Niantic has a certified hit on its hands with Pokémon GO. Naysayers will cite the game's stability problems at launch, or say cheeky things like "people still play this game?," but no one can deny the phenomenon of that magical summer in 2016 when everyone under the age of 40 was stampeding like crazed herds of Tauros in pursuit of digital critters. Even today, the game makes more money than every other Pokémon mobile game combined. So, it makes sense that Warner Bros. handed Niantic the reins to the Wizarding World's first AR mobile venture, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was announced a few months ago, and even with little to go on, many fans suspected that it would be a similar experience to Pokémon GO. Those suspicions were only given more fuel when the development team outlined the game's features earlier this week. Not only is the basic premise the same, but there are also some mechanics that seem directly pulled from Pokémon GO, particularly gyms and PokéStops.
This new information leaves some wondering if Wizards Unite will be more than similar to Pokémon GO. Perhaps it could be a straight-up copy. Would Niantic really be so bold as to put out the same game with a pointy hat on it? Let's break down what we know.
A PokéStop By Any Other Name...
The bulk of Wizards Unite's gameplay seems to revolve around things called "Foundables." These are defined by the game's official website as "artefacts, creatures, people, and even memories" that are for some reason appearing in the Muggle world, aka our reality. Players are part of a special Ministry Of Magic task force on a mission to track down these Foundables and return them to the Wizarding World.
The example given is actually quite promising. A short gif shows a Foundable that plays a scene of Ron Weasley confronting the Boggart in spider form. The player appears to assist him by casting the Riddikulus spell to give it roller skates. It looks amazing for a mobile game. It's also exactly the sort of content Harry Potter fans would love to see.
Things get less promising, though, when you read the section after Ron's encounter. The dev team states that Foundables can be found anywhere, but that "certain Foundables may be more likely to appear at various types of real-world locations including parks, banks, municipal buildings, college campuses, libraries, monuments, zoos, art galleries, and more."
Does that sound familiar? Because that's exactly the way Pokémon spawn in Pokémon GO. The locations listed also meet the same criteria Niantic has given for PokéStops.
Furthermore, the team goes on to explain that participating in activities consumes Spell Energy. To replenish it, players will have to "stop by Inns, found at Muggle locations around the world." Again, it sounds exactly like the way Pokémon GO trainers need to regularly visit PokéStops to stock up on balls and potions.
Overall, the pattern of Wizards Unite's gameplay looks to be borrowing heavily Pokémon GO's. Players walk around to find collectibles, monitor their resources, and are eventually forced to visit real-world locations to replenish those resources. Then again, most mobile games have some sort of resource system. Even if Wizards Unite handles resources similar to GO, the latter still has very Pokémon-specific features like gyms and legendary battles. Surely Niantic wouldn't give us some Polyjuice Potion version of that, right? Well...
"Test your combat skills by visiting one of the multiple Fortresses indicated on the Map." Oh.
The final section of the dev blog goes into the "united" part of Wizards Unite, revealing what are basically raid battles. Just like Pokémon GO (how many times is that now?), you have to go to a special real-world location to partake in these battles. However, instead of fighting legendary Pokémon, you will team up with other players to fight evil wizards and scary magical beasts like Dementors.
There are even three teams. This seems particularly odd since the Harry Potter franchise has four perfect teams built into its story with the Hogwarts houses. Instead, it seems we're getting Valor, Instinct, and Mystic repeated in the form of three Professions. Wizards Unite players can choose to be Aurors, Magizoologists, or Professors, which totally fit the theme of the aggressive one, the offbeat one, and the smart one. One nice difference is that the three Professions are encouraged to work together, unlike how Pokémon GO emphasizes competition between the teams.
Niantic Repeated Itself Before
Ingress is Niantic's first game, and it actually became a sort of audition for Pokémon GO. The story of Ingress is that creatures are appearing through portals opening in the real world. Players use their GPS to track down the portals. Portals are fixed into real-world locations and there are teams.
Ingress was why Niantic, despite being a small studio, got the Pokémon GO job. It showed that a game with things spawning in the real world via GPS was possible, and Nintendo jumped on that.
As a small studio, however, Niantic could only do so much. It made sense, then, for Pokéstops to be in the exact same locations as Ingress portals. It even used a lot of the same systems for things like spawn rates and item production.
Of course, Niantic is a lot bigger now. It should have the means to make Wizards Unite more varied and deep than Pokémon GO -- but will it? After all, why spend development time changing the systems of a game that made billions of dollars? The smart move, at least from a business standpoint, is for Niantic to make Wizards Unite a Pokémon GO clone with enough references to keep Harry Potter fans placated. If the information revealed about the game so far is any indication, that's exactly what it did.