From start to finish: I do believe I have died and gone to heaven. Hands down, this has to be my favorite video game. However, before I give it too much praise, let me first share some critique that caused me more amusement than frustration. The makers of the game, prior to its release, bragged that you play from start to finish, from the Dementor attack in Little Whinging to the Battle at the Ministry. Well, the initial attack lasted about 45 seconds, while the Battle was an impossible-to-win duel against Lucius and Bellatrix while you play as Sirius (who must die).
Intro and End: In keeping with the same categories as the other reviews, I will reiterate what I’ve said here. It begins and ends not as I would have thought, in that both encounters are very brief. However, this is the only major critique I have, that some storyline is sacrificed to provide a more free-flowing exploration-of-Hogwarts experience, which is probably the best choice.
Loading and Saving: I was pleasantly surprised with this aspect of the game. Despite the sheer size of Hogwarts in comparison with the other games, there is no wait time between areas of the castle and grounds as seen in previous games. However, these next generation computers are built to handle such advancements, not to mention the next generation graphics this game sports. Might I also add that there were no save game books as in the first three; it auto-saves instead.
Spell Casting: I’m so happy EA made the changes they did from Goblet to Phoenix. While the jinxes in Goblet of Fire were at times ridiculous, and I for one was angry to see the dismissal of the mouse altogether for that game, I was so pleased to discover the amazing change they made to incorporate the mouse back into the game, but also allow the user to finally easily choose which spells he/she wants to cast.
In Goblet, you could choose between charms and jinxes, though I could not always figure out how to choose between each of the several charms and jinxes that the game provided. If I couldn’t figure it out, that doesn’t necessarily make it excessively difficult since I’m not an avid gamer.
But in Phoenix, spells are taken another step further with the addition of mouse gestures to choose spells. Certain spells are not prescribed to certain objects; any object is fair game for some spells and other objects for other spells. Take your pick. Wingardium Leviosa returns yet again in this game, as well as Accio, Depulso, Reducto, Reparo, and Incendio makes another comeback from the first game. Dueling spells are also added: with Stupefy, Rictusempra, Expelliarmus, Protego, Levicorpus, and Petrificus Totalus.
Animated Characters: Not sure why I still have this category, though this game showed much improvement in it. Cut scenes were based on the same graphic engine as the rest of the game, but enhanced so that they look much more real than in-game. Actually, the graphics were yet again heavily focused-upon in that characters were molded against their real-life counterparts, and they do look very real indeed. Twenty-two film cast members were also used for the voices of their game counterparts.
Bertie Bott’s Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and Wizard Cards: Finally, these somewhat whimsical and altogether pointless currency tokens, stamina boosters, and interesting rewards of the previous four games are gone completely for this game. In their place, there are discovery points. Whenever you discover new secrets around Hogwarts, you’re awarded more discovery points, and those are exchanged for, not chocolate frogs or wizard cards, but really awesome game making-of videos as well as never-before-seen film snapshots. Trophies are also awarded for other more specific achievements; these are stored in the Room of Rewards, courtesy of your gracious hostess Moaning Myrtle… Myrtle annoys me. And when she pops up every time your spell casting gets another boost (another token of your discovery points collection and other achievements), I shut her up with the shift key while I continue to think to myself, “Yes, yes I know! There are more rewards to be seen! I’ll check later!”
Challenges: Classes are eliminated from this video game, and while it irritates me to some extent that EA eliminated all schedules of this sort in favor of free exploration, that they made the exploration aspect incredibly awesome heartens me. However, there are certainly many tasks to complete in lieu of full fledged challenges, including doing favors for members of the D.A. to send them to the Room of Requirement. There are also homework tasks to complete for various teachers to “unlock” the classrooms and practice various charms to achieve O.W.L.s, which are judged by speed. Some tasks do remain on schedule, and must be done at a specific time; mainly Occlumency.
Exploration and Layout: I was on the verge of tears throughout this game. I was correct with my previous review, that there had to be some reason why EA eliminated Hogwarts from Goblet of Fire entirely, though I had grand hopes of an MMORPG in the future rather than just its successor. This successor certainly makes up for Goblet’s lack of exploration, though I assume this lack was due to plans or preparations for this game. This is the first time I’ve ever been lost in Hogwarts. I’ve always known, in previous games after just a few minutes of playing them, where I was and how to get elsewhere. Phoenix was entirely different. I had to play a few hours before I could realize even where I was from time to time, let alone get enough bearings to know where to go. Thank goodness for the addition of the footprints feature in conjunction with the Marauder’s Map to show me the way, wherever I need to go! In regards again to the layout of Hogwarts in this game, it is just magnificent. There are four courtyards, all of the necessary classrooms (though not all of them are open), all seven floors of the grand staircase, the great hall, and more. It’s just grandiose. And done.
The Score/Music: In regards to the music, I liked it. Mostly I noticed the carryovers from Jeremy Soule’s genius, and of course, Hedwig’s theme from the films, which makes its first appearance in this game. However, I also noticed a great number of new themes, which I loved so much, that I had to go buy the Order of the Phoenix game soundtrack a few months later.
The Entire Experience: While many would beg to disagree with me–reviews I see are dismal at GameSpot especially–this has to be the greatest of the games. I wouldn’t have cared if there were no storyline whatsoever. I only care that I get the real experience of going to Hogwarts, and this is the realest it has ever been. Of course, I did enjoy the previous games’ castle experience, but those were much more video game-like. Not that video game-like graphics are at all bad. I didn’t care in the first three games that it didn’t look true to life. But that Hogwarts looks so real now is highly impressive. This is the real deal here.
Like I said in the previous review, I play for the aesthetics of the game and not really to be challenged, as I am not an avid gamer. This game did deliver greatly in that department, as I’ve already said, but I might also add that I was pleased to see the difficulty feature added to this game, where I could choose to be lazy or unchallenged on the easy level, just so I could see the game and explore as I wished. Only downside to the real-life excursion to Hogwarts that I experienced was that with these next-generation graphics that this game boasts, my computer couldn’t handle it very well. Once again, such is life. About a year later, I actually bought the game for my new Wii console, which solved this problem.
I should also mention, with regards to its difficulty, much of the extra challenge flair that Goblet boasted was taken away with this game, and thankfully so. Magicus Extremos was lame; and while I enjoyed the system of playing as the three main characters in Azkaban, the changes made to this system for Goblet were not necessary and I didn’t like them. Sure you were allowed to choose when and where to play as each of the three characters, but I didn’t like to keep track of the cards used to enhance each character’s magical abilities. However, I missed playing as the threesome in Phoenix. No matter, though. The few moments in the Ministry as Sirius and Dumbledore were fun, though short. Companion play, though it was still there, was downplayed. Good.
Reminiscence: I would also like to add as a part of this gaming experience something that was not present its predecessors. Of course, reminiscence really has no place in the first or second games, though perhaps I expected a little bit more of it in the fourth to play off the end of its film counterpart, when our favorite threesome discuss that they have never had a quiet year at Hogwarts. How nice of them to remind us. Anyway, in this fifth game, there were quite a few references to the previous stories, hidden away in secrets around the castle or shared during tasks, like when you’re asked by Professor McGonagall to retrieve two students who’ve skipped detention. Hermione reminds Ron then that he’s no stranger to breaking the rules; as she goes on to list some events from the previous four stories where they’ve broken rules for the greater good. Another example comes from Umbridge’s office, where hidden is the trunk in which the real Mad-Eye Moody was once imprisoned. Even his impostor would be better to have as our Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, Harry says. Or, even Lockhart would be better, as he finds a picture of him in the classroom.