Here's what we think would make the perfect Harry Potter RPG

Opinion by Heidi Nicholas,
Rumours of a Harry Potter RPG have floated about for some time, ever since shaky footage of something Harry Potter-esque leaked back in 2018 — copies of which still exist. That blurry glimpse was enough — the idea that we might one day get a game where we could play at going to Hogwarts was infectious, and once that idea drifted onto the internet, it took root. It’s that same feeling that makes you want to hold a lightsaber or be a superhero: anyone who loves the books or movies has wanted to go to Hogwarts, and the next best thing to that would be going to Hogwarts in a video game.

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To be very clear, no Harry Potter RPG has yet been confirmed. So far, there’s been so little seen or heard about this mystery RPG that we seem to be keeping it alive by the power of wishful thinking alone, but every so often a new little tidbit of magical information is set adrift amongst the fanbases of the internet, and that RPG seems to get a little more possible — especially since Warner Bros. set up Portkey Games. Although both current Portkey games are for mobile, the label describes itself as “creating new Wizarding World” games “inspired by J.K. Rowling’s original stories” for both “mobile and videogame experiences”. Meanwhile, the latest leak, while again completely unconfirmed, has stirred up the HP hopefuls once more, so we thought we’d go through everything that’s been seen, rumoured, or vaguely wished about this possible HP game, and combine that with everything it could be and everything we’d like to see in it.

So, the instigator of all this: in 2018, a video popped up on YouTube, seeming to show gameplay of a game set in the HP universe. It was promptly taken down by Warner Bros. with a copyright claim, most likely because it was riddled with logos and HP music, but glimpses of it showed pretty much every aspect of Hogwarts life you could hope for — such as Herbology classes and Hogsmeade — and even hinted at specifics like character creation. This video and the details which accompanied it were never confirmed or addressed by Warner Bros. or followed by any official announcement, but gave what has come to be the generally accepted background of this rumoured game: that you’d play as a fifth year student transferring into Hogwarts, that there’d be some basic form of character creation, that you could choose your house, and explore Hogwarts as a sort of open-world experience.

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The general opinion seems to be divided on whether the game will be set after the events of the books or way in the past, but everybody appears to agree it won’t be set at the same time as the main trio — Harry, Ron, and Hermione — are at Hogwarts. Their story is so complete and beloved by the fandom, and already so thoroughly canvassed in books, films, and audiobooks, that a new story wrapped around theirs would feel more like an ineffectual spinoff of the real thing than a game in its own right. A game set during the same time would also be very limiting: the books map out nearly every day of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s time at Hogwarts; it wouldn’t be possible to squeeze in a new story amongst Harry’s jam-packed schedule of near-death experiences. Making a game where you play as one of the trio would limit the game to their well-known story, and would be accompanied by the hefty expectations of the fanbase, and it would be non-canon to introduce a new character into the friendship. Many of the other Hogwarts students were already established in the books with stories of their own, and many are just as loved by fans as the main characters. Neither would it be feasible to introduce a new character outside of the trio’s friendship: with no possibility of their own story, it would be a bit of a bizarre experience to just faff about in the background while Harry occasionally charges off on his own adventures.

So, if not in their time, when could it take place? I think a game set in the wizarding world after the era of Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be perfect. That latest leak suggests the game might be set even after the trio’s children have left school, and this would work best. It’d be too close to the story to visit Hogwarts while all the Potter and Weasley kids are still there, but a game set after they’ve left would be just close enough to the story we know so that Hogwarts would still have some familiar faces — the ghosts, for example — and so that Harry’s history would be as well-known to the castle’s inhabitants as to HP fans themselves. Enough of the teachers would have left by then that there could still be new characters, but the last book revealed enough about the original characters that we could still hope to see some at Hogwarts: Neville teaching Herbology, for example. The idea of a post-Potter Harry Potter game (if that makes any sense) is backed up by that latest rumour, which says WB is distancing itself from the HP brand by calling the game “Hogwarts: A Dark Legacy.”

