Your memories of the series deserve a WHOLE lot better than this.
I loved the first five minutes of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Seeing a character who vaguely resembled me strut around Hogwarts in her black robes and emerald collar was excellent. But that’s about where my joy stopped.
Pitched as an opportunity for players to ‘experience life as a Hogwarts student’, Hogwarts Mystery is… lackluster. This visual novel has some interactive moments, and the occasional choice, but in many ways it might as well be an animated movie (that only progresses a few scenes at a time before making you wait a few hours, or pay more money).
The first time you run out of energy—by design—is when you are being attacked by Devil’s Snare. Halfway through the challenge, as the plant’s tendrils wrap around your avatar’s throat, you run out of energy and have to wait or pay to continue. Got to love having the image of an 11-year-old being strangled burned into your brain; that’s one way to encourage players to pay-to-win, I suppose.
I was hoping Hogwarts Mystery would allow me to choose which classes to attend, which people to talk to, and where to go. And it sort of does. But mostly you need to attend classes in a linear order in response to quest objectives, and you often cannot complete a class in one sitting unless you pay up.
That said, there are a few choices to be made. You can handle Merula—Hogwarts Mystery’s answer to Draco Malfoy—in a few different ways, for example. But often the game doesn’t remember your decisions, so later on you get punished for actions you didn’t take, you get told to help characters who didn’t face the foes the game suggests, and you attend classes with people who—according to the in-game narrative—should be in the hospital wing.
There are some nifty interactions, however. It’s cute to draw spells on the screen to cast them, but a little freedom around what to cast and when (rather than just tracing the symbol the game chooses on the player’s behalf) would be more fun. There’s a ‘focus’ challenge, but I often missed it because it starts without warning half the time. There are also quizzes, which test you on your knowledge of potions or charms or whatever other class you’re in, typically using your knowledge of the books or movies to fill in the blanks. These questions often aren’t consistent with the in-game narrative either; why would a teacher be asking about a broomstick that wasn’t released until a decade later than when the game is set? It’s tricky for the game to balance player knowledge (typically of the 1990s when Harry was enrolled) and the in-game world (which is set in the 1980s, a time unexplored by the books, films, and epilogue-inspired play).
It’s hard not to feel jaded when looking at the particularly exploitative free-to-play model that Hogwarts Mystery has adopted. Of course, developers need to make money and Portkey Games is no different, but there are better free-to-play systems than the energy-reliant model that Hogwarts Mystery uses (and even other energy-based games seem to approach this system in a way that feels less restrictive to players). It’s not hard to believe that this model is simply trying to take advantage of the Harry Potter fanbase, which is still incredibly strong despite the last book of the original canon being released in 2007 (that’s 11 years ago!). Promising players their own adventure at Hogwarts—players who still make jokes about Hogwarts forgetting to deliver their letter every year, despite now being much too old to attend—and then putting that adventure behind an obnoxious paywall is disappointing.
When did the magic of Hogwarts die?