Remember that part in the Philosopher’s Stone where Harry needed to cast Lumos to fend off the Devil’s Snare but he ran out of magic halfway through and had to wait three hours before he could cast it again? Or when Ron ended up in the hospital wing but they couldn’t go visit him for eight hours for reasons? I am no stranger to freemium games. I have spent far too much of my life playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out to get on that particular high horse. But Hogwarts Mystery is more or less the equivalent of walking in on Professor Flitwick choke-wanking himself to a messy Expelliarmus before he mugs you and flees the country (I was originally going to use Snape in that analogy but couldn’t do that to Alan Rickman).
Every success – every cheap but glittering trinket of nostalgia, every slightly charming newcomer or faithfully recreated beloved teacher – is constantly stymied by the game’s shameless attempts to make you spend money on it. You can barely play the game for five minutes before it stops you and begs for cash. You’d be the victim of less panhandling walking around Brighton in the winter, and at least then you’d actually get the satisfaction of helping someone buy food (or brown tar heroin) instead of learning to wobble around on a broomstick a little bit faster.
The sad thing is there are some genuinely enjoyable things buried beneath its incessant shriek for profit. The duelling system is a pleasant diversion, facing off against other students in rock-paper-scissors conflicts where you utilise potions you’ve learned to craft and famous spells to gain the advantage. You get bonuses here and there for levelling up the three stats and there are little minigames where you convince friends to come along on your escapades, and if the storyline wasn’t halted regularly for hours at a time it might be relatively interesting for a mobile game. There are moments where you think “Hey, maybe this isn’t such a shameless cash-in after all”, and then it spends half the gems you’ve collected through class rewards or House Cups because it pops up the “BUY MORE ENERGY” button right where you were just happily tapping away to glare at Merula Snyde (The very instant my mini-Snape is given the opportunity to throw her in a basement with a troll that shit is happening). It encourages you to tap away in the centre of the screen and throws up a large, obnoxious button that you will without doubt accidentally click, losing precious gems you were probably saving to buy some neat glasses or literally disgusting clothes.
I just don’t understand how they got this so wrong. Hogwarts Mystery would fix so many issues if it eased up on the energy system a little, either by giving players considerably more or souping up the recharge rate, and instead of filling the cosmetic store with horrific outfits add small cash purchases for things people would actually want. Instead of gouging your playerbase, give them the world they love so much, and allow them to deck out their students with cool stuff, different brooms, more cosmetic options. I recently spent £35 on an authentic Slytherin scarf, for fuck’s sake. As a general rule, adults who still thoroughly enjoy Harry Potter will pay for more Harry Potter stuff, but it has to be more lasting, more tangible than getting to bloody Potions class half an hour earlier.
I guess it’s not fair to judge a free-to-play mobile game by normal standards but when the source material has so much potential and a fanbase so devoted, it’s a real shame to see it cashed in on like this. An exploitative, greedy arcade machine that demands you push your pennies in for another hit of hollow nostalgia. Obviously a very real reason the content is so staggered and masked behind paywalls is because there isn’t very much of it – speed up energy recovery and you might find your players progressing faster than you can build the castle around them, and then they’re left with nothing. In a way that makes Hogwarts Mystery’s thirst for your bank account even crueller – if you pay more to get to the next mission or class faster you’re going to find yourself without content very quickly while the people somehow slogging their way completing stuff at the inflated prostrate piss-trickle it normally does will still be playing. There’s something magical locked beneath the cursed vaults Jam City have made, but I’m not sure it’s worth anyone’s time in this current incarnation.
But hey. I’m a grown man complaining about a Harry Potter mobile game. Just my two Knuts on the subject. Some advice though. Kids aren’t gonna be captivated by something they can only play for ten minutes at a time when Fortnite is free and infinitely more colourful. If you’re trying to pull off a quick cash-grab, most adults playing are going to be too cynical to fall for the extortionate microtransactions and younger fans have a universe of better things to do for less cash.