PlayStation 5 version
You're a wizard, Player!
* It's the game that Harry Potter fans have wanted since the beginning - or at least the fundamentals of it
Visually stunning throughout, with great attention to detail and a lovely soundtrack
Combat is genuinely fun and engaging, if ultimately too easy even on the hardest difficulty.
A handful of missions are among the best in recent memory, and bring the nostalgia highs.
Exploring Hogwarts is a consistent delight, especially once you get a broom.
* The story is mediocre and feels undercooked at times. Outside of one companion's storyline, it pales in comparison to the books and films
Not enough school-life elements to make the player truly feel like a student at Hogwarts.
The RPG systems are shallow - gear is unrewarding to find and upgrade, the Room of Requirement can be a little tedious to interact with, and there are essentially no meaningful choices to make. The lack of any sort of morality system is, quite frankly, Unforgivable.
The open world outside of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade is loaded with generic side quests and bland, copy-pasted content, and the same few enemy types repeated over and over again.
The Bottom Line
Since the Harry Potter franchise first began in 1997, there have been countless video games based off of the popular fantasy novels and their film adaptations. While some of these could be considered enjoyable games in their own right, they were always hamstrung by their need to function as tie-in licensed titles for the films, resulting in most of the games feeling half-baked or rushed out the door. Yet for myself and millions of other people around my age, Hogwarts Legacy, appeared to be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: a legit, AAA, open-world adventure set in the Wizarding World, where the player gets to create their own wizard student and put them through almost everything that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has to offer. After several delays, and enough controversy and sales hype to rival a Rockstar game, Hogwarts Legacy has finally landed on store shelves. The good news is that Hogwarts Legacy is far and away the best game this franchise has ever seen. That being said, there are a fair amount of compromises and rough edges that belie developer Avalanche’s first attempt at a game of this scale, and some of the series’ finer points have been lost in translation in favor of sticking to design tropes more favorable to a broader casual audience, rather than the typical gamer crowd. Still, what’s here should be more than enough to keep all but the most demanding fans happy after such a long wait.
In Hogwarts Legacy, the player takes on the role of a newly admitted fifth-year student of their creation attending Hogwarts in the late 1800’s, about 100 years before the events of the Harry Potter books. While undertaking the surprisingly perilous journey to Hogwarts, your character discovers that they possess the rare ability to see and interact with something called “ancient magic”, making them a hot target of both a recent goblin rebellion and their dark wizard allies. The story of Hogwarts Legacy is serviceable as a means to get the player to learn the various spells needed for progression, but the central conflicts feel underdeveloped, and the player character's lack of personality can make it hard to get invested. Rather than something which leaves an impactful legacy in Wizarding World lore, the story here and what the player ultimately accomplishes ends up more like middling fan fiction, rehashing many of the same tropes of the novels without the secret sauce that once captivated the world. But hey, as long as it's fun to play and captures the Hogwarts experience, the overall tale shouldn't matter as much, right?
Despite taking place in perhaps the most famous school in all of fiction, Hogwarts Legacy is by no means a school-life simulator. There’s no need to worry about doing homework, following a class schedule, or even getting to bed on-time. Rather, the game functions as a more familiar open-world style game, where for the most part you’re free to do what you want when you want to. If a mission or a class needs to be done during a particular time of day, the game will just advance time to when that can take place. Your professors will give you out-of-class “assignments”, which you’ll need to complete before they will teach you new spells, but these are essentially checklist tasks designed to familiarize the player with the game’s various systems.
All of this makes the game more accessible for a more casual audience, but considering how school life is such a central part of this franchise, the lack of sim aspects feels like a missed opportunity. I’m not saying that the game needed to make us study for tests. But Hogwarts Legacy never really tries to make you feel like a student either, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Indeed, the game’s opportunities for role-playing as both a student and a wizard as a whole feel remarkably limited. Your house choice makes hardly any difference, your character has no background and surprisingly little personality to speak of, and while there are companion characters you can form friendships with, they don’t have the same amount of depth they have in other games like Mass Effect or Persona. That being said, there is one particular companion, Sebastian Sallow, which has by far the best, darkest, and most emotionally impactful storyline in the game, far more so than the somewhat generic main story, and you should absolutely do his quests whenever you get the chance. Hogwarts Legacy promised to let us “be the witch or wizard we always wanted to be” but this is a bit of a lie, at least when it comes to morality. You’re allowed to act selfishly in certain instances, such as asking characters to hand you more money after completing a quest, and you can even learn to use dark magic, but at the end of the day your character will still ultimately end up as a hero - the consequences for your actions are far too limited for them to have actual weight. In a franchise that is all about exploring morality, this is a real misstep.
