Harry Potter: Magic Awakened

First Impressions Review

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There is by no means a shortage of games revolving around the Harry Potter series, and the wider Wizarding World franchise. Almost 15 years since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in addition to a wide range of theatrical works, spin-off film franchises and more – Warner Bros Games has kept the video game creations alive through the Portkey Games brand. Therefore, even if the original movie tie-in games are in indefinite licensing limbo, gamers won’t be left without any future opportunities to walk the halls of Hogwarts for themselves. 

Most recently we saw the high-profile release of Hogwarts Legacy, a highly in-depth RPG that saw us as students in the late-1800s Wizarding World featuring a fully open world and a completely unique cast of characters. However, the transition to mobile devices has been notably less successful. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite from Niantic, most renowned for their work on Pokemon Go, was shuttered a little more than two years after launch. Another is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery from Jam City, which offers a genuinely strong story set before Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts, but is hindered by an energy-based progression system that is more than a little irksome.

Garnering perhaps a little less attention comes the newest smartphone game released in the Wizarding World franchise. Developed by the development team at NetEase Games and first released within China in 2021, Harry Potter: Magic Awakened takes the form of a collectable card game with RPG elements spread throughout. The most notable thing is that while other smartphone games in the series have attempted to retain much of the aesthetics and vibe of the original film series, this game leans into its own charming animated art style – while embracing elements from book and film canons to deliver what I would argue is shaping up to be a solid game set 10 years after the events of the Battle of Hogwarts.

Harry Potter: Magic Awakened follows a new cast of original characters, including a customisable muggle-born protagonist, who are new students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ten years after the Battle of Hogwarts, which saw Harry Potter defeat Voldemort. From meeting characters at Diagon Alley, struggling to make friends on the Hogwarts Express and getting sorted into your chosen house – things appear normal until your new friend – Ivy Warrington – suddenly goes missing during the sorting ceremony. This leads to you uncovering the first in what is sure to be a string of magical mysteries and quests, presented through a series of story vignettes full of battles and fully-voiced dialogue, spaced between some of the typical day-to-day activities such as classes to obtain complementary school cards, building your relationships through story missions and more.

As of writing, Harry Potter: Magic Awakened has pretty much covered the first two years of the player character’s time at Hogwarts, with a third year of content in the works. I liked the self-contained stories within each and also the hints of future narrative paths players hopefully get to experience through the main story and side quests. But while it is clear that the creative team absolutely enjoys the source material, and I will discuss that more in a bit, I can’t help but feel the story is going along at too hasty a pace, and not only could they perhaps flesh out the narrative even more, but they risk falling into the trap where they only have a couple of in-game years left and they have to drag out 6th and/or 7th year much longer than necessary.

As a free-to-play mobile game, you bet they have implemented a number of mechanics in which their experiences encourage you to part with your money to retain in-game bonuses. They have most certainly gamified Hogwarts, but not necessarily in ways that detract from the themes of the original works. I am really enjoying the TCG-based combat mechanics, which often take the form of wizarding duels or combat against a wide range of mobs. Players can obtain an impressive variety of charm cards of different rarities, split along three different types – spells, summons and companions. With three companions (from past and present) and eight different cards across the other two types at your disposal, you formulate a deck that balances MP requirements (which slowly recharges during combat) with firepower and hopefully take down those students, beasts and dark wizards that go up against you. There is a good balancing of the cards in my opinion, so provided you don’t whale the game and become overly overpowered, even having a deck of rare/epic-tier cards that are relatively easy to acquire can overpower higher-tier cards… at least in my perspective so far.

What is the most non-canonical thing about Harry Potter: Magic Awakened is easily the spells you will have access to – and some of their uses, which is understandable for the purpose of playability. Cards such as Sectumsempra and Incendio do as you would expect, even if you wouldn’t expect a first-year to be using either. In addition, items such as the Time Turner (Allowing you to temporarily summon your future self to fight alongside you) and many Weasley items are available to use also as reusable cards. Dark magic is included in the game, as of writing the two options with incredibly minuscule pull rates are Avada Kedavra and Crucio, and while both have been nerfed so you can’t one-hit-kill everyone in a duelling match, do come with more niche risk vs reward mechanics behind so they can turn the tide of battle, or be overshadowed by many other cards.

While there is enough pushing and prodding to get some to part with their hard-earned real-world cash to get some of the legendary cards, I feel the game is pretty generous with what they provide players with – including regular drops of cards through the story, a few opportunities to nab guaranteed legendary-tier cards, and a reasonable pity system and a decent number of “keys” and gems to summon through it. Thankfully… since as with many other gacha games nowadays, the premium currency prices are pretty dear.

So you have your cards… now what? Harry Potter: Magic Awakened features a decent duelling club PvE and PvP duelling system, allowing you to test your mettle against other players on your server. These take the form of 1v1, duos and a newly introduced free-for-all duelling system where six players go up against other either individually or as part of duos. While 1v1 and duos were not personally my cup of tea, I found the free-for-all mode to be that decent mix of chaotic anarchy and strategic combat that worked with different playstyles and further broke down the barriers between the spell sets of each player. Furthermore, you can venture into the Forbidden Forest to do a range of different explorations – either solo to progressively unlock echoes of past characters to provide an added layer of strategy to your card deck through special abilities, or on harder treks through the labyrinthian forests with NPCs or other players to best some strong beasts from the Wizarding World lore. 

Harry Potter: Magic Awakened 9

The most stellar element of Harry Potter: Magic Awakened however is that the development team have a clear love of its source material, and utilise it in appropriate ways, without past characters dominating the story. While we only see a few returning characters dispersed throughout the story – Minerva McGonagall, Neville Longbottom (as the new herbology teacher), Hagrid and George Weasley to name a few – other characters return as echo characters, companions / summons, and the occasional side-story mission.

But what I absolutely adore is how they implemented not only the new cast, but capture scenes from the books and films in the spell card artwork. As someone who randomly got lucky and obtained the Avada Kedavra card, having the scene unfold where Voldemort kills Lily Potter in the game’s distinct art style was more effective in portraying that happening than in any other format. Even the lower-rarity cards have great animation, from Prior Incantato featuring that particular scene from Goblet of Fire (with Cedric, and Harry’s Parents) to Sectumsempra depicting a young Snape developing the spell, to Hermione casting Protego Totalum as Harry tends to Ron having just splinched in the Deathly Hallows… there are many scenes for fans to enjoy, and also show that the creative team didn’t half-ass it in the design department.

Having only been out a couple of months in western markets, mostly as a soft launch in select regions, I would argue it is too early to gauge whether Harry Potter: Magic Awakened will be a gem in an already crowded smartphone game market, or will fade into obscurity. In its current state, relating to its use of its source material, narrative and combat-oriented mechanics I believe they have a strong foundation to provide an enjoyable experience that isn’t broken down into a massive divide between F2P and P2P players, and provided many hours of enjoyment during my playtesting. But I feel the game’s future would certainly be stronger if they looked into more improvements to the social elements – offering more systems, activities and events that the community can unite around or providing more house rivalry. I am interested to see where Harry Potter: Magic Awakened goes from here.

7

This review was conducted on the Android release of Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, specifically on a Google Pixel 7 Pro. The game is currently in a soft launch state, and may not be available in all regions until its full launch in the coming months.

For Harry Potter: Magic Awakened pre-registration information, visit the game’s official website.

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