Move over Pokémon Go, there’s a new wizard in town! Niantic has returned with another interactive augmented reality (AR) game for iOS and Android devices, this time in the beloved Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling. Originally set to release on June 20, 2019, it was surprisingly let loose on witches and wizards everywhere a day early. Like most new games, especially ones of this magnitude, gameplay has had its hiccups in these early stages. Unlike it’s predecessor, the game has yet to crash completely, but players have complained of slow loading speeds and other minor inconveniences.
While I haven’t had the chance to take the game “out on the town” quite yet, I have been able to meander around my neighborhood and I have to say, so far I’m quite impressed. My experience in AR gaming begins here, unless you count flicking some pokéballs on behalf of my husband in “dire” emergencies (a.k.a. while he’s driving; we’re law-abiding citizens after all,) so I was quite excited to see what all the fuss was about.
In another confession, I’m terrible at video games. So I was thrilled to discover this gameplay is friendly to all skill levels (all the way down to abysmal.) It’s easy to maneuver and learn with a simple play that doesn’t require a ton of skill. Now when I say that, don’t think it’s boring or not worth playing, because that isn’t the case. It just won’t be leaving you with a feeling of frustration to the point of wanting to give up (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy VII.)
The basics are simple. You walk around, fight Confoundables by tracing some very familiar wandwork (flick and swish, anyone?) to locate Foundables. Easy right? What is a Confoundable and Foundable you ask? Fear not, I know the answer. It’s the basis of the game. Your objective is to release the object, the Foundable, from its trap, the Confoundable, by using spells. Unlike Pokémon Go, Wizards Unite wraps you into a storyline, complete with a daily assignment list to earn rewards, potions to be brewed, items to collect and titles to be earned. On top of the tasks and objectives, you can also design your wand, select your Hogwarts house and a profession all to be listed in your personal, public profile.
You can also play with friends! As of right now, you can have up to 200 fellow witches and wizards in your own magical clan, giving you bonus Wizarding XP for leveling up and partners for engaging in Wizarding Challenges together. Each player is given a unique numerical code to blast out on all of their social media accounts so their friends can copy it into the invite bar. This technique seemed a little strange to me in this day and age where everything is linked to Facebook and emails. However, I have to admit it is a little bit fun to have to actually get on the horn and ask instead of a list friends auto-populating in the game itself.
You’re thinking this sounds great right? You’re not wrong, but I have found one thing to be a bit irksome. Energy. Not my own. Although, walking around my neighborhood looking for these things definitely has me moving a bit more than I typically would. No, I’m talking about in-game energy. When you start, you’re gifted with this full tank of gas, which contains 75 little bolts of energy ready to be used. Each spell you cast takes one bolt, and you’ll discover in gameplay that not every Foundable can be freed with only one. So that 75 can drain fairly quickly. Now, I’ve played other games where I wait 15 minutes and bam, another bit of energy has recharged and I’m set to go. But that is not the case here.
Earning energy is a task in and of itself. Your daily assignments have some objectives that will reward you with a few bolts, but not enough to fill your bar back up. The other ways are to spend money on gold coins to purchase it, and while it may seem cheap (I like to call it fiscally responsible,) I personally won’t spend money on in-app purchases, or head on out to “Inns” to dine and recharge. There are two inns in my immediate area, but walking out to them isn’t always feasible, so sometimes I’m left just… stuck. Each inn will only replenish a certain amount of your own energy before the kitchen itself needs to time to restock its shelves, so to speak. Video games need to grocery shop now and again, even in the Wizarding World.
Now my limitations in recharging are affected by a few things. One, I have to take a two year old everywhere I go. And two, I live in a tiny town, in a heavy residential area, and Inns at this point seem to all be public places. For example, mine are a church and a small campground. So, my ability to get out and dine at all the fine Wizards Unite establishments may be more difficult than others, but it is something to keep in mind if your situation could be anything like mine.
All in all, I really do love this game. It’s the perfect little break from every day life and just enough to ease my sadness from never getting that Hogwarts letter back when I was 11. I look forward to the advancements and storylines as the game grows and I progress further. I just really hope they let me get an owl…