Hogwarts Legacy’s fast-paced combat takes a surprising amount of inspiration from the Batman Arkham trilogy, coincidentally also published by Warner Bros., rather than more traditional fantasy RPGs. You can target enemies with basic attacks from your wand, which can be mixed with the various spells you’ve learned over the course of your time at Hogwarts. The goal is to utilize these spells in combinations to maximize their effects. For example, you might use the Accio spell to summon an enemy near you, then follow that up with the short-range Incendio to cast a burst of flames dealing major damage. Hitting enemies repeatedly with spells without taking damage, along with successfully blocking and dodging, will fill your ancient magic meter, which can then be used to deliver incredibly powerful finishing moves. The catch to all of this is that most enemies are protected by shields which can either be broken via throwable objects or by casting a spell with the right color onto them.
Combat can be challenging in certain instances, particularly when the game decides to throw waves of enemies at you, but otherwise it isn’t that difficult most of the time, even on the hardest difficulty setting. There’s certainly depth to be found here, but the game rarely pushes you hard enough to actually explore it. That being said, it can still make for a gratifying power trip when you manage to pull off a cool combination or face a group of enemies unscathed. Some of the spells, items, and abilities you acquire later in the game are disgustingly powerful, and that doesn’t even include specializing in Dark Arts should you choose to do so. Stealth is also quite busted in your favor: you can easily enter a camp, become nearly invisible, and just Petrificus Totalus everyone before they even have a chance to detect you. Needless to say, going in wands blazing is much more fun than the stealth option in this game. My one real complaint with the actual combat mechanics is that it ’s rather fiddly to aim your spells at the correct enemy when multiple targets are on-screen, which can often make the difference between success and failure in the more intense combat encounters.
Hogwarts Legacy feels weirdly violent considering the age of your character, with some of your finishers literally turning human enemies to ash. You aren’t really playing a student at Hogwarts so much as John Wick with a wand. Your player character never has any qualms murdering scores of dark wizards, trolls, and other enemies even without using dark magic, which doesn’t seem like something Harry Potter, or really any Hogwarts students, would have ever dealt with. There’s a lot of ludonarrative dissonance you’ll have to just look past for the sake of having a video game in this kind of setting.
Compared to other open world games, combat is less frequent than other titles in the genre. Hogwarts Legacy is really a collectathon game at heart - much of the gameplay revolves around finding stuff. Acquiring the numerous types of collectables, from field guide pages to Merlin Trials will not only earn you experience points, but can also help in unlocking new spells and items for the Room of Requirement. Annoyingly, some collectibles can only be acquired at night, and there’s no way to mark them on your map to return to later, which is a bit frustrating. It’s also a bit strange that you can literally break into peoples’ houses with no consequences to grab collectibles from their chests, and this is required in certain instances. Otherwise, exploration in this game largely feels great, especially once you are able to acquire a broom and venture into the further reaches of the map. I can’t convey just how, well, magical it feels to walk into a courtyard, hop on a broom, and fly off into the highlands. There are other mounts you can acquire, including a hippogriff, but broom flight is just so good you won’t want to use anything else to get around.
The other key gameplay component is the Room of Requirement, a famous location from the Harry Potter books. This highly-customizable space is also where you’ll go to grow plants and care for magical beasts you capture in the world, activities that yield resources to upgrade your gear and craft potions. You can also add furniture objects throughout the space to personalize it, although aspects of this system could have used a bit more work.
Some of the other systems related to the Room of Requirement aren’t quite as impressive, namely the gear and upgrade systems. The game world is littered with chests, most of which contain some sort of item of clothing you can wear. There are only two stats to worry about: offense and defense, and the only thing you need to do is mindlessly swap to the gear with the higher stats just to keep up with the game’s power curve. The game will message you constantly just to ensure you have the gear with the highest stats equipped, and this cannot be turned off. You only have a limited amount of slots to hold gear, meaning that you’ll constantly need to either destroy certain items or head to Hogsmeade to sell all of your unwanted hats and robes at the various shops. You’ll also need to head to the Room of Requirement to “identify” certain items just to wear them, but these honestly aren’t sufficiently better or different than the ones that don’t need to be identified. There’s nothing, for example, that can fundamentally change your playstyle or give your character a different build. Eventually, you’ll be able to upgrade gear items in the Room of Requirement, using your ingredients to enhance their stats and add traits to increase the power of certain types of spells, but you’re showered with gear so much that it all becomes more tedious than it really should be. For a game that is billing itself as an action-RPG, these systems are far too shallow, and amount to little more than a game of wizard dress-up. At least the game makes it easy to get your character to look how you want them to, with a transmog system letting you configure how each clothing item should look.
