Hogwarts Legacy Review – Worthy of the House Cup? – WGB, Home of AWESOME Reviews
Like many people, my connection to Harry Potter began with the books. Born in 1991, I was only 6 when the first book was released but I still had a copy. It’d be a few years until I began to even vaguely understand most of it, but I was a precocious little bastard who loved to read ahead of my years despite it all going over my head. Anyway, over the years I read the books like crazy, and then I got into the movies on Christmas eve when my parents gave me a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone on VHS because they thought it would be nice to relax on Christmas Eve with a movie. I’m telling you this so you understand that I’m most certainly coming into this review with a least a little bit of bias toward the franchise. Both the books and movies are ingrained in my childhood and even my adult life. While I wouldn’t consider myself a fanboy, I still re-read the books and re-watch the movies every few years. Hogwarts Legacy, then, was an exciting prospect from the very start. While we’ve had good Harry Potter games over the years, the best modern titles have come from the LEGO franchise. It’s baffling because the world J.K. Rowling conjured up seems to be perfect fodder for games. And finally, like magic, it seems that Avalanche has got it right: Hogwarts Legacy is pretty damn good.
Choosing to set Hogwarts Legacy several hundred years before Harry Potter became The Boy Who Lived was a smart choice, giving them plenty of breathing room to summon their own story. That isn’t to say there are not plenty of nods to the books and movies, both in plain sight and hidden away. There are a couple of Weasley family members running around the castle, for instance, some last names that are very familiar and heaps of other references to the lore. This distance ensures that people who have never engaged with Harry Potter can still follow and understand the story, though there’s no doubt that fans are the ones who are going to get the most out of the narrative.
You’ll be playing as a mysterious witch or wizard, completely customisable using a pretty good character creation suite. Unlike a regular student, you’re heading to Hogwarts as a 5th year, skipping the prior four years and thus needing some extra education to get up to speed, but never fear because you’re a prodigious talent that also happens to have a special talent to see an ancient and strange form of magic, as well as wield it. This places you and your mentor, Professor Fig, directly in the middle of the brewing storm that is Ranrok, a Goblin with a deep hatred of Wizardkind who seems to be seeking this ancient power. So, to thwart him and solve the mystery you’re going to need the help of some of Hogwarts’ previous professors.
I think the writers really made an error by not focusing more on some of the themes. The books hinted toward problems between Wizardkind and many of the other magical creatures in the worlds, such as the Goblins, and mentioned rebellions in the past. Hogwarts Legacy touches on this slightly, having Ranrok’s chief motivation being his hatred of humanity. Aside from that, you’ll meet a few other Goblins and help a couple of them out, helping them regain a little trust, but the game refuses to ever delve deeply into a schism between the races, the causes of it or even if the divide can ever truly be mended.
Even the ancient magic you’re chasing isn’t explored. Where did it come from? Why was it forgotten? And how is it any different from the regular magic you use? Wielding it in combat lets you summon a lighting bolt or toss someone around, but the typical magic of the Harry Potter universe can do those things, too. Later, the game attempts to introduce a dangerous use for the ancient magic, but it never quite feels like it’s making the wielder any more dangerous than a typical user of dark magic.
The Harry Potter books were never really about their narrative, a fairly basic tale of an evil bastard doing evil bastard stuff and a Chosen One who will stop him. No, it was the characters that shone through and drove the series forward. Harry, Ron and Hermione had clearly defined personalities, they were likeable and they had believable flaws and fallacies. I hoped Hogwarts Legacy could capture even a sliver of the magic that Rowling did, and I’m sad to say it failed on both story and characters. It’s not terrible or even bad, it’s just a forgettable tale filled with one-note characters who I couldn’t connect with. The only exception was Sebastian Sallow, a Slytherin chap who ends up delving in dark magic in order to save his sister Anne, who was cursed by Goblins, leaving her to suffer random bouts of intense pain. His quest line leads to genuinely good moments that bring up questions about how far someone is willing to go to save a loved one and is easily the best storyline of the entire game.
