Harry Potter: Wizards Unite sees the wizarding world in peril as a mass outbreak known as The Calamity has caused its inhabitants to spill out into the Muggle world. Mythical creatures, Hogwarts students and alumni, and various other magical objects all named Foundables now occupy the streets and it's up to you to band together with the Statute of Secrecy Task Force to put an end to this ever-mounting threat. Unlike Pokémon Go, there's actually an unfolding narrative here complete with voice acting (even if doesn't include full work from the main ensemble), and Hagrid, Hermione, and Harry Potter himself are just a few familiar faces that you'll encounter.
If you weren't aware, Wizards Unite is Niantic's second stab at fusing their AR tech with one of the world's most beloved franchises. Pokémon Go pretty much took over the planet in 2016 and saw some most unlikely fans take to the streets, smartphone in hand, in search of pocket monsters. The attention this time is turned to the Harry Potter franchise and if you have played Go already then things should feel instantly familiar. You walk across a map collecting creatures, completing challenges and pausing to resupply at specified locations.
Roaming across your neighbourhood you'll find badges on the map that contain Foundables with each having their own level of capture difficulty. To capture one you need to cast a spell and this is done by tracing a pattern on the screen with your success dependant on both your speed and accuracy. There are multiple different types of spells that involve different patterns and you can use craftable potions to increase your odds of capture. We enjoyed that encounters feel much more random here as you can't see what you'll be approaching. That said, the act of capturing in Go just felt more natural and compelling. Spellcasting feels like it would be a lot more complex than simply tossing a ball in the direction of a Pokémon.
Not all Foundables were thrilling to catch. Mundane objects such as wardrobes, clocks, and documents weren't at all memorable, leading us to forget what we had already captured. Pocket monsters, on the other hand, are much more lively and distinctive in terms of personality and design, giving you a much better mental rundown of what you have already collected. Sure, you can look at your scrapbook-like registry to see what you need to gather but this can't be accessed during encounters and with spell energy being so scarce you ideally want to know exactly where you are best investing it.
Fortresses appear as towering red castles and present players with a series of progressively more difficult challenges that can be attempted either alone or with up to four friends. Each fortress level sees you face off against the likes of giant spiders, werewolves, and erklings using your wand as your weapon. When attacking you need to drag your finger across the screen to align it with a highlighted spot on a foe's body and then trace out a spell. Defending is similar as you have to trace out a spell to reduce the amount of damage inflicted upon you. Fortresses are a great way to unlock rewards such as rare materials for crafting and levelling up, and they provide a fun distraction from collecting Foundables. Sadly, we were always forced to go in and brave things alone due to a lack of active players around us.
After obtaining Level 6, players can take on one of three different professions which will help dictate their central role during combat. The professions are Auror, (has powerful attacking capabilities), Magizoologist (can learn healing spells to support the team), and Professor (the perfect middle ground that is perhaps best for beginners). Each profession has its own individual skill tree and skills can be learnt at the expense of scrolls earnt by filling out your registry with Foundables. For a mobile title, there's a good level of depth here with many branching paths on each respective skill tree and it's great that you aren't locked into the profession of your choice and can switch whenever you wish to experiment.
The map here certainly feels like it was lifted from the same template as Pokémon Go but things feel much more polished and stylised this time around. Soaring owls and kites will drift past you across the fluffy cloud-filled sky above and there have been major improvements to the AR with models looking a lot more expressive and realistic. The AR especially shines when opening unlockable portmanteaus, which essentially serve as a gateway into another world. During these segments, you have to move around your phone 360 degrees to comb the virtual environment and find collectables and bonuses.
Wizards Unite is a solid effort at adapting the familiar formula of Pokémon Go to the magical world of Harry Potter. We found the different professions added a lot of depth to cooperative PvE encounters and the AR here really helped to immerse us with its more realistic and expressive designs. We did, however, find some of the Foundables to be bland and things did stray a little too close to what we have seen already in Pokémon Go. That being said, there's a solid foundation here and we only expect this improve as multiple updates are introduced.