This is controversial, but I have been playing both Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery side by side for a while now, and while I have opinions on both games, I feel like Wizards Unite could have taken a couple of cues from Hogwarts Mystery.
Specifically cues on story elements.
I will preface this article with a few disclaimers. I am not a game designer. I know next to nothing about marketing, especially marketing for games. I play games, I enjoy them, but I am not what most people would consider a gamer. I am, however, a consumer of stories.
What is expressed in this article is my opinions, as a consumer of these two games, nothing else. I do also want to point out that while this article focuses on things these games could have done better, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I play both Wizards Unite and Hogwarts Mystery because I truly do enjoy them, for different reasons. That’s not to say either game is perfect.
Hogwarts Mystery vs. Wizards Unite
Quick summary of Hogwarts Mystery and Wizards Unite for anyone not playing both games.
Hogwarts Mystery is a (limited) role-playing game where you are the main character progressing through years at Hogwarts. You can find all previous articles on the game at our Hogwarts Mystery tag.
Wizards Unite is an augmented reality, geo-location game where you are an elite witch or wizard trying to contain the Calamity and keep magic away from unsuspecting Muggles.
The Story of Hogwarts Mystery and Wizards Unite
When Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery was released, it was met with mixed opinions from fans. Many had misunderstood and believed Hogwarts Mystery to be the “Pokémon GO style Harry Potter game” that we had been promised, while others complained that the story in Hogwarts Mystery was boring, and that it broke canon. Legitimate complaints, I will agree. The distinction between Hogwarts Mystery and Wizards Unite was not made very clear in the months leading up to Hogwarts Mystery’s release, and the story of Hogwarts Mystery proved early on to be pure fan fiction, with no claim to be canon.
Editor-in-chief Brita even did a video with two other WUtubers addressing the confusion between Hogwarts Mystery (an RPG that came out in 2018) and Wizards Unite (the AR game that didn’t come out until 2019). And she wrote an article here comparing different Harry Potter mobile games.
Still, once you get over the urge to place it in canon, and once you get over the Mary Sue-like main character that you are playing, there’s entertainment to be found in the game. Or so I found.
Because at least Hogwarts Mystery has a story.
Yes, the story could have been better, it could have taken some care not to be blatant about breaking canon, but at least it’s there, and important to the game. It is, after all, the entire point of the game. And yes, Wizards Unite has a story as well, but it’s hidden, and doesn’t appear to be important. The point of Wizards Unite is to gather Foundables, not to figure out the mystery behind the Calamity.
Events as a Band-Aid
Both Wizards Unite and Hogwarts Mystery are overwhelming when it comes to special events. As soon as one is over, another one is announced, or – in the case of Hogwarts Mystery – starts without an announcement. This has had the same effect on me in both games, in that I have more or less ceased caring about the special events. I do not have the time or the energy to finish every one of them, and once I had failed to finish a few, my conclusion was that I hadn’t missed much.
And that has made me wonder if both of these games are using special events to try to get people to keep playing, because they are not confident enough that their core gameplay would keep people engaged.
Where Wizards Unite Went Wrong
To focus on Wizards Unite. The game was released by Niantic, and advertised as a Pokémon GO style Harry Potter-game. Having played Pokémon GO since the summer it was released, and being a huge Harry Potter fan since almost two decades, I was intrigued, but confused.
Were the similarities simply that it would be location based? Or were we going to be collecting Horcruxes or magical artifacts to use in fighting dark wizards, perhaps? Because when I think Pokémon games, I think about collecting, which has never quite been what Harry Potter was about to me.
When the release of Wizards Unite approached, we were promised a story arc. Now, that made me excited.
However, as I have stated before and therefore don’t need to go into, when the game was released, the story was hidden so far under everything else that many players never even found it. We got a game that was about collecting Foundables and leveling up our skill trees to be able to collect even more Foundables – none of which advances or even seems to impact the plot. And I believe that this was a huge mistake in a game that is based on the Harry Potter franchise.
My Controversial Opinion
To put it simply, Wizards Unite would have been better if they had taken a few pages from Hogwarts Mystery’s playbook.
Harry Potter fans, in my experience, are story lovers first. They will consume (almost) anything Harry Potter related, hoping for a great story. That is where the disappointment came in Hogwarts Mystery – the story wasn’t good, and it didn’t fit with canon. But at least it was there, which is what keeps many of us still playing, albeit casually.
Wizards Unite lost many of the Harry Potter fans around me because those fans didn’t want a complicated game with skill trees and strategies, if there wasn’t also a story attached to it. They wanted to meet Harry, Ron, and Hermione again, maybe get to know some new characters, and find out what is going on in the Wizarding World after the books. And many of my friends who stopped playing, did so before they realized that there was a story hidden deep within the game.
Hogwarts Mystery, I play because of the story. Not because I think it’s particularly good, and certainly not because I think it fits into canon, but because it’s a story, and I am curious to see what happens next.
In Wizards Unite, I gather Foundables and fight in Fortresses and level up my skill tree, but I do not feel as invested in the game as I would have been, had I been playing to actually find out what the Calamity is, what caused it, and how it can be stopped.
How Wizards Unite Can Improve
Here is something Harry Potter: Wizards Unite could do, if it wanted to bring back the audience that cares about story first and game second.
Make the story a larger part of the game. Take the mystery of what the Calamity is, where the London Five are, what Grim Fawley did, and where he is now, and bring it to the surface.
This could be done by giving us tasks, perhaps similar to the SOS Assignments, or perhaps in special events, specifically meant to find out more details about the story. And for those who have trouble finishing events or assignments (I, like many others in rural areas, am forever stuck on the “Complete 3 Wizarding Challenges with 3 Teammates” SOS Assignment), give us the highlights when the event is over. Perhaps in the form of a newspaper clipping. Or perhaps in the form of some animation where the characters discuss what has been found out during the event.
What are some other ways that you think the story of Wizards Unite could be made more prominent? Discuss in the comments, and of course join the discussion on any of our online platforms: