Harry Potter Wizards Unite, Niantic’s pseudo-unexpected followup to 2016’s augmented reality smash hit Pokémon Go, debuted on the 21st of June. Though the launch was somewhat muddled, the game is still apparently on track to make around $10 million within the first month. The Harry Potter franchise is said to be worth nearly $25 billion, and the new mobile title is just one example of the multimedia license’s continued pop-culture prominence.
That said, Wizards Unite has across the board been unfavorably compared to Pokémon Go, and the criticism is, in some cases, justified. While PoGo was a form of wish fulfillment for wannabe Pokémon trainers the world over, nobody really asked for a weird, slightly tortured rip-off set in the wizarding world of everyone’s favorite cupboard-dwelling boy who lived. If you wanted to describe this game to an unaware friend in three words, it could quite literally be summed up as just, “Harry Potter Pokémon.”
The gameplay seems eager to contrive reasons for its existence, and, while there is indeed some sort of narrative to be found in Wizards Unite, the game isn’t overly-eager to present any of these elements beyond the initial set up. The central concept revolves around a near-apocalyptic event in the Harry Potter universe referred to as, “The Calamity.” This happening caused a ton of magical objects to be released into the world, and the player steps into the role of a witch or wizard tasked with capturing these rogue items before they expose the magical world to all of muggle-kind. Magical folk are, for some reason never thoroughly detailed in any Harry Potter material, sworn to secrecy, though they never seem to do a great job of keeping quiet.
All of this will be explained in the game’s opening few moments, of course, but, for those who are interested in the finer details, there are a few story elements at play which aren’t directly divulged in the game itself. At this point, we need to give a huge shout out to YouTuber The Sylph, who combed through a ton of the game’s marketing material and extraneous lore fragments to piece together the scattered details of the plot.
The crux of the story revolves around a mysterious wizard by the name of Grim Fowly—and, yes, this time it doesn’t seem to have been Voldemort’s doing. In fact, Harry Potter Wizards Unite takes place after the events of the books and movies, and actually features a much older version of the series’ primary protagonist. Fowly is allegedly responsible for The Calamity, and he’s been associated with a gang conducting magical malfeasance known as the London Five.
Fowly has connections to the Ministry of Magic, which, at this time, is headed by none other than Hermione Granger. For whatever reason, there’s a division of wizards and witches working within the Ministry dedicated to experiments and discoveries surrounding the concept of love. They have their own laboratory of sorts, which is referred to as the Love Room.
Grim Fowly is known to have been entering and exiting the Love Room at strange times, and it’s implied that he’s been up to some pretty nefarious stuff. Actually, ‘nefarious’ may not exactly be the correct word, as some correspondence between himself and the London Five seems to suggest that he was experimenting on some sort of potion or spell which would somehow reunite him with his wife, Penelope. It’s implied that Penelope was a member of the Five and that she’s gone missing for reasons unknown or unexplained.
So, in an effort to find his missing wife, Fowly conducts these experiments and eventually starts some sort of reaction which sets off this whole sordid chain of events. There are a few more details than that, but that’s the main gist of the game’s plot. No, it’s not exactly straightforward, but, then again, neither is anything in the Harry Potter universe.
Yet, how does this explain the ubiquitous presence of nearly every major character from the main novels and films? Well, it doesn’t really, and most of these people feel shoehorned in for the sake of brand recognition. In a way, it sort of damages the alternate reality experience. While a more toned-down experience would have helped users to ingratiate themselves in the magical world, the influx of familiar faces makes the game feel like just another tiresome, run-of-the-mill piece of media.
At the end of the day, the narrative shouldn’t really get in the way of anyone’s enjoyment of this experience. It may not be the most fully-fledged or well thought out mobile title, but, hey, Pokémon Go didn’t need to advance some sort of complicated narrative to attract players. Quite honestly, all anyone really needs to know is that there are magical items all over the place, and you need to clean them up, lest the wizarding world be exposed. Fighting a hippogriff may not be as thrilling as catching a Pikachu, but it can still be a good time for those willing to look past some of the strange, contrived bits of narrative.