Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 E3 Preview
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 7th Jul 2011
The publishing of author J.K. Rowling's iconic series of the seven books that depict the adventures of teen wizard Harry Potter and his mates as he emerges from a life of oppression and loneliness, having been made aware of the gift that is a mark of his genetics -- the ability to do magic -- and, what is more, that there is an entire world and community of people with similar gifts who will -- for the most part -- embrace him, and deliver the identity and sense of place that until the day of his 11th birthday he had no idea existed and yet longed for...
It is fair to characterize Rowling's creation as a multi-media empire; from the 29th of June 1997 until the 21st of July 2007 her books in the series were published at a predictable rate, and shortly after the release of each, a movie soon followed that largely succeeded in capturing the essence of each story.
In addition to the Harry Potter lunch boxes, tea mugs, sticker collections, coloring books, and branded merchandise of every sort featuring the boy wizard and his best friends, there naturally followed a series of video games that are partly based upon the books, and partly the movies, with each of them featuring the images of actors Danial Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Robbie Coltrane -- just to name a few of the literal dozens of cast members who depict the characters from the stories.
The video games have come in two flavors -- a more sincere and dramatic series that attempts to bring the gamer into the stories so that they can experience the adventures as the protagonists, and a more amusing and novel series that leverages the well-known and loved world of LEGO toys to capture a lighter and more kid-friendly approach to stories that, we must admit, have a dark side.
The final movie in the series -- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 -- will arrive in theaters all over the world on July 13th, 2011, and just before it does so, the final video game in the series, also titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 -- will serve as one of the last major game releases for the first half of the 2011 gaming season as we enter the Summer Doldrums, that period that makes up the months of July and August during which very few games are launched.
The decision to release the game well inside the period of the Doldrums means that it will very likely be one of the core titles in game play rotation for most gamers, and certainly one of the games that will have high demand at rental outfits like GameFly. Based upon the sales of previous titles in the series, it should do OK on the retail end as well, and perhaps a little better than OK because the contents of this final game offering includes some of the most explosive and compelling chapters in the saga -- and in particular the massive battle at Hogwarts that leads up to the final confrontation between boy wizard and the dark madman, He Who Must Not Be Named!
The cultural impact of the stories combined with their accessibility -- they proved to be as popular with adults readers as they were with kids -- means that the Harry Potter games have been consistently able to escape the curse of the movie-connected video game -- a phenomenon in which video games that are created from the stories in films have had a less-than-impressive track-record in the game industry, in spite of the fact that logically there should be a built-in audience and fan base.
Fortunately the Harry Potter games appear to be immune to that phenomenon, which means that we can expect to get at least the level of entertainment from this new title that we had from the previous one, and perhaps a bit more if the presentation and preview that we saw at this year's E3 properly represents all of the game.
As expected the game play elements largely follow those of the previous titles of the series with one important exception -- the integration of PlayStation's Move motion-based controller into the title -- though sadly there is no support for Microsoft's Kinect. The game presents a markedly more fluid and bug-free game play experience that was very impressive to anyone who played the previous title, as it seemed to simply feel right this time around...
Now granted we did not get to experience the entire game at E3, and the parts we did get to experience were obviously carefully chosen by the publisher and developer to better showcase both the differences and the impressive features of game play. So let's begin by talking about some of the changes.
Due to complaints made by gamers that included very negative opinions of the side-missions in the previous game, that element has been completely removed from the game experience in DH2.
In DH2 we get to play as many different characters rather than primarily as Harry -- and the voice work and graphical representations of the large group of characters is such that there is very little worry over immersion -- don't be surprised to find that you will have your own personal favorites among them in other words.
The biggest change in the game is a total revamping and reimagining of the magic and spell system in the game. Clearly the developers recognized the same thing that gamers did in the previous games -- simply button-mashing for spells does not a challenging or interesting game make.
The new magic casting scheme treats the spells as if they were objects rather than potential effects upon which a wizard might draw, arming them in much the same way that you select your weapon in other games, and at first we were a bit taken aback by this -- it seemed a rather ill-conceived approach.
But then we played with it and discovered that it actually works quite well -- better than the previous system -- because it allowed us to focus more upon the game and what was happening around us than on which buttons we needed to press and in what order... In place of that we simply select the spell to arm it, and then target and execute it with the right trigger, a game play element that we quickly got used to and grew to like.
Another zinger pulled directly from the stories is the ability to apparate -- to disappear and reappear in some other location -- an element that was key and central to the story, and something that pretty much all three of the principle protagonists did a lot. So having it appear as both a defensive and strategic element of play in DH2 is pretty cool!
If we made this all sound overly simple, well, that is not the case at all. Arming a spell is pretty simple, as is firing it, but knowing which spell to arm and fire? That is where the learning curve begins and where some thought must be applied -- and this is a good thing.
In DH2 gamers are rewarded not simply for learning the different combinations for the spells and which work best together, but also for their grasp of the strategic value of specific spells -- and based upon our experience, using the correct spell in each instance where you are challenged and must make use of a magical-based attack or defense -- has a decidedly more effective impact on the game. That may seem like an obvious point, but when you consider that the previous games pretty much rewarded players for running-and-gunning with magic and what spell you used most of the time really did not matter, well, it is a refreshing change.
As you experience each new character the process often includes introducing a new spell, which often means an expanded ability in the game, but it is the game environment itself that largely steals the show and captures the attention of gamers.
The Trailer for Game Play off the Nintendo DS version of DH2 suggests that the handheld game shares in the overall improvements to game play and the world of Hogwarts...
