Niantic Labs, creator of the hugely-popular Pokemon Go game, is moving into the Wizarding World with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Little has been known about this new title, until now.
Pocket-lint sat down with Niantic Labs and WB Games for an introduction. We've played the game in London to get a preview of the exciting new venture as we get closer to launch.
Here's everything you need to know about Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
What is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite?
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is an augmented reality (AR) mobile game that will see you immersed into the Wizarding World. You will become a witch or wizard, walking among muggles, defending the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy to ensure that the magic world remains a secret.
The Calamity has caused chaos, scattering magic items across the world and risking discovery. These "foundables" are what you'll be hunting out on your mission as part of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force.
It will involve exploration and discovery, collection, battling, team work - and all in the real world, using Niantic's maps. Wizards Unite gives you the opportunity to develop your skills, choose a wizarding career (auror, magizoologist, professor), and interact with characters, artifacts and themes from the Harry Potter universe.
It's designed to fulfil the fan fantasy in letting you become a witch or wizard.
How the game works
Like Pokemon Go, the game will see you walking around discovering items. There will be points on the map - inns, greenhouses, fortresses - as well as "traces" scattered around. You can interact with all these things and they make-up the discovery side of the game.
The traces of magic will be places where you can find something magical, called "foundables" in the game. That might be a beast, friend or enemy and once you open them up, you'll move into an AR experience, using the camera on your app to blend the game world with the real world, just like collecting Pokemon in Pokemon Go.
The inns will let you collect magic energy that you'll need to play the game, while the greenhouses will be where you'll get ingredients for creating potions.
The fortresses are places that have higher-value foundables - likely a collection of beasts to battle - presenting a slightly bigger challenge which in some cases will need collaboration with friends to defeat. It's also here that your career choice matters because an auror might be better placed to battle a Death Eater than a professor for example.
Everything you encounter will be collected in your Vault, with a Registry that's a little like a sticker book where you can keep track of everything. This is where the addictive side of the game will come in, as you'll want to make sure you're filling up that Registry.
Another thing you'll be able to collect and use is a Portkey, which will transport you to a different location. This introduces elements of the game not dependent on physical location. We transported to Ollivanders, for example, with more collection challenges once in the (virtual) famous wand shop.
That makes up the basic outline of how the game will work through discovery and collection, but there's a lot more that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will offer.
Choose a wizarding career
Aside from exploring and collecting, there's an RPG - role play gaming - side to Wizards Unite. You'll be able to set-up your character, not only choosing your wand, house and creating your official Task Force ID, but also the opportunity to choose a profession.
There are three options:
Each career path has different strengths and the opportunity to develop the skills you'll need. This will see you taking lessons with on-going progression and essentially letting you power-up. This is where Wizards Unite goes a little deeper than Pokemon Go, and adding a side of the game that's not reliant just on walking around finding things.
Ultimately, as you increase your skills through your profession, you'll get more powerful and better placed to take on the challenges that you'll discover in the real world. Certain professions will be stronger against certain enemies in fortress battles and teaming up with a mixture of players with different professions might be the only way you can win some more advanced battles.
You will be able to change careers penalty free, and any skills you've acquired will stay with you.
You can find out a lot more about what Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is like to play in our preview, based on around 30 minutes of play in an exclusive preview with the developers.
How do battles and spells work in Wizards Unite?
When you encounter a magical beast or an enemy you'll have to use a spell, or engage in battle to defeat that opponent. To cast spells you'll need magic energy, which is what you'll get from inns, as we mentioned above.
Rather than having to learn the spells in advance, you'll be prompted to cast the appropriate spell. This will involve tracing the pattern on the screen of your phone. The more accurate the trace, the more powerful the spell is and the more likely you'll be successful. It's a bit like throwing the Poke Ball in Pokemon Go.
The battle system is loosely based around turn-based moves, with each side casting spells (or just attacking in the case of animals), but you also have the chance to defend with a swipe. As with other aspects of the game, to cast the spells, you'll have to trace the pattern on the screen and the more accurate the trace, the more powerful it is.
We've strung together some of the action sequences in the video below.
In battles, both sides have a power bar and to win the fight you have to knock your opponent down to zero.
Aside from spells, you can also access potions, either to heal yourself or to increase the power of your spells.
What beasts are there in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite?
The full list of characters and beasts hasn't been released, but we've encountered a number of characters and fantastic beast through our initial play. The characters you meet are not playable - most of the time they will be collectable (an entry in your Registry), or there to provide more information to help you.
Here are some of the major characters that we've encountered in the short section of game we've played:
As you'll know, when Harry gets to the ends of his own adventures, he starts a family and goes off to work at the Ministry of Magic as an auror. Harry will pop-up with comments and guidance as you play. We've also seen Harry appear in his Quidditch kit in an encounter with a dementor, so the timeline of the game throws in elements that aren't strictly linear.
