From start to finish: Where Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix gave me what I really wanted out of a Harry Potter game–authentic free exploration of a realistic Hogwarts–Half-Blood Prince really improved on that concept. Even more previously inaccessible locations were added to Hogwarts (thanks to the Aurors for opening them), making the game environment that much more massive, and not only that, but the graphics also improved, making the locations and characters feel even more realistic. Even the storyline feels more realistic in that it follows the plot of the movie (not the book–as the attack on the Burrow is included) very closely, and there are very few additional tasks added for Harry to complete simply to add length and interest, which I certainly appreciate.
The Order of the Phoenix video game was primarily centered around completing favors for various future members of Dumbledore’s Army in order to convince them to join, or to help each of them sabotage Umbridge’s reign at Hogwarts after they’ve joined by pulling pranks. Certainly, pulling pranks can be fun, but it has little to do with the real story. Much less time is spent within the Room of Requirement than running about to complete each of these tasks. Harry doesn’t play Quidditch, though that is the fault of Umbridge, not the game makers. Harry, however, also doesn’t attend any classes. He completes a few minor tasks for various teachers in order to gain access to their classrooms and therefore “complete his OWLs” later. All of this seems rather contrived and not very authentic.
The Half-Blood Prince video game, at least to me, flows much better and feels much more authentic to me.
Intro and End: In keeping with its authenticity, I like that this video game hearkened back to the book, as this moment is cut from the movie, when Harry arrives at the Burrow and plays Quidditch during his carefree end-of-summer days before his return to Hogwarts. It gives Harry (or the player) some practice in playing Quidditch before the many Quidditch games, practices, and trials Harry has to go through when he gets back to school.
I also like that Harry gets a chance to fight with the Death Eaters during the battle at Hogwarts, a battle that was featured in the book but cut from the movie, since producers obviously, and probably rightly, thought that a battle at Hogwarts during Half-Blood Prince would foreshadow too much the larger battle during Deathly Hallows. Still, I like that the Death Eaters have to fight their way out during the game, with Harry (the player) forcing them to fight back, those cowards!
Spell Casting: Casting spells are still, and thankfully, done by Wii Remote (and on the PC, I assume, mouse) gestures. However, some of these gestures are slightly different than in the previous game, but in most cases, the gestures are made slightly less complicated, which is good. Like, for example, just the Remote is used to levitate objects, rather than both the Remote and the Nunchuk, making the spell less difficult to cast quickly in everyday usage. I say everyday usage, because, as I mentioned in the previous game review, spells are not prescribed to certain objects as they had been in previous games. You can cast any number of spells on any number of objects in Hogwarts, or even better, on any number of Hogwarts students, with combat (or dueling) spells.
- Wingardium Leviosa (featured in most of the other games) levitates objects.
- Incendio (featured in most of the other games) conjures flames to burn objects.
- Reparo (featured in the previous game) repairs broken objects.
- Depulso (featured in the previous game) allows you to push inanimate objects to release hidden Mini-Crests.
- Accio (featured in the previous two games) allows you to collect Mini-Crests by summoning them.
- Lumos (featured in a few previous games) is an automatic charm that is activated at night or in dark caves.
- Stupefy (featured in the previous game) stuns your opponent.
- Expelliarmus (featured in the previous game) knocks your opponent to the ground (and yet doesn’t disarm them).
- Petrificus Totalus (featured in the previous game) freezes your opponent.
- Protego (featured in the previous game) deflects spells that are cast at you.
- Levicorpus (featured in the previous game) levitates your opponent’s body.
There weren’t any new spells added to this game that weren’t already featured in the previous game. Actually, two spells were removed that were in the previous game: Reducto (a non-combat spell) and Rictusempra (a combat spell). All in all, the spell-casting is great in this game. I have only encountered a few small issues.
Firstly, I’m not sure that the game producers understand the purpose of Expelliarmus, which is supposed to be a disarming charm. It is meant to cause the victim’s wand to fly out of their hand and out of reach, not knock the opponent onto their back. Sure, Harry uses this charm on Snape in Prisoner of Azkaban, but he says it with such force and emotion that, in addition to losing his wand, Snape is knocked back and subsequently knocked out. In this and the previous game, however, opponents are simply knocked onto their backs for a moment and do not lose their wands.
Secondly, some locations can get a little tight and make it difficult to cast certain spells, such as Wingardium Leviosa and Depulso. The camera doesn’t work well enough to allow a player to see what they’re really doing.
Finally, my Wii Remotes, at least, don’t seem sensitive enough to always tell every time the difference between certain gestures, such as Expelliarmus, Levicorpus, and Protego. I find myself going on the defensive, rather than the offensive, casting Protego a lot more often than I mean to do due to that lack of sensitivity.
