The last book of the Harry Potter saga finds our trio of protagonists in unfamiliar territory. Having left Hogwarts and cut all ties to their loved ones to pursue the destruction of Lord Voldemort, Harry, Ron and Hermione have taken refuge in the wilds of Northern England. As they search for vital information, the Death Eaters hunt them mercilessly. The three heroes are isolated, threatened, and forced to defend themselves with powerful magic. This is not the Potter of years past, and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is not like any Harry Potter video game you have played before. Designed to capture the desperation and deadly importance of Harry's mission, the game arms you with an array of deadly spells and sets you against a host of ill-intentioned enemies. Is firing spells with gleeful impunity as fun as you've always imagined it to be? We picked up our controller to find out.
The first thing you need to know about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is that it is a third-person shooter, complete with an over-the-shoulder camera, cover system, and targeting reticle. When running around, you see Harry's tousled hair and hoodie-clothed back, which were animated quite nicely in our demo build. If you slide into nearby cover with the touch of a button, you'll see the iconic glasses and, if you look closely, the infamous lightning-bolt-shaped scar. Ron and Hermione were nowhere to be seen in our demo, and the developers were cagey when asked about playing as characters other than Harry or the possibility of cooperative or competitive modes. Fortunately, Harry looked sharp and maneuvered well, and it wasn't long before hostile wizards forced us to focus on the action at hand.
The first enemies we encountered were snatchers--bounty hunters recruited by You-Know-Who that run in packs. We were on a quest to rescue some sympathetic wizards who were being held by Death Eaters in an abandoned factory complex, and as we picked our way through the industrial detritus, some snatchers appeared and started firing spells our way. We took cover as the speedy squiggles of light zipped by, and then we popped out to fire back some of our own. At this point, we were casting stupefy, described by the developer as "our equivalent of a semiautomatic pistol." Harry can cast this particular spell at a steady rate without needing to reload, but he isn't very durable, so you still need to make use of cover to avoid damage or let your health replenish.
Stupefy was just the beginning of the spells we encountered. Calling up a radial menu, we could switch among six different spell attacks on the fly. Each spell has been tailored to fill a different role in our magical arsenal, though these roles aren't always what you might expect. Expelliarmus, for example, is a charged shot that takes a minute to fire and hits like a shotgun blast, but it doesn't actually disarm your opponent. Confringo is more like a rocket launcher that explodes with impressive area damage; it not only fires slowly, but Harry also has to take to a knee in order to cast it. This forces you to step out of cover and make yourself vulnerable, lest you suicidally blast the low barrier in front of you (a lesson we learned firsthand). Harry can also cast crucio, which--far from being the horrific unforgivable curse you know and fear--fires rapidly in the manner of a submachine gun. These interpretations may seem strange, but they did create a good amount of variety from an action standpoint.
Harry's repertoire also involves spells that don't directly damage his enemies. Confundo temporarily turns an enemy against his cohorts, and Harry casts this one much like you would fire a sniper rifle in another game, complete with a zoomed-in point of view. Leviosa (the wingardium part snipped for the sake of brevity, apparently) allows you to lift objects to create cover for yourself and then throw those objects to knock down enemies. This spell, along with confringo, came in handy in removing obstacles, while another spell, four points, created a darting blue light that charted Harry's course through the industrial grounds.
After using stupefy and crucio to deal with the first few rounds of snatchers, we confringoed our way through a barrier and entered a large building. Expelliarmus helped clear out the first room, but as we climbed to a balcony, four Death Eaters appeared in the open area below. While they aren't as quick as snatchers, Death Eaters pack a much more powerful punch and take a lot more damage. Four-on-one odds are very dangerous, even for The Boy Who Lived, but a quick confundo spell evened things out long enough for us to lob a few confringos into the fray. Big magical explosions took out most of the fiends, and we mopped up with a crucio barrage.
Near the end of the demo, we entered a long-defunct nuclear cooling tower and were met with a grisly sight. The captive wizards were in agony as their luminescent life force drained out of them, up into the dark greedy maws of two dementors. We unleashed the only spell you need in a situation like this--expecto patronum--and the monsters fled up and out of the tower. Taking a breath, we walked over to the wizards, only to notice something odd beginning to happen. The edges of the screen began to cloud, and as they encroached on our field of view, it became clear that things were starting to freeze over. A trembling glance upward revealed our worst fears to be true as a horde of dementors swarmed down on us, ending the demo.
Turning Harry Potter into the hero of a third-person shooter is no easy task, but it was pretty satisfying to finally be able to sling spells aggressively and lay the minions of the dark lord low. There's a sense of violence here that hasn't been present in previous Harry Potter games, and only time will tell whether the liberties the game is taking will translate into engaging gameplay. We were told that there will also be a progression system by which Harry gains experience and upgrades his spells, and our demo didn't include all of the spells that will eventually be in the game. Be sure to check out our interview for more on the game, as well as watch the trailer for a peek at more enemies and locations awaiting you in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.