Hogwarts has always been a fascinating place full of odd and interesting corners, but this time around you actually get to experience more of that -- and exploring the game world turns into an adventure in and of itself this time around, which we found to be a pleasant surprise. But it is not simply a Hogwarts adventure -- if it were there would be sensibly less pleasure to be found -- no, it nicely covers the story, which means that you can expect to actually experience many of the locations in them that made the final book the most memorable of the seven!
As you would expect the major battle that is the culmination of the story includes some epic boss battles -- but by the time you get to that point you should have the magic arts pretty well down -- and that is a good thing because after all, this is a game about wizards and magic, and so magic abilities and a firm knowledge of the spells and how best to use them constitutes the measure of greatness in the wizard... So the question is, are you a great wizard or merely an adequate one? You will find the answer to that question -- and many more -- in Deathly Hallows 2 on July 12th!
Observations and Conclusions
Having played the games in the series from the start, and recognizing that there were bound to be differences in the quality of the game world and graphics, sound, FX and controls when you consider that when they started out on the PC/PS/Xbox and GameCube they were largely cartoonish in their appearance and play.
Slowly as each new game came out and the hardware improved we saw the presentation of the characters change, and today they have reached a point of realism that, while it is not quite up to the standards set by games like L.A. Noire, is pretty darned close!
It probably does not help it that we are serious fans of the stories, and because of that and knowing what is coming, knowing that some of our favorite characters are about to die, and knowing the plot elements that literally made the story an edge-of-your-seat read, our pleasure in playing through it is sensibly diminished by that knowledge.
Fortunately the blokes over at EA Bright Lights were aware of that effect, and so they put out a bit of extra effort in the design of the various levels in the game to add-in a sense of desperation and risk that manages to shine through in spite of our knowledge of how the story turns out. This is a good thing, because by managing that, they also easily triple the entertainment value of the game!
One of the strange side-effects of this being the end of the series -- and before you think this is strictly a game thing, no, it is even more abrasive in the movie -- is the fact that many of the characters who were cute in the beginning and whose cuteness helped to define how we viewed (and perhaps even valued) the characters, fails to survive the ravages of time, as the characters (and the actors upon which they are based) have grown in to much less cute and attractive people.
Yes, we know that is a horrible thing to say -- and besides how could the casting people have known when they were choosing 11 year-olds at the start of the journey that puberty was going to hit some of them really really hard with the ugly stick? The answer is, of course, that they could not. And because we spend so little time with these people between the stories -- constant familiarity being largely what buffers the effect in real life -- we often find ourselves shocked and surprised by their appearance.
Now clearly we would never mention this to their faces, in real life, but the appearance of some of the characters in the game actually distracted us from the events that were taking place around us...
While there were some hideous examples of what happens to a child when they become a teenager, as it turns out there were some pleasant surprises as well -- for instance Ginny did not turn out bad, and Hermione cleans up pretty well. Harry? Well, time and puberty were kind to him, but not so kind to Ron, and poor Neville...
Fortunately the distraction that these characters caused was not enough to keep us from enjoying game play or the challenges it offers, and once we got used to them, it was not so bad. In fact there really was only one significant distraction in the game - but sadly it was not a distraction that we could get used to or fix -- and that was the role that lighting and shadow played in the world of Hogwarts, and practically everywhere that was lit artificially or experienced after sundown.
While light and shadow work well in the game when the sun is up -- and in fact there are some rather impressive views to be had in daylight -- the night in the game is a time when you should not be surprised to discover that your eyes see motion where there is none, a presence where there is none, and often miss seeing motion where they should! This can be a real -- and annoying -- issue for play in a game that really is combat-centric, and the only solution that we could find was to tweak the settings for lighting, but that sadly makes other elements in the game world seem wrong, so we quickly put them back, and vowed to suffer the odd shadow and light effects in order to preserve the rest of the visual experience in play.
You might think that this was a bigger deal than it is -- after all, considering that this is the only real issue that we had with the game, it is not that big a deal at all.
We were not expecting a lot from the game -- the presumption was that it would play out similar to Part 1 -- and while we were not disappointed, there were enough tweaks to game play, and the action stayed close enough to the established story, that it was nevertheless an enjoyable play. You will very likely find that the previews and reviews for this title are all over the map, with some writers calling it total pants and others declaring it nirvana. We fall somewhere in the middle in that regard.
The cast of the Harry Potter films -- and thus the games -- has grown up, and their real life images (pictured above) are being closely served by their in-game images (pictured below) in an increasingly realistic portrayal.
It seems that impressions of the game are all over the map with respect to previews and reviews, giving the impression that this trend in drive-by previews and reviews has the potential to mislead gamers...
At Gaming Update we have a simple philosophy for our games coverage -- we consider it our duty to properly cove the games only after we experience them, and to include our impressions in our coverage. Offering you our opinions in addition to the hard facts is what adds value to the process.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 will please most gamers who are fans of the series, though as a shooter -- which it has been characterized as in more than a few of the news releases of late -- it has the potential to disappoint gamers, because strictly speaking it really does lack most of the elements that are required in a good shooter. Still, the depth of the story and the massive battle that culminates in the final resolution of the the danger posed by Voldemort is worth the effort that it takes to get there in the end.
Official Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
Developing Studio: EA Bright Light
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 12th, 2011
Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii / Windows PC / NDS
Genre: Third-Person Action-Adventure / Fantasy
Ratings: T (for Teens) / PEGI 12+