Hogwarts Mystery: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Mobile gaming isn’t really my thing. As stated in my introduction, I was late to a lot of technology. I acquired my first smartphone in 2014 and finally moved on to my second one just a few months ago. On my older smartphone, I had downloaded one mobile game: Heroes of Dragon Age. I have mentioned my love of Dragon Age before.

I found the game more than a little annoying. Besides draining my battery and being the single largest use of available space on my phone, it didn’t provide much in the way of entertainment. When I had to clear out some space to make room for photos for work (since I do not have a company phone), Heroes of Dragon Age was the first thing to go. Since getting my new phone with much more space, I have not downloaded it again.

What I have downloaded is Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. The same game that has tanked in reviews by The Guardian, IGN, and Game Rant to name a few.

That happened because my boyfriend was in the midst of reading all the Harry Potter books for the first time, and also watching the movies with me. He downloaded the game first and needed my help answering some of the trivia questions. After a day or two, I downloaded it myself and started playing.

Me too, Penny. Me too. Except I mostly get invited to the grocery store or Home Depot.

At first, I loved the story. Missing and potentially crazy sibling, reputation for being cursed, and the experience of attending classes at Hogwarts did a lot to thrill this Muggle. I could overlook some of the anachronisms (How should anyone know what a Firebolt broom is in the 80s when it wasn’t invented until after Harry Potter started attending Hogwarts?), and some of the strange, out-of-character dialogue written for certain familiar characters. But as the game has slowly come to a miserable trudge toward the release of more content, I’m playing it less and less.

It’s not just the way the writers have turned Hagrid into a simple-minded background element who only comes into focus when you need something from him, and always finds a reason to echo his “Should not have said that” line from The Sorcerer’s Stone. I also can’t blame it entirely on Filch’s demotion to a balding, bumbling punchline who is repeatedly fooled by the same ruses. Though I do appreciate the player character being self-aware enough to comment on the fact that you’d think Filch would learn to protect his office from basic charms like Alohamora. It’s also not because all of the students in the cast went from new characters to stand-ins for those in the books. Ben is our Neville. Rowan and Penny take on Hermione’s role. Merula is the cardboard Draco. Tonks and Tulip are Fred and George. Andre… I have no idea. He’s just there.

It’s not even the way the game is set up as a bald-faced cash grab for the developers; I have a pretty busy schedule, so I don’t mind playing for a couple minutes and then waiting a few hours to play for another few minutes. The problem, for me, is that your choices no longer have consequences. Early in the game, saying the wrong thing could lose you house points. Selecting the dialogue options that required a skill level check didn’t always work in your favor (I don’t care how high my Courage stat is; there is no way a 12 year-old me is ballsy enough to sass Snape to his face.) Playing the game really felt like you were shaping the story as it developed. And without any sort of save function to go back and explore other choices, I took my choices seriously.

Now, however, between scenes of dialogue with unnecessarily bolded text, missing spaces, and the occasional misspelling, every choice in the game feels like just another shout into the void. And as we have to wait longer and longer for the next phase of the story to become available, my interest wanes further. Bogus limited-time special events that cheat most players unwilling to throw real money at the game, like the Dueling Club, do nothing to keep me playing while Jam City works on releasing the next part. The reward really has to be worth the cost, and Mystery at Hogwarts has yet to balance the two.

Unfortunately, not even Snape’s saltiness is enough to keep me entertained at this point.

My boyfriend has already deleted the app. He is undecided on whether he’ll download it again whenever the entire story is available. As for me, the game is still on my device. I’m not hard up for space on my phone at the moment, so there’s no urgent need to get rid of it. I’m dragging out my progress through Chapter 12 of Year 4. Despite my disappointment, my curiosity is strong enough to stick it out a little while longer. But if it takes much longer for Jam City to release a significant amount of content—not a measly side quest that takes an afternoon to get through, but actual meat and story—I have no qualms about deleting the app.

The game isn’t much fun anymore, and I can always check forums to find out how the story ends. If they ever get that far.

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