Hogwarts isn’t the only locale that you will traverse, although it is the main one. Many other popular and recognizable places from the stories are included in the game. The Leaky Cauldron, which is traditionally a pub / inn for witches and wizards in the stories, serves as a hub in the game to access many of the game’s areas. From within the pub you can access freeplay versions of previously completed missions and view cut scenes that you have already experienced. The pub also serves as an outlet that allows you to access many of the important locations in the game; you can either resume the “story mode” portion of the game and travel back to Hogwart’s or perhaps head out to Gringott’s Wizarding Bank or Diagon Alley to spend your hard earned LEGO bits.
Heading to Gringott’s gives you the opportunity to spend any gold bricks that you have earned to unlock bonus stages which will reward you not only with more gold bricks, but lots and lots of bits which you will need to unlock more spells and characters for use in the game. These levels also serve as LEGO Builder levels, which is a feature that was introduced in the previous Indiana Jones game. These levels, aside from filling your pockets with bits, also allow you to unlock various LEGO objects to use for constructing your own levels. Unfortunately, just as in the last time the feature was used, players will not be able to share their creations with other users. The addition of this feature would be huge and is honestly the next, logical progression for this mode.
As I mentioned, the other important location accessible from the Leaky Cauldron is Diagon Alley, aka the “5th Avenue” or “High Street” of the Harry Potter universe. Anything and everything that you need can be found in Diagon Alley. It is on this strip that you will access stores such as Eeyclops Owl Emporium, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, and Madam Malkin’s Robes. Each of these locations give you a chance to spend the LEGO Harry Potter’s in-game currencies (bits, gold and red bricks). Gringott’s and the Leaky Cauldron are also accessible from the strip. It is from within these various shops that you will purchase additional support spells for your characters, playable characters for the freeplay mode(s) of the game, as well as construct your own custom builds of characters using the game’s massive customization engine. You will want to collect more bits than you can ever imagine as there is a ton of stuff to purchase… so those of you with a “completion complex” will find yourselves thoroughly entertained for a long, long time.
This accuracy and openness of the game isn’t only the games’ strongest selling point, but it may possibly be its biggest detriment as well. The player is allowed to move forward through the adventure at their own pacing; this is a great thing for those who are familiar with the story and lore behind the game and have a sense of how things should progress but casual gamers who may not know the source material and story’s flow may feel a bit lost. It makes no sense to someone new to Harry Potter why they are simply roaming around this massive “castle” and they are given little indication as to what all they can do within its confines. As I have stated repeatedly, LEGO Harry Potter is extremely accurate. That “charm” is a huge selling point to the die-hard fans but doesn’t hold any weight with non-fans.
In an attempt to help those new to this wizarding world, as well as make it overly clear to the fans, gamers need only interact with the character known as Nearly Headless Nick to progress the storyline of the game at any given time. Nick appears throughout the Hogwarts school and will lead the player onto the next location / mission required to advance the story. The storyline itself follows the first 4 movies from the series very closely; gamers are treated to the usual silent LEGO portrayals of the important plot points from the motion pictures. TT does a great job in progressing the story visually in their cut scenes and really recreates the movies in a very entertaining manner. Those who don’t know the source material coming into the experience will definitely know the story on their way out. Granted, there are a few scenes that may fly over the heads of some, but those serve more as comedic bonuses to the hardcore HP fans. Following the completion of a story-driven mission, Nick will appear in whatever room you happen to be exploring and will leave a trail of “ghost bits” for you to follow to your next location. It is a nice feature and helps to move things along but those unfamiliar with Nick and his purpose in the school / game may wander aimlessly looking for their next goal until they catch on.
Your journey through Hogwarts and the rest of the world will be done as a group, mainly consisting of series mainstays Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Occasionally, the makeup of your party will change slightly (through the story mode) with additions of people such as Hagrid and Malfoy. All of these characters, and a TON of others (approx. 160 in total) can be unlocked and purchased for use in the freeplay version of completed stages. As in the previous games, solo players can switch between the playable characters on the screen in real time though the real fun with the game is had with its 2-player cooperative features. Up to 2 players can participate in any mode of the game in split screen format. It makes absolutely ZERO sense why online cooperative play was left out of the game; it is 2010, and the online component of games is becoming pretty much an industry standard, especially when multiplayer is included.
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