Disclaimer: We received our copy of Hogwarts legacy just a few days before the review embargo. Since this is a big and long game, we’ve chosen to do an ongoing review, meaning these impressions will be updated with a final score once we’ve completed the game. However, about 30 hours have been invested in the game so far.
Hogwarts legacy is finally here and somehow manages to largely live up to the high expectations it has created over the years. While it’s not perfect, it’s exceptionally close to the Harry Potter game that many have longed for.
The year is 1890 and you are a rare fifth year student who is also brand new to the titular wizarding school. Since this is set in the world of Harry Potter and you’re the protagonist, don’t go to class alone and stuff your face in the Great Hall. Instead, you juggle your school life with a strange mystery surrounding ancient magic and some of the school’s long-forgotten students and professors. As if that wasn’t enough, a sinister goblin uprising is also taking place at the same time.
The story of Hogwarts legacy is just one of the many, many layers of this absurdly dense game. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a major open-world game that didn’t feel like it was just trying to be grand. Many open world games fall into the trap of creating an unfathomably large map and filling it with a bunch of mindless, busy work with no substance. Hogwarts legacyon the other hand, feels huge and justifies its scope and scale in a way that constantly reels you in. While not quite as advanced, it offers a sense of wonder that I haven’t felt in an open-world game since Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Hogwarts legacy encompasses much more than just the school and town of Hogsmeade, creating a sense of authenticity for this world that we’ve really only seen a small portion of in the movies. The Forbidden Forest, for example, feels as eerie and deadly as you’d hope with giant venomous spiders dangling from trees, centaurs stalking your every move, and spooky caverns to get lost in. At one point I was exploring the map and saw a cave I wanted to explore. As I got close to it, a boulder was hurled at me and a troll emerged from the darkness.
I considered fighting him, but he had a giant club and the power to hurl giant chunks of dirt at me, so I chose to back off. I ran away from him as he called boulders at me like mortar fire, but there was a cliff in front of me and I was running out of room. As soon as I got to the edge of the cliff, I called my broom and fled, managing to dodge another boulder. To make the situation even more intense, I buzzed my broom over the troll’s face and took to the air. It’s emergent moments like this one that help make Hogwarts Legacy open world fresh and exciting.
These brilliant little touches are in almost every corner and keep the energy of the game alive, especially in Hogwarts itself. While I was traveling to a class, a kid was with his friends as he opened a roar from his father, who then yelled in his face, embarrassing him. I’ve also seen kids run over walls, get levitated by other kids, ghosts wreak havoc, and much more. There’s never a dull moment at Hogwarts. Considering all the moving pieces in this castle, from real people to paintings with talking subjects, Avalanche Studios has managed to make it all feel truly authentic.
Some players may be a little disappointed to learn that this isn’t exactly the Harry Potter version of Bully or Persona. Although you have friends, there aren’t really any relationships to maintain and you don’t have a class schedule at Hogwarts. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside of school going on an epic quest, so it makes sense that the game doesn’t want to burden you by forcing you to be in class by 9am every day. Still, this intrudes into the Hogwarts fantasy many fans might have.
Instead, professors give you homework assignments that range from making and trying new potions to using certain spells in combat. They are all quite simple and in return for completing them the professors will usually teach you a new spell or offer you a new tool. Likewise, at least in my playtime, there aren’t many ways to be social at school. There are no romantic options, no ways to hang out with friends in Hogsmeade, or anything like that. There are some mini-games to enjoy, but they’re more or less a fun way to practice magic and nothing else. Nearly all of your interactions with other students boil down to helping them with favors, meaning very few people are really your friends and you’re more or less the person bending over to their will.
If you choose to do whatever quest someone offers you, you might also be a little surprised by how linear things feel. Since this is a large RPG with a custom character who gets to choose their own home at the start of the game, I was surprised by the lack of significant choices or branching paths. Nothing seems to have much of an impact on the story or the world, at least not in what I’ve played so far. There have been a few instances where a professor harshly spoke to me for disobeying, but they still patted you on the back and sent you away with no significant impact.
The world of Harry Potter already has this idea of rewards and consequences baked in with the point system at Hogwarts. Points can be given to and taken away from houses based on students’ actions, but that is not used as a mechanic Hogwarts legacy. The game has been confirmed to have multiple endings, so obviously there’s a way to make a unique impact, but it either comes very late or isn’t immediately apparent during gameplay.
If you’re not too bothered by the RPG elements being a bit lacking and are more interested in casting powerful spells and causing mayhem, Hogwarts legacy is a total blast. Players are given a basic spell that you can quickly fire as many times as you like, but they get to customize a set of 4 more powerful spells, many of which you’ve probably seen in the books and movies. You can lift, push or pull people away, set them on fire, freeze them and yes, even kill them.
When you play Hogwarts legacy by simply waving your wand and not thinking about it, it will probably get very old, very quickly. However, if you get strategic and creative, Hogwarts legacy opens up a new range of possibilities. For example, Incendio (a spell that sets people on fire) has a short attack range, so you need to get close to use it effectively. However, you can use Levioso to lift enemies into the air and then Accio to pull them right in front of you while they’re still in the air where they can be set on fire. If you’re feeling really crafty, you can even push their fiery body towards another enemy and spread the flames. Since you unlock countless spells as you progress, the gameplay continues to open itself up to more inventive action as you invest more time in Hogwarts legacy.
If you’re particularly efficient in combat, you’ll charge up a meter that will allow you to use “ancient magic,” which is essentially an absurdly overpowered attack. These ancient magical finishers let you shrink a giant spider down to a normal-sized spider to crush it with your foot, strike an enemy with lightning, and literally spray someone. It’s a bit demented for a game about kids waving wooden sticks.
Hogwarts legacy doesn’t really acknowledge how violent it can be, which causes some tone problems. One minute you’re having light-hearted fun in the potions class and the next you’re setting someone on fire before blowing them to dust. Despite how grim it is, it’s hard to deny that the combat is remarkably satisfying.
The only place where combat seems to falter is crowd control, especially if you’re in a smaller environment. You can aim freely as much as you like, but you’ll have better luck with the game’s lock-on system, which is still pretty clunky. Sometimes the lock-on won’t be tied to the right person because someone else is behind or in front of the person you want to attack and it could result in you casting the wrong spell on the wrong person, making that spell temporarily unavailable while the charges. This is especially a problem as some enemies may throw up a colored bubble to protect themselves from your attacks. The only way to knock these down is to use a spell that matches the color of their bubble. If you mess this up, you might be equally vulnerable to them. It’s not the worst system, but I found myself tripping over the lock-on semi-frequently.
Although it doesn’t do everything perfectly, Hogwarts legacy stimulates the imagination with a rich world to explore and gameplay that empowers and thrills the player. The Harry Potter movies had the difficult job of taking words on a page and creating a visual language for them. Hogwarts legacy had the even more difficult task of taking that visual language and making it interactive, eventually expanding it all into something that’s fun to play and immerse yourself in. Hogwarts legacy is already one of the best games of 2023.
Hogwarts legacy will be released on February 7 for Deluxe Edition owners and February 10 for all others on Xbox Series X|S, PS5 and PC. A PS5 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.
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