My owl has finally arrived and invited me to Hogwarts! He told me it was a hoot. It’s all a bit different nowadays, though. It’s shifted to a fully digital school. Instead of running headfirst at the first wall I see, I’m to enter via the Minecraft School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry, a remarkable recreation of Harry Potter’s past, including all the sights of that most famous magical school and beyond. It’s a mod that, dare I say it, made me believe in magic again.
In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's by far the most impressive Potter game I’ve played. The mod adds quests, wand spells, an inventory, and even broomstick flying. I was taken in by how obsessively detailed it is. It’s set up for you to learn spells and explore Potter’s world like any other student, but I’ve been running around the wizarding world with my eyes wide in wonder like a poor lost muggle.
To enrol yourself, all you need to do is grab the installer. It needs Minecraft version 1.13.2, but the installer takes care of everything else and doesn’t require any additional mods to run (though, if you're interested in modding Minecraft, RPS has a handy list of the best Minecraft mods). The controls and menus aren’t the easiest to use at the moment, and the controls can be fairly clunky, but I still had a lot of fun.
You don’t play as Harry, but you still begin in Privet Drive, the home of Harry’s abusive extended family. The Knight Bus idles on the corner, with conductor Stan Shunpike waiting to take you to the Leaky Cauldron, and it’s in that tavern that the magic of the mod reveals itself for the first time. A teapot floats gently through the drinkers, quietly dispensing tea at the huge central table; a broom swishes gently across the floor like a medieval Roomba.
Behind the tavern is the magical shopping street with unbearable pun name, Diagon Alley, hidden behind a bewitched wall that opens itself if you hit the right brick, in almost an exact replica of how it happens in the films.
I need to conserve my enthusiasm or I'm in danger of over giffing (I am a Giffindor after all, ho ho), but there’s Olivander's! And Gringotts! And is that Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes? It is! A huge, animated Fred/George tips his hat to customers. I didn’t know that this sort of shopfront was possible in Minecraft.
As a mark of the sheer size of this mod, it’s a good five minute stroll through some London landmarks before you get to the Hogwarts Express in Kings Cross. It’s impressive, certainly, but we can see London any old day of the week. We’re here for Hogwarts. And boy, does this mod have Hogwarts.
For those of you who've dreamed of being judged by a passive aggressive piece of clothing whilst sitting in front of a large crowd, you get the chance to go through the Sorting Ceremony in the Great Hall. Though the hall isn’t quite perfect - the ceiling isn’t enchanted to look like the sky outside, but that's a bit of a nitpick - it still feels like a magical place. There, beneath the floating candles and dangling house banners, you’ll answer multiple choice questions from the Sorting Hat to work out your school house. I was genuinely dumped into Gryffindor, though I was hoping for that chill Hufflepuff life.
The castle at large is pretty stationary by Potter's ridiculous moving staircase standards, but it’s also got so many twists and turns, so many corridors, stairs, and rooms, that you’d need an anti-confuzzlement spell just to get to the next class. Central to that is the Grand Staircase, a perfectly named swirl of stairs. It is, as mentioned, sadly immobile in comparison to the books, but by contrast the living paintings do all shuffle about in their frames (and such is the attention to detail, photos and portraits aren't animated outside of the wizarding world).
It is genuinely easy to get lost. I was looking for my bedroom when I stumbled across the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. In a lovely detail, if you poke around in there you can even find a cauldron in the toilet stall where Hermione brewed up her polyjuice potion. And yes, in a marvel of magical plumbing, the huge sink unit peels back to reveal a tunnel, and plunging you down into a cistern of doom.
The chamber itself is at the end of a long dungeon, one filled with skellingtons, hinkypunks, and mandrakes. It’s really pretty traditionally Minecrafty down there. But get past all that and you’re in a goth sewer, with giant skulls and the bones of a basilisk, left there after Harry and his pals gave the Dark Lord and his big snake a proper beasting in book two.
But this version of Hogwarts is a place of learning, too. So far I’ve seen the potions, defence against the dark arts, and charms classrooms. Each lesson starts in a recogniseable classroom, but then sends you off to an obstacle course in order to learn how to light your way, or unlock doors. I suppose that, technically, those aren’t really part of the Hogwarts I know, but they’re a nice diversion and a decent adaptation to the Minecraft format. Here’s what it’s like working out how to do a Wingardium Leviosa, for example:
There are more puzzles and stories in and around the castle. Luna Lovegood begged me to find her lost belongings, and in the process I ended up in the Room of Requirement. The room only has one format in the game: The Room of Hidden Things, a magical lost property office with piles of props towering over you. It’s like a hoarder home, with a pathway cutting through a cave of possessions tottering threateningly over the player, exactly as portrayed in the movies.
The grounds of the castle are vast as well. The Quidditch pitch sits in one corner, albeit as quiet as all the other sports grounds around the world right now. The sport is probably too complex for Minecraft to handle, but I did take a ride around on my broomstick.
I think that says it all, really. Minecraft School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is large enough to contain a Quidditch pitch that’s just there because it wouldn’t be Hogwarts without it. I kept uncovering more and more places as I explored, and I don't want to spoil all the discoveries for you, but Hagrid’s hut, the Forbidden Forest, the long walk to Hogsmeade, and the village itself are all there to be found. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone looking to enroll in Hogwarts.