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Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Would Be a Great Game If It Weren’t Impossible to Play

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Mobile Game

The Harry Potter mobile game that we’d been looking forward to for months (and dreaming about for far longer) was released a few weeks ago, but I just finally got around to playing it this weekend. In theory, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is exactly what I’d hoped it would be.

Set after the birth of Harry Potter but a decade before he would go on to attend Hogwarts himself, the game is filled with younger versions of many of the teachers and other characters we know from the books. Your character not only gets to interact with these characters and take Hogwarts classes and learn spells, but you have a great backstory. Your older brother attended Hogwarts before you, but at some point, he “went mad,” left the school, and disappeared. There are rumors that he was in league with You-Know-Who, and there’s a series of mysteries you get into to find out what happened to him, and hopefully lead to his whereabouts.

In addition to all of that, you build friendships in the game through interpersonal interactions. You get to know your friends through conversations and games where you have to work towards a specific goal (distract, comfort, etc), but to achieve that goal, you have to tailor your tactics to your knowledge of the individual. It’s actually a great exercise in listening and empathizing.

Unfortunately, everything great about this game is rendered moot by the infuriating, debilitating gameplay, which requires either a ton of in-game purchases or a ludicrous amount of waiting.

Your character has an energy bar that drains quickly during most activities. You start first year with a bar that holds 25 energy points, and each task–like, say, a class lesson–requires you to tap various objects to complete a number of mini objectives that make up the whole exercise. Two taps to turn the pages of a book, three taps to listen to Professor Flitwick, five taps to ask your brainy friend Rowan a question–you hit 25 in about as many seconds, and you may only be halfway done, or often less. You then have to wait four minutes for each energy point to recover, or spend real-world money to buy in-game gems, which will buy you energy, among other things.

Sometimes you’ll get a quest scheduled for later in the day. Of course, the game will allow you to skip the wait period for a fee. After only a few days of casual playing (honestly, it’s hard to play this non-casually if you don’t want to keep buying gems), I hit a number of points where I wasn’t just waiting out one task, but two or three. I would have three different tasks in my queue, and all of them required me to spend money or wait hours to continue. Honestly, it felt like the game didn’t want me to be playing it.

It takes multiple hours to finish a task that has at most a couple of minutes of simple gameplay. It’s incredibly frustrating. Even worse, it’s boring.

All of this is bad enough when you have to wait out a basic class lesson. It’s so much worse when you’re dealing with an action sequence of some sort. The first adventure you find yourself in is a battle with a deadly plant called Devil’s Snare, which grabs ahold of you with its vines. You have to fight it off before it strangles you, but when you run out of energy, you’re just left there, watching your character be strangled by plants. You might stare at that scene for 20 minutes or more before you can make another move or do literally anything.

At best, the game feels like it couldn’t care less if you’re playing it. At worst, it’s fueling our frustration and exploiting our young character’s pain and suffering in order to get us to spend money. Either one is unfortunate because they both make me wonder why I’m still playing after only a couple of days and it really does look like there’s a great game buried in there that I’ll never get to play.

(image: Jam City and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Portkey Games)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.