Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery may not be the first officially licensed Harry Potter game on Android, but it's probably going to be the most popular, at least until we see what Niantic has up its sleeve for its upcoming augmented reality title Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Only just recently has Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery arrived on the Play Store as a soft-launch title, which means it's getting close to an official release. But since there is still no hard date set for when that will happen I have decided to sideload the APK in order to see what it has to offer and share my thoughts.
The first thing you will probably want to know is that Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery takes place in the timespan between Harry Potter's birth and when he enters the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The second most important fact about this title is that it's very similar to a choose your own adventure game. So if you had high hopes of playing out your Harry Potter fantasies in a deep and fulfilling RPG or MMO, you can forget that. This is a casual game at its core, which may or may not play out in its favor. Ah, who am I kidding, people are going to eat this game up regardless.
As you can tell from the screenshots and teaser trailer, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery isn't really a graphically intensive game. Sure, it gets the job done, but I would say the graphics are on par with any other bland non-offensive title available for children and adults alike. The characters look mostly similar to their movie counterparts, though there is a heavy lean towards the nondescript caricatures found on the dust jackets of the earlier books over the grittier styles seen in the later films. After all, this is a kid-friendly game, so things need to be toned-down just a bit.
Things start out simple enough. You are entering your first year of Hogwarts. This means you will first do some shopping in Diagon Alley. Here you will meet your first friend who is also entering into their first year at the school. Once you obtain all of your necessary items, you move on to the Sorting Ceremony. Here you get to choose which of the four houses you would like to belong to. While I am not fully sure if this choice can affect the gameplay, from what I have seen so far the majority of situations you find yourself in have little to do with which house you chose short of what color robe you wear.
Once you are sorted into your house, you then get to start attending classes. For the most part, these first segments serve to not only move the story along but also as a way to get used to the overall gameplay of completing tasks in a sufficient and timely manner while also learning new spells and potions.
Within the first hour of the game you will learn that your older brother attended Hogwarts but was expelled from the school under odd circumstances. This, of course, follows you around. Not only are the teachers aware of your brother's checkered past, but so too are the students. As you can imagine, issues will arise as you try to figure out what happened.
The gameplay is actually pretty simple and considering that Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery plays a lot like a choose your own adventure, this is no surprise. You will spend a lot of time working your way through animated dialogue cutscenes, but in between these segments is where the true meat of the gameplay resides.
The way it works is you are given a wide range of tasks to complete. You can easily warp to the areas of the game that these tasks take place in by merely tapping on the year icon located at the top left of the screen. Once you are where you are supposed to be you can slide the screen from the left to the right to view hallways, classrooms, and some of your other surroundings. These sections will have plenty of different icons in front of doors, people, or objects that you can interact with. When you finally tap on the icon you are meant to be focusing on, a new animated segment will reveal what you need to do next. This is usually followed by a simple time-based or swiping task.
As you progress, you will learn new recipes for potions and new spells to perform. These will be used to get past more tasks in the game. Your ultimate goal is to earn points for your house by completing these tasks successfully. If your house has the most points at the end of an in-game year, you will earn yourself some Gems and Coins.
Honestly, the gameplay is super streamlined, though you do get a few different choices with where you want to go or who you want to interact with. What is nice is that figuring out where you need to go next, or what tasks you should be taking on next is a breeze, which should make Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery an easy game to pick up no matter the player's gaming skill.
As far as monetization is concerned, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is undoubtedly a free-to-play title complete with in-app purchases that range all the way up to $99.99 per item. So yes, there is an energy system which will limit how long you can play, and yes there are two types of in-game currency.
Coins are the first currency, and they are easier to earn in-game than the secondary currency of Gems. These Gems are of course used almost exclusively for the best items in the game, which at the very least appear to be mostly cosmetic. Personally, I am not a fan of two-tiered currencies in FTP games as they tend to be used to obfuscate how much real money you are spending. This is nothing new, but when it's used in a game that's guaranteed to attract children, the implementation leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
In total I found Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery to be an enjoyable experience, if not a little dull and dumbed down. I believe this was done on purpose so that the game can appeal to a wide array of players, instead of focusing on any one type of fan or group. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for those of you who are looking for a deep game to dive into, this probably isn't it. But for the rest of you, if you would like to venture back into the world of Harry Potter and enjoy some light-hearted gameplay with a fun and interesting story, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is a solid choice.