Released back in 2007, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, based on the film of the same name and year, goes further than being a standard tie-in and the first Potter game to be released for Xbox 360. It’s a surprisingly robust open-world actioner constructed with care for the beloved franchise that may not get everything right, but should be acknowledged for its ambition.
At this point the film series was turning a new corner, as was those connected to it. The young characters and their respective actors were both beginning to enter adulthood, while audiences – in particular those who had grown up with the Potter phenomenon – were also now of a new age. This seemed to have a knock-on effect with the franchise: Order of the Phoenix has more serious themes and a darker tone than prior editions and those followed through into its video game.
Up to this point, Harry Potter games had been populated by stylised, cartoonish characters and a linear recreation of the filmic events it was based on, likely in order to appeal to the younger target markets. Perhaps that the audience was changing may have lead EA to make a more complex game this time around. With input from She-Who-Must-No-Longer-Be-Named the developers went about crafting more than a simple tie-in, but a product that could be considered part of the Harry Potter canon.
Making use of new advances and capacities in technology, Order of the Phoenix makes a complete departure from past games and the action here takes place in an open-world landscape with players guiding Harry around Hogwarts castle and its grounds, which are populated by photo-realistic landscapes and characters.
While not so smooth by the standards of today, the game’s graphics still look good and are impressive for its time. Aiding the illusion are key members of the film’s cast lending their voices to their characters for the game. Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson are absent but Rupert Grint voiced Ron Weasley, with Ralph Fiennes providing the voice of Voldemort and much of the younger cast also lending their voices to their respective characters in the game.
As for gameplay, Order of the Phoenix’s change from platform to sandbox adventurer is one befitting a franchise with serious levels of fan dedication. Here players are given free roam to explore the Hogwarts grounds at their own pace and can explore every inch of this beloved and scrutinized location. The sheer amount of detail that has gone into the game – everything from character names to furniture and decorations – make it the more immersive experience Potter fans would have wanted, is also so well executed that it can be attractive to non-fans as well.
Hogwarts locations are extensive, well-detailed and leave players lots to uncover, including the very many secrets to find and side-missions to complete. These missions range from beating school chess champions to cleaning up parts of the castle (Because there doesn’t seem to be a cleaner). In return players can unlock concept art and video interviews with the developers and, more appealingly, the film’s cast gushing about the game. The biggest downside to exploring the castle is there is no fast travel option, meaning travel can sometimes be time-consuming.
All this is wrapped around the larger story, where Harry and co. form a secret society in defiance of the Ministry of Magic’s new restrictive measures on magical learning in response to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort’s return. This sees them learn a host of new spells, all of which come in handy for progression through the game. The plot also allows for plenty of exploration of the castle, as missions require finding hidden locations, gathering certain items or meeting certain characters. There are also some missions outside of the school, which includes an impressive albeit straightforward recreation of the film’s breathless climactic battle.
Yet for all its technical accomplishment and care and attention to detail, Order of the Phoenix can play very rough and be frustrating at times. Character movement is a bit clunky and restrictive, sometimes lagging due to loading times. Selecting spells can be bothersome and the controls for casting them don’t all work properly every time, while some attempts to vary the gameplay feel very unrefined.
It’s also short, completing the main story can take a few hours for the more experienced, though the additional activities can boost the play time, but not by much. Completing this game 100% will really depend on how much you love this series or exploring the space. These problems did not go unnoticed by critics, who wrote mixed things about the game, but of the many consoles the game was released on, it was the seventh generation versions that were best-reviewed.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a flawed game but in amongst its problems is a solid, atmospheric and enjoyable open-world game that meets and sometimes exceeds expectations, as well as being great-looking for its time. Another game promising this, Hogwarts Legacy, is due out in 2022, but Order of the Phoenix serves as an interesting proto for the immersive experience of the Harry Potter world.
This is a game that should be a must-play for the Potter faithful, with some appeal to those who know nothing about this world. Fans who missed out should be sure to find an old copy on Amazon and eBay.
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