Avalanche made a good effort to try and include most of the iconic locations, spells, and creatures from the books and films, and there are some real surprises in what the game chooses to include. There’s a handful of missions in this game that are among the most creative I’ve seen in any game in quite some time, and are sure to have fans grinning from ear-to-ear with nostalgia. It’s possible to learn unforgivable curses and spec into the Dark Arts, allowing the player to go nearly full Voldemort if they wanted to, although the lack of true story consequences for going dark feels like a bad design decision. But there are some pretty deep cuts made as well, with the lack of Quidditch feeling like the most glaring omission. This was a major element of the books and films, so to see it not be playable, let alone depicted in a non-interactive cutscene in some fashion, feels like a misstep in a game that purports to deliver a comprehensive Hogwarts experience. In-game, this is explained away with the school’s headmaster, Professor Black, announcing that the sport is cancelled due to an injury one player suffered the year prior, but this is such a limp cover for a feature that really should have been considered from the start.
Artistically, it’s clear that the team at Avalanche software not only loves the Wizarding World, but have made a game that, for the most part, truly captures its atmosphere. Hogwarts itself is an absolute triumph of world design, a veritable maze of corridors, moving paintings, magical objects, secret passages, and student interactions that truly feel like the books come to life. The school is large and crafted with obsessive attention-to-detail, and it’s possible to spend hours just exploring the grounds before you even venture out into the open-world highlands. For instance, once you reach certain points in the story, the school will be appropriately decorated for the nearest holiday. Hogsmeade, too, is nearly as fantastic - all of the famous shops you know from the books are there, and nearly every building can be entered, each one containing its own unique objects and assets. Both of these areas feel very alive at times: with plenty of random events and student interactions occurring as you head to your next class or quest. That being said, there are a couple of strange oversights that are hard to ignore, such as the way all students in Hogwarts just simply vanish during the night, leaving empty beds in all of the dormitories and an unintentionally silent, lonely atmosphere. Despite its meticulous detail, your common room plays no real part in the experience. You can’t socialize with companions outside of the very first morning, and you can’t even sleep in your own bed to advance time, which is just an incredibly strange design choice even though the game already has a wait function.
Where the game gets a lot less impressive is in the world outside of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. The highlands are no doubt beautiful, but all you see are either hills, forests, and hamlets, and coasts near the bottom of the map. While the seasons change over the course of the story, there’s absolutely no visual variety or biomes types to really distinguish areas. Side quests are mostly on the generic side, although there are a couple of exceptions which greatly rise above the pack. The PS5-exclusive quest in Hogsmeade, “Minding Your Own Business”, is a real highlight, so its unfortunate that only a subset of players will actually experience it. But that’s an exception, and for the most part, much of the side content just isn’t terribly exciting. It’s all very copy-paste: each cave, ruin and bandit camp feels identical to the last you visited, and the excitement of discovery quickly wears down over the course of the playthrough thanks to a poor rewards system.
As a fan of the franchise since I was a child, I really enjoyed my time with Hogwarts Legacy, but as a seasoned, adult gamer I’m not immune to the game’s shortcomings. For as entertaining as the game can be, thanks to satisfying (if overly easy) combat, the rich lore of the Wizarding World, and some truly spectacular locations to explore, much of the concept’s potential magic remains untapped. It’s mechanically shallow and far too railroaded to appeal to more RPG-minded players, the story is surprisingly uninvolving outside of a few companion and side quests, and the copy-paste open world should have been greatly scaled back in favor of developing stronger stories and activities within Hogwarts, alongside more dynamic gear and rewards systems. Hogwarts Legacy isn’t as good of a game as it could and should have been due to these drawbacks. Nevertheless, whether you’re exploring Hogwarts, flying on a broom, winning a battle with flashy spells, or engaging with the rare emotionally compelling or creative mission, the game can at times be a great reminder of why you fell in love with this series in the first place, even if it doesn’t hit those heights as often as it could. If I were a professor, I would grade this as a highly likable rough draft with the potential to grow into an A+ final project. I just hope that Avalanche can further tap into that magic for future outings.
by krisko6 (813) on March 4th, 2023