In July, I became one of the first million Betta users to gain access to Pottermore, a website meant to promote and host the e-book copies of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but I held off from reviewing it until it departed Betta mode and became accessible to the public, which was about a week ago.
Appearance-wise, I very much appreciate Pottermore: it is sleek and easy to navigate, while maintaining the whimsical, enchanted, and old-world sort of charm that has made the story of Harry Potter so beloved. While there are occasionally glitches the cause the site to run slow, the overall animation usually runs quite well, with the signs at the top of the page swinging whenever scrolled over, the mail owl blinking and shifting at random, and various points on the story maps lighting up.
All of this aside, though, one is not able to appreciate such things until one begins the interactive journey of “becoming” a wizard or witch. Upon registration (which was quite cumbersome at first for my friends, with verification e-mails arriving very late or not at all), the player is given several pre-made screen name options, all of which are compiled from vocabulary from the Harry Potter novels. For example, my screen name is SickleRook110, with Sickle being a part of the wizarding world’s currency and a rook being a piece in chess. While it is a bit annoying that players can’t design their own names, it hardly detracts from the experience.
Once the player registers, his or her name is placed right above Harry Potter’s in a book that keeps record of soon-to-be students, and the journey through the first book begins. Each chapter from the first novel is divided into three or so parts and has been made interactive, with the story being told through pop-up-like animations, sounds, and an explorable atmosphere. Pieces of the environment can be triggered to move, items can be collected, and, most importantly, previously unknown information can be unlocked regarding characters, settings, creatures, etc.
A main complaint that I harbor towards the interactive space of the game/narrative, is the fact that the first three or so chapters are fairly dull, with fairly limited playability (i.e. few collectible items, little movement, etc.) and I was at first disinterested in continuing. Also, while some of the items are useful (money and textbooks, for example), many, once collected, are useless so far on Pottermore — what, truly, is the purpose of being able to collect a chipped tea cup? and why can’t items, such as the dragon egg and golden snitch, do anything once collected? You can send things as gifts, but, once received, the items go back to having no clear purpose.
However, the interactive work becomes increasingly more fun and interesting as it progresses, despite these issues. For example, the player is able to go to Diagon Alley (the wizard shopping center of London) in order to purchase school books, potion ingredients, and even pets (which will later be the image on the player’s user icon).
At the end of shopping, the player must take a quiz (which I was pleased to find was quite brief and had images, rather than just being a fill-in-the-bubble sort of test) in order to receive a wand and continue on in the reading/game.
Once sorted, the player receives a welcome message that details his or her House’s history and the traits that are commonly shared by its members, and is now able to explore the site in more depth. A points system also becomes available to the player, who can brew potions, compete in duels, and explore the chapters in order to garner points and help their House towards winning the House Cup.
Brewing potions, which turns out to be a bit complicated/frustrating at times, requires that the player explore chapters or spend Galleons in order to find/purchase ingredients, and then follow often rigid instructions in order to create various potions.
While the concept of making potions is a fun way to turn a piece of the literature into an interactive game, I have several issues with it. For one, some ingredients are often difficult to move around the screen without spilling and glitches are rampant throughout. Even more aggravating is the fact that, once the player has followed the steps, he or she must wait anywhere from 30-50 minutes in order to complete his or her potion. The fact that players are expected to remember that they even have something happening on Pottermore an hour after the fact is just bewildering to me. Also, though brewing potions garners House points, the potions, like other items, are not usable once created.
Another incredibly awkward feature of the game and site is spell casting. The player must hit certain keys at precise times in order to generate some sort of spell, when it seems like moving the mouse in a certain manner or remembering words would be far more practical. Nevertheless, this is required in the story in order to proceed, and I eventually got used to it.
Still, the effort is worth it, because, as the story unfolds, the animation becomes more and more wonderfully drawn:
The player must navigate the confusing swarm of keys in order to locate the correct one.
Unfortunately, once the reader finishes exploring the first novel, there is little left to do. None of the other books have been made available to explore yet, and there are only six potions to brew and a few dozen spells to practice. As far as communicating with other members goes, it’s fairly limited: private messages cannot be sent and there is no proper forum, so communication is limited to posting short comments on the Common Room page or Great Hall page. As of right now, Pottermore is hardly a community.
However, overall, despite some detracting variables and faults, the Pottermore site is definitely worth a visit, at least to determine one’s House and see some of the animations, and will certainly continue to grow once more interactive books are made available and (hopefully) communication is expanded.