Review – Hogwarts Legacy
“I’ve been dreaming of this day for a long time. I can’t believe I’m here,” is the protagonist’s response to being asked how they’re finding Hogwarts at the start of the game. To me, it sums up my experience with Hogwarts Legacy. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone wasn’t just the first novel I ever read, it was what drove me to learn how to read. I kept up through all the books, saw all the movies, and still regularly visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Hollywood. Basically I’m a fan, and so of course that includes the video games. While I’ve greatly enjoyed many Harry Potter games released, Hogwarts Legacy is on another level.
Hogwarts Legacy is an action adventure RPG, with a strong emphasis on puzzle-solving and exploration. Set during the last years of the 1800s, it takes place about a hundred years before Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts. So most of the people and things we associate with Harry Potter don’t exist yet. Which makes for an exciting new world to discover. It’s not all foreign, either. Hogwarts is still Hogwarts after all, and there’s more than a few people walking around from familiar Wizarding families. The game also does a great job at providing some needed world building, especially when it comes to the game’s central premise.
The Wizarding World of this time was a much more dangerous and violent place. Dark wizards were rampant, magical poachers worked openly, and wizardly relations with non-wizards were extremely strained. Especially with Goblinkind, with whom conflict with is central to the main plot of the game.
Wizard and Goblin relations is a running subplot of the books, especially in Deathly Hallows. While they have achieved relative harmony in the time of Potter, they’re far from it in Hogwarts Legacy. Both are proud and strong magical species, who couldn’t be further apart in beliefs. Wizards prize magic and tradition, while Goblins focus on technology and industry. Both sides also hoard their secrets from the other, breeding mistrust and suspicion. Essentially, the conflict between Wizards and Goblins in Harry Potter is the same as Elves and Dwarves in every other fantasy world.
You play as a brand new Hogwarts student, starting as a 5th year for reasons. You possess a rare ability to sense and manipulate ancient magic, also for reasons. Because of this ability, you are being pursued by an alliance of dark wizards and Goblin loyalists. While I was disappointed by the game’s total lack of explanation for anything involving you, everything else was well done. Hogwarts Legacy does a great job fleshing out Goblinkind, with a surprising about of depth and maturity. Ranrok and his loyalists may be villains, but they’re not wrong. Wizards are incredibly prejudiced against non-wizards, and reluctantly share secrets with others. Goblins are a strong proud race with their own sovereign lands. Facing such ignorant displays of supposed superiority of course breed conflict. Unlike Centaurs or Merpeople, Goblins have the might and numbers to stand up for themselves. Which means war.
Preventing this war while advancing your magical education is the main plot of Hogwarts Legacy. You’ll attend Potions class one day, and explore ancient ruins with an allied Goblin the next. You’ll face off against Ranrok’s machinations, especially his intentions involving ancient magic. Then there’s dark wizard, Victor Rookwood, and his gang of Ashwinders terrorizing Hogsmeade with impunity. Finally, magical poachers are rampaging across the highlands, killing and harvesting magical beasts en masse.
The Ministry of Magic is, as usual, useless. Even Hogwarts is of no help, due to the weakness of reigning Headmaster, Phineas Nigellus Black. Seeing Hogwarts and the grounds in such chaos is almost depressing, but thankfully you’re there to set things right. It’s a surprisingly grounded story, with some genuinely dark moments and a muted ending. Admittedly, not what I was expecting. But it grew on me, and I enjoyed it overall.
The gameplay, on the other hand, was everything I hoped. Unlike most other franchise games, Harry Potter has already had some pretty great titles. The first three Harry Potter games were genuinely good and fun action adventure titles. They were essentially Zelda clones, and to be honest, I prefer them to most actual Zelda games. I wanted any future open world titles to use that a base, but also be more. Thankfully, that’s almost exactly what Hogwarts Legacy is. Exploration and puzzle-solving are key here, providing a genuine source of character advancement. Which is almost unheard of in action adventure games nowadays. Combat, of course, does play a part, mostly in the highlands and main quests. But outside the game’s combat gauntlet of an ending, it never overshadows or negates the game’s other aspects.
Exploration is driven by your Field Guide, a magical artifact given to you to aid in your studies. Something I really loved about this game was how immersive it genuinely is. Everything has some kind of in-game explanation. The fast travel system is the Floo Network. Your minimap and waypoint guide are actually a magical compass. In-game collectibles and lore entries are pages of the Field Guide you collect as you explore. Some come with a neat little fact about Hogwarts, while others you just collect after solving a puzzle. They’re not just useless collectibles either, but a huge source of XP. My first 15 levels were mostly gained via exploration, which I’ve genuinely never experienced in another RPG before. Leveling up just by exploring Hogwarts and uncovering its secrets? Yes please.