Visuals: I think the characters and locations look even more realistic than the previous game, Order of the Phoenix, which had already made great advancements upon the previous games. I especially like that there are more scenes that take place at night, both within and outside of the castle. It’s incorrect to think that it is always daytime and sunny whenever any action takes place at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, while you do see changes in weather during cut scenes, Hogwarts has yet to see it rain or snow while players are actively exploring the grounds. It would have been a nice addition to the realism, but alas, no.
Achievements: Thankfully, Moaning Myrtle is out. Gone. Adios. She doesn’t have to annoyingly remind me every time I make a “discovery” or get a reward for that discovery. I personally have never really understood the purpose of the Bertie Bott’s Beans or “Discoveries” from previous games. Once again, it feels less authentic and more contrived than simply receiving House Points (a system that is far closer to canon than these others) for doing good things. Though, while on that subject, I am very glad that rewards for “Good Deeds” have been added to this game. I am happy when any video game can feature good deeds, because that’s truly what our bully-ridden society needs, a culture of tolerance that encourages to help one another out, no matter who we are.
However, rather than House Points, per my obvious suggestion, players collect crests, mini-crests, and badges in this game. I suppose the reason for it is that they have a much greater visual representation than House Points when you collect them. You can’t really receive house points simply for finding things, which is a fun part of the game. Admittedly, a massive scavenger hunt at Hogwarts would be incredibly fun in real life, so why not in a game? Still, it doesn’t feel authentic. Why are the crests there in the first place? Who put them there? Why should I bother to collect them, other than to say I’ve collected them? Perhaps I am still hoping for an MMORPG-style Hogwarts game where a truly real and authentic experience would be necessary for me to enjoy it.
I suppose in the end I can accept the Crests as a reason to continue playing when the story portion of the game is done, to find all of them, but the Mini-Crests are absolutely not needed. I find it purely annoying being showered by mini-crests whenever I shake my Wii Remote while exploring.
Challenges: I am happy of the improvements that this game made over its predecessor in this. Order of the Phoenix didn’t feature any classes. At least, not really. There were a few tasks and OWLs that teachers ask to be completed, but as students, you aren’t tied to any sort of schedule during the game, so it is therefore not a requirement to attend any classes with any other students at any given time. Once again, I’m looking for authenticity.
Half-Blood Prince, however, is another matter. Since both Slughorn and Snape’s old Potions book play major roles in this game, Potions class is prominently featured. Not only that, but a Potions Club has been added (though it is located in the Herbology Greenhouses–what’s up with that?) to this game, along with regular Quidditch practices and games, in addition to a Quidditch Club, as well as a Dueling Club (remember that from the Chamber of Secrets video game?) in the Great Hall. Within each of these clubs, you can achieve badges as rewards, which does feel a bit more authentic than “crests”. Overall, I appreciate the addition of these clubs!
Exploration: Aurors, get out of my way! I love that Hogwarts was expanded in this game compared with the previous game. The Quidditch Pitch and Astronomy Tower were the two largest additions to Hogwarts, though The Quidditch Pitch was an especially large addition, because with it came an entire lawn on a previously unseen side of Hogwarts. I am more than happy with any new places in and around Hogwarts to explore, and while I see the need to block of certain areas until you get to a certain point of the game where you need to go there, I was a little bit annoyed that the Aurors blocked those areas from me.
I was also a bit annoyed that, rather than an easy-to-access Marauder’s Map and footprints to help show me the way to any desired location, I am given the assistance of yet another ghost. Granted, I like Nearly Headless Nick a whole lot better than Moaning Myrtle, but please just let me play the game and navigate my way through Hogwarts without having to interact with a ghost!
Sound and Music: Half-Blood Prince did not have as many film actors come back to provide their voices as Order of the Phoenix had. Phoenix had 22, but for Prince, there were only 11. However, James Hannigan, the composer for the Order of the Phoenix video game (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite video game score composers along with Jeremy Soule), returned for this game, and thankfully so! He provided some incredible new music for that game, and even more awesome music was added to my Harry Potter video game soundtrack arsenal with this video game. However, Hannigan’s music isn’t replacing Soule’s entirely. Soule’s themes have continued to be featured during the game at various times, which I appreciate.
The Entire Experience: As with the previous game, this game is a game of exploration more than it is a game of skill. Getting lost within the immense environment of Hogwarts (while not as large as some games is the largest of this franchise) is my favorite part of this game, because it is real. Getting lost within a fantasy, which suspends reality, is why we watch read these books, watch these movies, and play these games.
Sure, we fans haven’t lost touch with reality enough to believe that everything about this world IS real, which it isn’t, but the reason why we play these games is to feel at home at Hogwarts, and for the first time within all of these Harry Potter games, I for one have started to feel like this is a real place, with real stone walls, real green grass, or real students with real wands.
I don’t play games for the challenge, as I mentioned in my previous review. I play games for the chance to experience reality with this fantasy.