After getting the whole world catching-'em-all in Pokémon GO, Niantic has turned its game to the Wizarding World created by J.K. Rowling. Using the same basic skeleton that GO was built on, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite sees players teaming up to rid the Muggle world of mythical beasts.
Having just reached level 10, it's fair to say that Wizards Unite is one of the most charming games I've played. Unlike Pokemon Go, where you're collecting the famous pocket monsters, here you're freeing / defeating magical beings, then adding them to the Registry - think of it like a Panini sticker album that's constantly pulling at the completionist within you.
Combat is satisfying, albeit a little inaccurate at points. Throwing a Poké Ball is effortless, but flicking a wand takes high precision and it's difficult to nail while on the move.
Most of all it's the level of depth here that I've found the most rewarding - Potter feels like year three of GO without the teething issues that butchered the experience early on. That said, it's a lot to take onboard, and it can be overwhelming.
What's good?The introduction of voice acting is particularly welcome. Though it's no Daniel Radcliffe, the performances of Harry and the rest of the cast add more believability to the world, and never come over as cheesy or fourth-wall breaking. Well, most of them do anyway.
From the opening weekend bonanza, the experience has mostly been strong. Though my iPhone 6S did encounter a number of crashes that forced the app to restart every couple of hours, my partner witnessed nothing of the same nature on an iPhone 7S.
This naturally points to the game being better optimised for more modern mobiles. Saying that, the issues present are unlike anything that GO endured during its first few weeks, probably thanks to Niantic rolling out Wizards Unite country by country (starting with the UK and US).
Having spent several hours exploring my neighbourhood, and another nearby seaside town, the biggest surprise I've encountered in my travels has been the players. Or, more accurately, the lack of them.
What's bad?Pokémon is the largest grossing media franchise of all time -that in turn made Pokémon Go a global phenomenon the likes of which we may never see again. Still, Harry Potter is hardly a cult franchise - of all the AR games we've seen in GO's wake, this felt like the one that might recapture some of that, ahem, magic. But the busy routes I wandered three years ago trying to bag a Pikachu were decidedly devoid of other players this time round.
Pokémon Go was the talk of the town. Everyone - from children to parents to elderly relatives - was keen to at least boot up the game and be part of the conversation. Right now, there's no conversation to be had. That's a shame, because Niantic looks to have created an authentic experience that really is a love letter to the Harry Potter mythos.
Hopefully word will start to get around, because part of what made Niantic's last blockbuster location-based adventure so exciting was how it made you feel like you were part of something bigger than what was going on on your screen.Get all the latest news, tips, guides, and more for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite by clicking here