Yesterday I had the chance to visit the offices of Warner Bros. Italy and check out the upcoming Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, developed by TT Games.
Associate producer Vince Grogan was present to show us the Xbox 360 version of the game, that will also be released on PS3, Wii, PSP, DS, 3DS and PC (Boy, those are a lot of platforms) on November the 11th in the US and a week later, on the 18th, in Europe. A PS Vita version is also planned, but there’s no firm date for that one.
The game is different from it’s predecessor in it’s atmosphere: Hogwarts isn’t a safe place anymore and the whole world of Harry Potter is a much darker, menacing place.
Gameplay will instead be familiar to those that are used to Lego games: it’s still mostly based on puzzles and exploration, but there will be a lot more combat this time around. Most of the puzzles focus on finding three items and combining them, for instance into a potion.
In addition to the items the player needs to find, there are many that can be interacted with only by specific characters and that require coming back in free play mode afterwards, when the right character has been unlocked. For instance the Weasley brothers have scattered a number of Weasley boxes across the world of the game; those can be opened only by a Weasley (as Vince Grogan said, they are “Gingerhead access only”). If anyone else tries to open them, a trap will spring and the character will get punched in the face.
Speaking about characters, there is an enormous variety of them hidden in the game: 200 (two hundreds!) can be unlocked and used in free play mode. Ten more will be available as DLC (and they really ought to be awesome if Warner Bros plans to sell them with 200 already unlockable by default).
Lego is, of course, the very core of the game, and it’s main source of fun. Whenever you interact with it, you never know what it’s going to build, adding a level of unpredictability and surprise to gameplay.
The items that can be found during exploration are often a Lego-ized but faithful reproduction of those described in the books and seen in the movies, but also include icons to help recognizing them and indicating who needs to receive them. When a spell is needed to interact with an item, that item will often bear the same color as the spell itself. For instance when something is surrounded by a purple aura, that’s the cue to use Leviosa and move it somewhere else. The destination will also have the same aura.
Dueling plays an important role in the game, and has been expanded and reworked. The player will have to move his character around a circle on the screen, with the opponent moving across the circle itself. It’s possible to dodge left or right in order to avoid incoming spells, or casting Protego to create a temporary shield. Harry Potter can also use his Invisibility Cloak to cause the opponent to lose track of him.
Whenever the enemy is about to use a spell, his half of the circle will illuminate with the color of that spell. Using the same spell against him will lock the two characters in a clash of magic that will prompt the player to mash the action button in order to win and land a hit. If he loses, he’ll be the one receiving damage.
Since the game is aimed primarily at a young target, being defeated is never punitive. Death and Game Over are not on the menu, and defeat will simply mean respawning immediately and having to refill one’s mana.
Local co-op is similar to what we have seen in a few other chapters of the Lego series. While the characters are on the same screen, there’s no split. As soon as they walk too far from each other to be included in the same space, the screen will split diagonally in a very fluid and seamless way, only to rejoin in a single entity as soon as the players approach each other again.
It’s possible to drop into and out of co-op seamlessly, without any interruption in the gameplay. This can be particularly helpful when a kid finds a part of the game too difficult. A parent can just pick up the second controller (without taking the first one from the hands of his son) and provide some help to get past the hurdle. Then, if he needs to do something else, he can just drop out of multiplayer without disturbing in any way his son’s enjoyment of the flow of the game.
Pets are also present like in the previous game of the series, but there are many new ones. They can be used as support in solving puzzles, and to reach locations in which human characters can’t fit.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is probably the biggest Harry Potter game to date, and the only one with a fully explorable world. It’s possible, for instance, to go from Howarts to Hogsmeade station, and from there take the train to King’s Cross station, exit trough the portal into the city of London and walk to Diagon Alley. The same can be said about the many other locations of the game, that involve basically the whole world created by the pen of J. K. Rowling.
The visuals of the game have also been polished compared to the previous game, with several effects added to the engine and a new system of dynamic lighting and shadows, making of Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 the best looking Lego game released so far. It’s darker, more scary and more action oriented, possibly allowing adults to enjoy it better than it’s predecessor (even thanks to the extremely solid collectible elements), but no matter how sad or tragic the situation is, Lego-style comedic relief is always ready to spring out creating a light-hearted experience that Children will definitely like.