The game’s puzzles come in many different varieties. There’s the simpler ones you’ll find sprinkled around Hogwarts and the ground. Flying pages you just need to Accio to retrieve. Statues and the like that just need the right spell cast on them to solve. Then there’s more difficult ones. Arithmancy doors that you need to do actual math to open. Merlin trials spread throughout the grounds that have a variety of types and gift you increased inventory space. Finally, there’s dungeon puzzles, which is when the game really gets its Zelda clone on. That’s not even everything, as there’s also a variety of minigames, quizzes, and tons of other stuff that you have to use your head and not button mashing to solve. Not since Breath of the Wild have I played a game that I enjoyed walking through and uncovering its secrets as much as this one.
This is an action RPG though, so there is of course plenty of action. Whether exploring dungeons to discover the secrets of ancient magic or raiding camps of poachers, you’ll have to rely on your wand for protection. As you would expect, combat in Hogwarts Legacy is entirely magic based. Spells are split into five general categories. Purple control spells such as Flipendo and Depulso. Yellow utility spells such as Glacius. Red damage spells like Incendio and Diffendo. Then there’s the green Unforgivable Curses. Finally, there’s the white noncombat spells. Colors are important too, because a main combat mechanic is shield breaking. Magical enemies have the ability to conjure a shield, which can only be broken using a spell of the same color. So you need to pay attention during battle, in order to break enemy shields and keep combat flowing. Otherwise they’re untouchable and will murder you.
Spells aren’t just different flavors of DPS either, but have different effects that affect the battlefield. Purple and yellow spells don’t even do direct damage. What they do is move and juggle enemies, allowing you to chain together strings of devastating combos. Your basic cast and red spells are where your damage really comes from. I consider red Expelliarmus to be an honorary yellow spell, just because its disarming capability is more utility than damage. Although, using it does open enemies up to devastating counterattacks. Overall, it’s a surprisingly deep system with tons to learn, and I’ve already seen extremely impressive combos other players have pulled off online. That’s not even it either, as there’s a variety of potions and plants you can create to aid you in battle. Which brings us to the Room of Requirement.
When the game was first announced, there was a lot of people hoping it was a life sim. Something like Persona 5. Which I’m sure I would play and enjoy, but that’s overall not a genre I’m too enamored with. Still, when the developers made it clear early on that Hogwarts Legacy was a traditional action adventure game, they did say it had some sim elements. I assume what they meant was the Room of Requirement. You gain access to the room a fair bit into the game, but once you do, it opens up so much. It’s a fully customizable space where you can grow plants, brew potions, and take care of and raise magical beasts. It’s basically a farming sim hidden inside the game.
It’s not a small side feature either. The level of customization is genuinely impressive. Everything from the ceiling to the level of lighting to set the mood. There’s over ten types of beasts to discover, and you can even breed and name them. There’s also plenty of plant seeds and potion recipes to learn and grow/brew. You’ll find a bunch of furniture too, both cosmetic and functional. Plants and potions take in-game time to grow and brew, so it’s important to have a bunch of planters and cauldrons to increase your output. I found the timers to be perfect, long enough to matter, but not annoying long to invalidate their existence. Overall, I got way more invested in the Room than I have in any actual farming sim. It took me a lot of time, and even more Galleons, but I turned my Room into an industry machine.
When it came to performance and graphics, I was overall impressed. One of my chief worries was that the game would launch a broken mess. Avalanche Software isn’t a new developer, but this game is on a new level for them. And I feel that, overall, they pulled it off. The open-world is seamless, but occasionally the game would have an in-game loading marker at a door. Likewise, performance was almost always solid, but I did have a few stutters. It righted itself immediately after though, so again nothing much. At least in the PS5’s Performance mode, as I found Fidelity Mode much too unstable FPS-wise to use. But the game looked great to me in Performance anyway, so I didn’t find it to be an issue. There were a few graphical glitches, especially when it came to robes, but I didn’t run into any bugs.
Hogwarts Legacy impressed me, and not just as a lifelong fan. I especially loved its dedication to exploration and puzzle solving, two things modern RPGs are finding less and less time for. I think it’s possibly the best RPG for newcomers to the genre and people who don’t otherwise play RPGs. Unlike most RPGs, setting the difficulty to Story doesn’t invalidate everything. With Hogwarts Legacy, there’s still plenty of game to explore and puzzles to solve. You can still have a fun fulfilling gameplay experience, without complicated combat getting in the way. And given how wide the Harry Potter fanbase is, it’s exactly how it should be done. What impresses me most about Hogwarts Legacy, though, is how much passion and effort was put into the game. It’s clearly a labor of love, with so much work put into the small things. That’s what makes a game truly great.
The beautifully imagined and immersively designed world is more then worth the price of some visual glitches and occasional performance hiccups.
The world is a true joy to explore, puzzles are plentiful and fun, if on the easy side, and combat starts off simple, but quickly becomes fast and frantic.
The music stands on the shoulders of giants, delivering a new take on classic Potter themes, while I found the VA competent and pleasant.
While the dark and extremely combat heavy ending was a bit off-putting, overall Hogwarts Legacy was as magical and enchanting as I dared hope it could be.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Hogwarts Legacy is available now on PS5, Xbox Series S|X, PC, releases on April 4 for Xbox One and PS4, and July 25th for Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PS5.