We've not seen Hermione in the game, but when talking to WB Games, it was confirmed that you would meet Hermione.
Hagrid is one of the characters you'll encounter as a foundable and will make it into your Registry.
We've battled a couple of Death Eaters in fortresses.
One of the traces you'll find reveals Harry with a dementor - we're sure that there will be more dementors and plenty of chances to cast your patronus.
And here are some of the fantastic beasts:
We've encountered a demiguise which needed rescuing.
We've also encountered a hippogriff which, like the demiguise, needed releasing from a ball and chain.
We've not actually seen a niffler in the game, but being featured in one of the teaser videos it would seem likely that it's in the game.
Werewolves, like the Death Eaters, are something you'll have to battle - and we've encountered them through traces and in fortresses.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite release date
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will be released in 2019, but the developers would not confirm exactly when that's going to happen. You can register for news on Google Play, which means you'll be alerted as soon as it is available.
Recently, those who have signed up received an email about the Statute of Secrecy, while Niantic also appeared at the launch of EE 5G in the UK to confirm that EE would be a launch partner and offer exclusive content. But still the date evades us.
The mechanism of launch isn't known: we don't know if it will be a global roll-out or if it will be phased like Pokemon Go. Niantic Labs did confirm that lessons were learnt from the launch of Pokemon Go so it should avoid the server problems that plagued Pokemon Go.
Will Harry Potter: Wizards Unite contain in-app purchases?
Yes, micro-transactions will be part of Wizards Unite, which will give people the opportunity to buy particular things. Niantic confirmed to us that the game was fully playable without buying anything and that you didn't need to spend any real-world money to progress.
At the moment it's not clear exactly what the in-app purchases might be, but we expect it might be things like potions, upgrades to the Vault or perhaps just buying galleons to use as in-game currency. At the moment, we've not seen how this side of the game might work.
What about future updates to Wizards Unite?
When talking to the developers of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite it was described to us as a "forever game". Like Pokemon Go, what you get on launch day isn't going to be what you're stuck with, the game will evolve over time. The developers said they still had a lot of ideas that they want to explore and of course - as the Wizarding World continues to expand (through films like Fantastic Beasts), there's a growing resource of magical elements to include.
Niantic spoke about Pokemon Go community days several times when introducing us to the game - saying that they'd had 3 million plus players in recent events. We suspect there will be in-game events to match future film releases and so on.
Is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite suitable for children?
The Harry Potter story spans a wide age range of suitability, with the books and films getting progressively darker; some of the middle films are 12/PG-13 rated, while Fantastic Beasts is too. Drawing from these sources, there are some aspects to Wizards Unite that might not be suitable for younger children.
There is some mild terror and the use of tense music for example when in battles, might be a little too scary. The age rating that it's been awarded on Google Play is PEGI 7, because it contains "mild violence".
What languages will Harry Potter: Wizards Unite be available in?
Niantic has confirmed that the following languages will be supported from launch:
- Brazilian Portuguese
- European Portuguese
- Simplified Chinese
- Traditional Chinese
- Latin American Spanish
How similar is Harry Potter: Wizards Unite to Pokemon Go?
The core maps that Niantic has developed for its real-world AR games are the same, and having looked at the Wizards Unite map in London's St James' Park and Pokemon Go, we could see that many of the landmarks that are Poke Stops will become inns in Wizards Unite, while Gyms become fortresses.
The collection aspect of the games is similar - rather than a Pokedex you have a Vault - and the traces you encounter in Wizards Unite are like the Pokemon you'll discover in the wild. Both games need discovery, exploration and teamwork - and these are the fundamentals of Niantic's games. Both use AR to bring the fantasy world into the real world - although you can switch off AR if you'd rather not use it.
Visually, however, the game is entirely different - it looks different in every way, but naturally, the map layout is similar, because it's based on the real world. The gameplay has similarities, but Harry Potter draws on lots of Potter lore to give other avenues of development. From our first impressions, we think there's a lot more on the character development side of the game.
You also have the opportunity to play without location in Wizards Unite thanks to Portkeys. These will let you transport to a location - like Ollivanders - to complete tasks, and this can be done without walking the map.
Overall, the feel of the game is very different, but any Pokemon Go player is likely to know exactly where to go start finding things in Wizards Unite.
Who is Niantic Labs?
Niantic is a San Francisco-based company best known for developing augmented reality-based mobile games. It was initially formed as an internal startup within Google, but it became an independent firm in 2015. In 2016, through a partnership with Nintendo and The Pokemon Company, Niantic released the popular AR game Pokemon Go, with Niantic serving as the app's developer.
Niantic partnered with WB Games to create Harry Potter: Wizards Unite under the Portkey Games label.