A week ago, the highly anticipated Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery mobile game launched, offering a new story set in the 11-year period after The Boy Who Lived defeated Lord Voldemort, and before Harry Potter’s Hogwarts arrival. I’ve spent the past seven days diligently attending classes, learning to duel, exploring the castle, and waiting for my energy to reload — and of course I documented all of it.
With my wildest childhood dreams virtually fulfilled, here are my observations.
I did not go into this Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery experience blind. I had already seen a demo at the Jam City offices about a week before the launch, so I was equipped with the knowledge that the game, created by a large team of fellow Harry Potter aficionados, boasts slick visuals and a story line that is true to the universe I love.
Mirroring the structure of the books, "there’s the core content and there are also sort of side quests and side stories that eventually weave back into the main thread," Jam City CEO Chris DeWolfe explained. "As you can tell from the title, Hogwarts Mystery, mystery is a core part of this discovery, so you’re not just sort of randomly exploring the school. There’s definitely a through-line and a set of mysteries that you’re trying to solve."
I also learned some very basic gameplay — like that fact that each player gets to pick their own house because we all know where we belong by now — along with the fact that this launch is only phase one. "This is going to go on for years and years — new features, new events, new characters," DeWolfe said, noting that the story-based game tackles minor housekeeping before delving into the good stuff. "We wanted to make sure we established the characters and the stakes and the story arcs before we got into sort of the fun of things, like Quidditch and dueling."
Of course, watching someone play parts of the game is very different than playing solo, so one week later…
Had I ever been more excited to play a video game before? Absolutely not. I started this journey happy to be back in that cozy castle, ready for a new adventure. And the opening visuals did not disappoint.
Professor McGonagall — voiced by Dame Maggie Smith herself! — welcomed me to the game, and it was so cool to hear her in character again. The auditory component made the game feel more legitimate, like I was being invited to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Anyway, onto creating my character. The options were plentiful and I made her look like me, even giving her my childhood nickname. Then I was off to Diagon Alley, where I made my first friend, Rowan, and saw my very official Hogwarts acceptance letter. What a rush!
I was instantly sold on Rowan for her vast knowledge of Hogwarts and bookish charm. I also like that she asked my opinion on what item she should buy to make herself look smart. (I told her to get a scarf.)
Actually, I was told about making choices during my visit to Jam City. Every choice I make throughout the game will affect my character and my story. This first choice was meant to be an easy one, just to get players used to making decisions in the game, and as the game progresses, choices will become more impactful. For example — the second choice question is already more intense than the first: How I felt about my brother Jacob’s disappearance. (“I just hope he’s OK!”)
Equipped with my books and my wand — acacia with a unicorn hair core, 12 inches, pliable — it was off to school for me!
Hogwarts of the '80s
Hogwarts of the '80s does not look so different from Hogwarts of the '90s. The game took me straight to the Great Hall for the sorting ceremony. It was a little nerve-racking to be called up there first without seeing anyone else get sorted, but it was ultimately fine. I picked Gryffindor, because that's my home. I thought I’d get to enjoy the welcome feast, but alas, I was whisked away to the Gryffindor common room, where a rude third year boy makes it known that Jacob has ruined my reputation before I even arrived. Oh, brother.
The backstory I gathered on Jacob through various conversations is that he was at Hogwarts before me and became obsessed with his search for the Cursed Vaults. His quest put other students in danger, and he was expelled from school. After his expulsion, he went missing. Some say he ran away to join Lord Voldemort, but I know my brother better than that... (No, I don't, I'm just hoping that I am not so closely related to a ruthless Death Eater.)
Meanwhile, the classes were pretty unexciting — a series of tapping, with some tracing and quiz questions thrown in — so I made it through my first two, Charms and Potions, nearly unscathed, save a snafu with my nemesis Merula, in which she caused my potion to explode. It was OK though, because I was happy to be in Snape’s virtual presence. Well, bittersweet, because he hates me, but also he must be secretly protecting me, right?!
After my Potions problem, my Prefect told me Snape was giving me a chance to make up for my explosion by helping him, so off I went! Alas, it was just more Merula, who left me entrapped in Devil’s Snare. It took a long time to free myself because I kept running out of energy. It was annoying — and kind of frightening! — but I persisted for the sake of this diary. As a reward, I met Hagrid! It turns out that was his Devil’s Snare. Typical.
(I later saw that many other people online were frustrated enough by the Devil’s Snare wait time to stop playing the game entirely. I stopped playing while I waited for my energy to refill so that I wouldn’t have to watch my character in an uncomfortable position.)
Making Friends and Exploring the Castle
After cementing my friendship with Rowan over a game of Gobstones (which I won by distracting her with my conversational charm), I used up my energy in Potions class and found myself too tired to look for the secret dueling book. For a while I thought I was going to fail the mission and I wasn’t sure what that would mean, but I made it far enough to pass even though I didn’t get achieve of the bonus points.
Understandably, Rowan needed a three-hour break from me, which gave me an excuse to explore the castle. Although there wasn’t much to see or do, while randomly clicking around to see if I could interact with the environment, I found some secret hidden energy Easter eggs! So I hurried through every part of the castle and clicked on everything that might animate. I found a few — though I’ll avoid spoiling where they are. The best one involved a puppy Fang, and the close second, a scurrying house-elf.
Learning to Duel
I met Rowan in the Great Hall for sandwiches and a chat, then I met Professor Flitwick for a private Expelliarmus lesson. The first time I truly felt the Hogwarts experience was during my clandestine meeting with a teacher for a hands-on advanced lesson.
Later, I went back to the Gryffindor common room where my Prefect taught me and Rowan Rictusempra (the tickling charm) and went over the basics of dueling for my inevitable run-in with Merula.
Skills-wise, I was ready for battle, and soon after, I easily defeated Merula, whose “aggressive” stance always faltered to my “defensive.” Snape and Flitwick caught us dueling, and I got into a ton of trouble for initiating, but I was too excited for the story advancement to get down about that.
After our duel, Merula and I eavesdropped on Snape’s conversation with Filch about, uh, me, or maybe my brother, and a mysterious corridor.
The Forbidden Corridor
After another wait period, I met Rowan in the Great Hall for more sandwiches. (Why we always choose sandwiches when we can have literally anything else is beyond me.) With some tactful convincing on my end, we decide to team up and explore the mysterious forbidden corridor Snape and Filch were talking about. How exciting!
All I knew at this point was that the corridor has something to do with the Cursed Vaults, and that sometimes I heard voices that Rowan did not hear. It's all very Chamber of Secrets, leaving real-me wondering if game-me was about to realize I speak parseltongue, or if I have some kind of telepathic connection with my brother.
But it turns out, "exploring" just meant more tapping games, so not very stimulating after all. Wishing I could actually click around the corridor and search for things, Mrs. Norris arrived and almost blew our spot, so we fled.
It took a week to get here, but I'm finally feeling like the mystery is picking up and I have some direction in this game. I do wish the narrative was moving along a little faster — which it would have, if I hadn't insisted on not participating in microtransactions and could zoom through my classes.
But even though my progress is often interrupted by mindless tapping activities and long wait periods, I'm invested in the concept and curious about the game’s future. I'm a sucker for a new addition to the Harry Potter universe. Plus, I need confirmation that Jacob was not the menace he's made out to be — and I'm kind of concerned that he's trapped inside the Cursed Vaults, with me as his only hope.
And let's face it: This is the closest I'll ever get to attending Hogwarts, and I really want to try out for the Quidditch team next year.
- POV VMA SUBMISSION FORM09/01/2023
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