Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is built upon a nearly impossible promise: allowing people to finally attend Hogwarts.
Hogwarts Mystery is a mobile RPG for iOS and Android developed by Jam City in partnership with Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter-dedicated Portkey Games label. The game takes place over seven years, encouraging players to take advantage of life at Hogwarts. There are classes to attend, Quidditch matches to play, students to duel with and, as the game progresses, crushes to romance. There’s a storyline woven into the game’s core, but the heart of Hogwarts Mystery is the freedom in exploring the castle. The game takes place seven years before Harry Potter heads to Hogwarts — just after the death of his parents, while Voldemort is in hiding — meaning there’s no Boys Who Lived to encounter, either.
I’ve never tried to hide how important Harry Potter is to me. I wore my Slytherin off-brand Doc Martens to the play session, sporting two different Harry Potter pins on my jacket that I wear everywhere. I’ve even tried to convince editors at Polygon to let me write a column called “Dumblore,” (get it?) where I talk about different, important events in Harry Potter history. All of which is to say that I was holding the game to pretty high standards. I started my demo session in Diagon Alley, walking through the streets and picking up school supplies for my witch’s first year at Hogwarts.
There are few words to explain the level of immense joy and relief that filled my heart upon walking into stores like Flourish & Blotts and Ollivanders. Everything felt exactly as I remembered. It’s hard to pay attention to the actions the game is prompting you to perform when you’re looking around the different shops, taking it all in again. In Ollivanders, my witch was given a couple of different wands to try out. Each one required me to slide my finger across the iPad in a different motion. I then answered questions about my personality, which in turn helped to find the right wand.
Like any RPG, the decisions I make, including answering basic questions about how I’d react in a specific scenario, influence my character’s strengths throughout the game. I’m a Slytherin at heart, and having completed most “Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong In” quizzes on the internet, I knew what answers to give. The best part about Hogwarts Mystery is that you can play it however you want — the questions enough are easy to game to ensure you get placed in your favorite house, but you can also play it honestly and see where the game takes you.
But Diagon Alley is just a tease of what the game has to offer; it helps introduce the game’s simple mechanics, your character’s storyline and even a loyal friend. It wasn’t until I reached Hogwarts that I truly felt the game come to life. Everything from the Great Hall, where I was sorted into Slytherin (remember what I said about gaming the questions to your advantage), to my first classes (Charms with Professor Flitwick and Potions with Professor Snape) felt magical.
Although the game employs the original voice actors’ talents — including Michael Gambon as Dumbledore and Warwick Davis as Flitwick — the writing remains the most impressive facet. It’s important that a game like Hogwarts Mystery, which uses some of Harry Potter’s most popular characters, gets their stature just right. As a particularly big fan of Professor Snape, I was anxious the game would mess him up somehow. I was worried his elegant sarcasm and biting wit would be lost; his abrasive tone and charming apathy disregarded. Instead, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how true to the original character this version of Snape appeared.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery has the unenviable task of trying to appease Harry Potter fans, and we’re a stubborn, impish, hard-to-please bunch. Certain aspects of the universe have to be just so. The game never pretends. It comes across as a game designed by Harry Potter fans who always wanted to go to Hogwarts for equally hopeful Harry Potter aficionados. The adoration the team has for the characters, the castle and the general wizarding world is palpable.
That same respect the writing team paid to characters like Severus Snape can also be seen in other important, canonical figures. Again, considering the game takes place seven years before Harry’s official start, don’t expect to run into Draco Malfoy, Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger. Other characters, however, like Nymphadora Tonks, Charlie Weasley and Bill Weasley do make an appearance.
I didn’t get to interact with Charlie or Tonks in this preview, but I faced off against Bill in a dueling session just outside the Quidditch pitch. Dueling operates like a Pokémon battle-style minigame. Players are given health bars and a variety of spells to either defend or attack with. The order of the attack is decided by a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Players continue to attack each other until one wizard or witch’s wand goes flying. It’s not one of the more interesting parts of the game, but people looking to acquire additional coins or XP points to purchase aesthetic items and become more powerful will enjoy the distraction.
Perhaps the most important Hogwarts Mystery characteristic that can’t go unsaid is how little gameplay I actually encountered. I spent most of my time talking to friends, learning about my family’s troubled past and listening to my teachers. It’s the perfect game for someone like me who finds the most interesting parts of Harry Potter the relationships and the drama that builds. This isn’t the type of game where players will be asked to consistently engage with an action. Prepare to read, and read, and read some more. I was so engrossed with the story I was navigating, the characters I was meeting and learning from my professors, that the fact I didn’t particularly do many actionable things never bothered me.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery made me feel like a Hogwarts student for a brief period. I managed to upset Professor Snape, charm Professor Flitwick into declaring me one of the brightest witches he’s ever taught, managed some mischief and even made an enemy. I was invested in my witch; a Hogwarts student who I wanted to become the powerful leader she was destined to be. I didn’t think that Hogwarts Mystery would keep my attention, but by the end of the session I was disappointed to hand the iPad back.
I can’t wait to dive into Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery again, and spend the next seven years at Hogwarts. The trepidations I had that this would just be another Harry Potter game aren’t there anymore.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is available today for iOS and Android devices.