Will Niantic’s ‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ Be as Big a Deal as ‘Pokémon GO’?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Niantic)

Pokémon GO creators Niantic are working on their next game, and it looks like it’s going to be basically the same thing, but with Harry Potter.

Cue fan squeeing. This is the chance we’ve all been waiting for to dive into JK Rowling’s Wizarding World with genuine gusto.

So here’s the big question: is anyone going to care? Can a Harry Potter augmented reality game take the world by storm in the same way that Pokémon GO did?

It’s weird to think that the glorious summer of Pokémon GO, the one truly good thing about 2016, happened a year and a half ago now. Plenty of gamers are still enjoying GO, but it’s hard to claim that the game is still as big a hit as it used to be.

At first, it was a phenomenon. We all got more exercise that summer than we’d had in years, as everyone hit the streets, foraged through local parks, and did their best to track down little digital critters, wherever they were hiding in the wild.

Pokemon GO
Source: Niantic

The big drawback to Pokémon GO was the fact that it had to be played outside, and that’s ultimately what killed the game – going out of doors and walking around in the cold, windy winter weather meant that most people figured they’d rather stay indoors.

This mechanic, though, also worked perfectly with the central theme of all Pokémon games. This was a satisfying real-world translation of the mechanic of the RPGs, in which a character wanders around in the woods looking for new creatures, then trains them up at local gyms.

Does Harry Potter work quite as well with this game mechanic? Not really. Harry himself doesn’t spend an awful lot of time hunting around for weird and wonderful creatures – instead, he’s mostly confined to his school, studying magic.

The concept of Pokémon GO does work with the new Fantastic Beasts movie series, in which Newt Scamander scurries around trying to find missing creatures, but that’s not really what anyone wants from a Harry Potter game.

Fantastic Beasts
Source: Warner Bros

We want to learn the spells. We want to take part in duels. We want to visit Hogwarts and actually learn something. We want to read books, not have our magic lessons delivered piecemeal as we trot around an urban landscape.

That said, while Harry Potter isn’t the perfect fit for a Niantic game, it is about time we got a decent video game set in this fictional universe.

It’s strange that we’ve never really got a solid Harry Potter game. Yes, there have been movie tie-in games over the years, and some of them have been fantastic, but these aren’t really standalone gaming experiences.

JK Rowling wrote a bunch of lore for a PlayStation Move game, back when that was a thing. We got a Quidditch sports title once, but that hardly scratches the itch.

Chucklefish, the guys who made Terraria and Starbound, and who published Stardew Valley, are working on some kind of Harry Potter-themed RPG in which the player goes to school, learns spells, and romances classmates. This certainly seems like it’d scratch the itch, but it’s a long way from release right now.

Chucklefish Harry Potter Wizard Game
Source: Chucklefish

To a certain extent, the Pottermore experience is the best thing we’ve got as far as Harry Potter games go. Using the online service, it is at least possible to roleplay as a student at Hogwarts, getting a wand, practicing potions, being sorted into a House, and learning to conjure a Patronus.

This is a more fitting experience than the Niantic offering. It also has the benefit of being a perfect rainy day activity, which can’t be said for any game that forces you to go outside.

It seems unlikely that we’ll ever get a more complete version of Pottermore – at least, not any time soon. The premise would make a great MMO, with players all wandering around Hogwarts together, solving mysteries and examining secret passageways.

In the absence of this, as least Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will attempt to make the social aspect of Pottermore feel more immediate, as we all go out together into the woods to try and track down nargles.

This won’t be quite as perfect as Pokémon GO, and it probably won’t hold everyone’s attention for even a single summer of adventuring, but there’ll certainly be enough going on with this game to make the whole experience fun for true diehard Potterheads.