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Harry Potter: Wizards Unite: How to play the new wizarding game

Chaotic magic is spreading across the Muggle and wizarding worlds. Here’s how to start battling dark forces in the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite AR game from Niantic, maker of Pokemon Go.

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Wands at the ready.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

Harry Potter and his fellow witches and wizards are in trouble in the new game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, that's similar to the wildly popular Pokemon Go. Wizards Unite pits you against dark wizards and magical beasts to save beloved characters from the Harry Potter books from the Calamity -- an unexplained event scattering magical items across the Muggle, or No-Maj, world -- as you walk around your real-world environment to follow the game's map on your phone.

Here's how to get started playing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the mobile game now available for download in nearly 150 countries for Android and iPhone from the creator of the wildly popular Pokemon Go.

The mobile Harry Potter: Wizards Unite AR game is a combined effort from WB Games San Francisco and Niantic under the Portkey Games label. Its pedigree shows. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite builds on Pokemon Go and Ingress, also from Niantic, to offer combat situations and varied locations, such as Inns, Greenhouses and Fortresses. Now available around the world -- spanning North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia -- the game on its first day of release took in $300,000. 

It has a strong story driving the game: As a member of the Statute of Secrecy Task Force, your task is to contain chaotic magic turning the magical and Muggle/No-Maj worlds upside down. It also loses some of the more frustrating parts of Pokemon Go, such as Gym Battles.

And while it's similar to the wildly popular Pokemon Go, it's OK if you've never played that game because Harry Potter: Wizards Unite really feels like a new game and not a reskinned Pokemon Go. In fact, we think Harry Potter: Wizards Unit beats Pokemon Go every way but one.

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Niantic's Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is out now.

Niantic Labs and WB Games

Ready to play? Here's how to start Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

Set up Wizards Unite on your phone

To get started, enter your date of birth and then sign in using your Facebook or Google credentials. Grant the game permission to use your GPS and to access your device's location.

Then, fill out the volunteer registration form and  if you didn't reserve your Niantic agent or trainer name, pick a code name. Finally, make your way through the tutorial, which offers a bit of the story behind the Calamity and walks you through how to deal with a foundable, a wizarding world person or item that displaced the chaotic magic from its location to yours.

Note: The game comes with assets, and depending on your connection, they may take some time to download. If you have a restrictive data plan, download everything over Wi-Fi.

By tapping the wizard icon in the bottom left of your screen you can view your Ministry ID, change your name and select your Hogwarts house and wand (by registering it). Don't fret too much about your house and wand choices -- you can change those later and your choice doesn't impact gameplay. (And if you don't want to choose, you can get sorted into a house instead of choosing one.) You can also create your portrait and customize your look.

What's on the map

The game's map will feel familiar if you've played Pokemon Go or Ingress: It displays your real-life geographic location using your phone's GPS and is littered with items and structures you interact with from the phone screen.

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A potion ingredient and Inns near the bottom, Greenhouses in the middle, and a Fortress further back.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

Items include Ingredients you can use to create potions. Some are common and others are rare, so if you're a gatherer, you'll need to manage your inventory so it doesn't fill up. It doesn't take much to hit the free cap for items you can store, so be prepared to either buy more store space or prune items as you go.

Items you find can vary depending on the weather and time of day. You can check current conditions by tapping the weather icon near the top on the right.

Structures include Inns, where you collect food to restore your spell energy; Greenhouses, where you can collect potion ingredients and accumulate energy to cast spells; and Fortresses, which require a Runestone to enter and where you work with up to four other players to dispel magical creatures and Death Eaters.

You can set up Dark Detectors in Inns, which act like lures in Pokemon Go to attract foundables.

The map also displays magical traces of the Calamity. These traces, which look a bit like a floating medallion,  point to displaced items from elsewhere in the wizarding world and come in pairs: a Foundable -- Harry Potter, say -- and a Confoundable -- a Dementor attacking Harry. (Part of your job is to dismiss the confoundable to return the foundable back to its proper time and location.)

To dismiss a Confoundable, align the two sets of stars on the screen to focus on your target and then cast a spell.

What about spells?

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Trace a spell on your phone's screen to cast it.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

Spells play a large role in the game. You'll spend a lot of time casting spells to overpower or dismiss the confounding magic you encounter and return the found object back to its proper place. You'll also cast spells to gather food in an Inn, when you battle an enemy in a Fortress and when you come across dark wizards on the map.

To cast one, trace the hint that appears on your screen with your finger. The onscreen motions are not unlike the glyphs you trace in Ingress and can be a little tricky to learn and master because you are rewarded for your tracing speed and accuracy. The game can be a little judgy, and if your trace is not accurate enough, the game will tell you your spell is incomplete and you need to recast. You can cast both offensive and defensive spells.

How to make and use potions

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Brew potions from ingredients you've gathered.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

As you walk around, you'll come across potion-making ingredients on the map. Some ingredients just appear in distinct biomes, and others only spawn during different weather conditions. You can also find potion materials in Greenhouses.

Potions provide various benefits, such as healing you during a battle. Once you've gathered up enough ingredients, you can start brewing potions. Tap Potions in your Suitcase -- it's at the bottom of the screen where the game stores items you collect -- to get to your Potions Bench and start brewing.

What you need to know about Portkeys

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After you collect a Portkey, walk around with it, like an egg in Pokemon Go.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

With a Portkey, you can travel to a room another location. To get a Portkey, look on the map for a triangular box -- it's call a Portkey Portmanteau -- and collect it. These act like eggs in Pokemon Go, which in that game hatch into monster critters. Walk a specified distance -- 2, 5 or 10 kilometers -- to unlock the Portkey, which lets you travel to a different AR environment within the game to complete a task to earn magical items. Once completed, you'll return back to where you started.

How to advance and gain a profession?

You level up by dismissing confoundables, doing challenges and completing tasks. When you hit level 6, you can choose a profession and train to become an Auror, Magizoologist or Professor, professions introduced in the Harry Potter books.

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When you hit level 6, you can choice a profession, in your Suitcase, of course.

Screenshot by Clifford Colby/CNET

Each profession has its own role in the game and skill tree. You progress through your chosen profession and unlock abilities by earning tokens from encounters and completing challenges. 

Aurors are focused on combat and excel at defending against the dark arts. Magizoologists handle magical beasts and assist teammates. Professors strike a balance between Auror and Magizoololgist professions and are solid at combat and teammate support.

You can also gain ranks in specific areas by by capturing magical creatures, dealing with mysterious artefacts, discovering wonders of the wizarding world, and more.

What about currency?

Much like with Niantic's Ingress and Pokemon Go, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is designed to play without paying or hitting microtransaction walls. You can, however, buy supplies by spending the gold you either earn from playing or by paying real cash. You can also buy more space to store items you collect. If you're a collector, you'll hit the free cap pretty quickly in the game.

Originally published June 20.

Updates: June 21, 2019: Edited for clarity; June 23: Add additional countries; June 24: Edited for clarity; June 28: Edited for clarity.