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On the other hand, it might be easier copyright-wise to make a game set well before any of this, so that it doesn’t mess with creator JK Rowling’s confirmed ghost plots or with any future HP content. One theory puts this rumoured RPG in the 1800s, and this would allow for all-new characters and plots without the risk of derailing any of the plotlines of Rowling’s well-known characters — including those in the Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them spin-off series, which is set in the 1920s. An HP game in the 1800s could be interesting — all the background lore of the HP universe says the wizarding world was very different back then: duelling was still legal, and students could do magic outside of school. According to Rowling, it was only in the 18th century that wizards starting using plumbing: before that, they “simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence”. So. Yeah. Anyway, one slight problem is that it’s hard to think of any major villain for a game set that early. A new one could be invented, but when asked, most HP characters say the most powerful dark wizard besides Voldemort was Grindelwald, and he wasn’t around until the end of the 1800s.

A game with a modern setting sounds best to me. That latest leak seems too good to be true: a unique quest line for each house, a skill tree, a Nemesis system like that of Shadow of Mordor, a rival in school, Good/Evil choices, quidditch, and even the option to choose whether your character is muggle born, pure blood, or half blood, with consequent changes to quests and dialogue. All of this would make for a fantastic game, and a lot of it plays into features I’d like to see in this possible HP RPG. The tricky thing is that, time period besides, this would be a game that’s so hard to get right. There’s so much fans would want from a Hogwarts experience, which would make it all the more disappointing if it came up short — if, say, the castle just felt empty, with a few one-line NPCs scattered about as you marched from lesson to lesson of “press X at the right time to wave your wand”.

The early Harry Potter games are a pretty good example of that. Don’t get me wrong — their nostalgic value is immense, and their scorching first-gen Xbox/PlayStation graphics have led to some top-quality memes, but there’s a lot an open-world current-gen RPG could do better.

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Yet it’s also unclear how an open-world might function if your character is attending structured lessons. It’d be annoying, for instance, to be taught Care of Magical Creatures but not to be able to stray into the Forbidden Forest. From sixth year onwards, Hogwarts students get free periods, so perhaps it’d work sort of like the Monastery quest in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, or else like the timetable in Fire Emblem: Three Houses — lessons to learn magic, and free time to explore. If you’re playing in sixth year, you also get to pick your lessons, and this could be a great way to expand upon character creation and traits, and to add to the RPG experience. I’d want to see that character creation play into which aspects of magical life your character could do best, such as subjects and spells. I’d like to see in-depth classes such as Charms and Transfiguration, which incorporate the magical textbooks and background knowledge of the teachers. These could be balanced against free periods of exploration, when you could also return to the common room — its own sort of hub with its own side quests, stories, and dialogue with other students. There could be a day/night cycle, with some areas of the castle only accessible at certain times. The latest leak mentions a rival: perhaps your character could be influenced by a sort of reputation system, which you’d need to build up amongst your friends while simultaneously flying under the radar of rules and teachers. Quidditch would need the accompanying uproar of matches and inter-house rivalry, and there could be a house points system, influenced by player behaviour.

Any HP game would need that full Hogwarts experience: the bizarrely-named creatures roaming in the Forest, the everyday bustle of students and teachers, the hidden tapestries and trick steps, feasts in the Great Hall, classes, clubs, trips to Hogsmeade, and — aside from the annual near-death experience — that sense of magic that ties it all together. It’s possible we’ll find out that there’s no HP game in the making: every leak has been either too miniscule or too polished to seem real. Yet there’s also a chance, if WB happens to confirm it, that we’ll get the Harry Potter game we’ve been waiting for.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Hey, I'm Heidi! I've just finished studying a Masters in English Literature, but I've been obsessed with gaming since long before then. I began on the PS2 with Spyro, before graduating to the Xbox 360 and disappearing into Skyrim. I'm now a loyal RPG fan, but I still like to explore other genres — when I'm not playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or being lured back into Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3!