple the variants of each card AND they’re meant to be traded! Pokémon GO has Shiny, Shadow, Party Hat, Halloween, and Santa Hat versions (to name a few) of existing character models in the game. Would it be so difficult to add a Santa Hat to a Chocolate Frog Card to collect around Christmas? Each card could have a rare holographic counterpart to rival the Shiny Pokémon.
The different variations don’t even have to make canonical sense, but you better bet I would be out fighting for the Statute of Secrecy Task Force trying to find an elusive Party Hat Thestral! The trading aspect alone is so seductive that I am shocked this wasn’t part of the game at launch. Did you get the Santa Hat Dumbledore? No? Well, I have an extra one if you have an Party Hat Thestral for trade.
How to Fix Wizards Unite
Do I think any of this is possible for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite? No, not really. It would require a massive overhaul of most aspects of the game as it exists right now, and I just don’t think the time, funding, or player base exists to justify it. It really is a shame to me because this game could have been a direct competitor to the Pokémon GO phenomenon if some different choices were made.
What I do think is possible is a gradual shift away from the Calamity-driven core gameplay mechanics. I also think that the Calamity storyline could have some more effort dumped into that would make us all forget how bizarre it is by engaging us in a more profound way where we embrace the magic of it.
I do hope this game persists into the future, and we watch it evolve the way other mobile games have because I have had a lot of fun playing, and even more fun meeting new people in my community and around my country. The friends I have made from Wizards Unite have drastically changed my life, and I love the game for that, even if it’s not everything I wish it could be.
The Knight Bus has been a wonderful and much needed addition, especially in a world where COVID-19 is an unfortunate reality. The new Repeat Image Collection feature offers some solace to players who love the grind, even if it’s not as cool as collecting Chocolate Frog Cards. These are great iterations of the game fueled by player input and skilled developers.
I would like to see the addition of private lobbies for the Knight Bus even if that means it’s a purchasable ticket like Silver Keys and Potions. Using some Gold to purchase a 30-minute or hour long pass in the form of a Knight Bus ticket to Hogsmeade or some such place where we can invite our friends to Challenges is a way to keep static map Fortresses relevant (they’d be free!) while also allowing players to spend money to play with friends remotely. It’s a win-win for both the creators of the game and the players.
A natural aspect of the game I expect to see is Wizard Duels. I have a lot of practice and muscle-memory for tracing these spells, charms, and hexes. It sure would go to waste if it was only ever used for throwing eight Masterful Meteolojinx Recantos in a row at stubborn Golden Snitch Foundables before they depart. I imagine Wizard Duels could use existing spells to take part in more turn-based combat that relies on skill (speed and accuracy of your tracing) rather than the strategy and teamwork used in Challenges in Fortresses right now. You could even lean into the skill aspect of Wizard Duels by changing the size and location on the screen for each spell randomly so cheating or unfair advantages by way of spell molds and outlines wouldn’t be practical or possible. I think this is a function of the game that has to be implemented despite the desire to keep the theme of wizards uniting. Guess what, wizards get together to duel too. Throw Durmstrang Institute into the destination choices for the Knight Bus to allow us to duel strangers from around the world. Add a duelling chamber to existing static map Fortresses so we can battle our friends. These would greatly increase the play value for an already good game.
I have a lot of other ideas for various aspects of the game including Potions to influence gameplay like the interaction ring around your Magical Me or how many Ingredients you see, Familiars to rival the Pokémon Buddy System, Wands that affect combat, and additions to the Profession trees to offer branches of differing skillsets to make each Professor, Magizoologist, and Auror slightly different than others of the same profession. I will save the minutiae of that wishlist for another article that isn’t about the Calamity.
The Weighing of the Wands (In Conclusion)
It has been an exhilarating 11 months since launch and I have loved every minute of it — from meeting new friends, to visiting Indianapolis to attend Wizards Unite Fan Fest, to collecting Challenge XP for Spell Books to become a better Professor and hours of Foundable grinding and chugging Baruffio’s Brain Elixir to reach max level 60.
All of it has been worth it even if my opinions on the Calamity storyline are harsh.
My opinions are harsh, and I know many of you won’t agree with me, but something has to change, be it the fundamental premise of the Calamity-driven gameplay or an increase in the quality of the Calamity plot, for this game to survive to see the longevity and success of other mobile games. The Wizarding World isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and neither should Wizards Unite, but it needs to strive to be better for us to keep it that way.
Leave a comment below telling us what you would like to see in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Connect with the whole WizHub team on social media.