Hogwarts school is an extraordinary piece of design, a sprawling castle full of stairs, corridors, towers and rooms to explore. There’s a lot of influence taken directly from the movies, a perfectly understandable choice since that’s what most fans are probably familiar with. Still, Avalanche has clearly put a lot of effort into adding its own touch to the school. But what’s truly impressive is how detailed it is, from the thousands of moving portraits to the suits of armour and artefacts adorning walls. Almost all of it feels unique, too, with very few repeated assets outside of smaller stuff like cups and plates. It makes exploring the hallowed halls a rewarding experience, and despite the convoluted layout of the castle, the unique décor of every area means you quickly build a mental map of how to get around. It’s a staggering recreation of a location so many people have dreamt of exploring. The only hiccup is that when you go through some doors a spinning loading icon will stop you for a few seconds while everything is loaded in. There’s no way to tell it’s going to happen, either, until you walk headfirst into a door.
Theirs an incredibly comfy, warm vibe to Hogwarts Legacy. I think it comes from the characters who almost all universally speak in a stereotypically British way, oozing politeness that strays close to becoming offensive in its pleasantness. Even the ruder characters you encounter are little more than passive-aggressive. The various professors seem invested and caring, and the students are attentive and willing to chat. It’s fun to amble through the corridors and listen to their nonsense or witness some weirdness, like a student freaking out because he’s suspended in mid-air and can’t get back down It’s just a nice place to hang out. I’d happily go to school there, provided they manage to keep the giant bloody spiders in check.
That inviting warmth even extends to how the world handles your use of Dark Magic, by which I mean it politely ignores all your attempts to be a giant dick. In dialogue you can choose between being so polite it practically goes out the other way and becomes verbal assault, or just being normal polite. You can unlock doors and amble into people’s houses, which they will ignore because it would be rude to say anything. And you can even learn the three Unforgivable Curses, including being able to control people and a literal torture spell, and then proceed to use them as much as you like on innocent people. Surely that would be an issue, right? Nah. It’s all good. To be honest, for a couple of hours there I became a bigger problem for the Wizarding world than Voldemort ever was. I mean, all he did was try to kill a teenager (and fail) and take over a school. Which he also failed to do. And my body count throughout the game is certainly higher than He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. At least, I think it is. Quite a few of the spells and abilities are brutal and my character referenced the blood of my enemies being on Ranrock’s hands several times, so I assume I left a trail of corpses in my wake. Jesus Christ, what is this game?
Outside of the castle, however, Hogwarts Legacy becomes a much more standard open-world. Avalanche has included plenty of the surrounding landscape that was only ever hinted at in the books and movies, peppering it with various small hamlets to visit, side-quests to undertake and puzzles to complete. It takes a little while but eventually you get a broom to travel around on, making exploring the large world far easier. But whereas every inch of the castle feels worth poking around in, most of the world is just…terrain. There isn’t a huge amount to find that isn’t already marked on the map, so deeper exploration isn’t worth it in most cases.
And most of your time isn’t actually spent in the castle, which is surprising because of the incredible amount of work that has been put into it. I went into Hogwarts Legacy partially expecting a school simulator akin to Bully where I would attend lessons, complete homework and live the life of a student. That’s not what happens, though: you can actually amble off into the countryside for days and days while life at the school presumably carries on. The only time to return is for missions or to learn a new spell before you go roving around the countryside again. It’s baffling that the teachers seem so content with my work considering I was never there.
A lot of time is going to be spent battling dark wizards, goblins and the occasional troll with an attitude problem. A quick tap of the right trigger performs what the game refers to as a Basic Cast, which you can combo together in a succession of spells. By pulling and holding the trigger and then hitting one of the face buttons you can cast a properly named spell like Confringo, Bombarda or Leviosa. These are all on timers, so you can’t abuse Depulso to hurl foes backwards or Descendo to slam a leaping Goblin into the ground. For defence, a coloured warning will appear over your head, indicating a need to cast Protego which summons up a quick shield, while holding down the button fires a stunning spell back at the aggressor. A red flash means a dodge is in order if you’d like to keep your head attached.
There’s an interesting fighting game element in the way you can juggle enemies in the air using a few different spells. A handy duelling club side-quest gives you a primer on how to do it, using stuff like a summoning spell to keep foes in the air where you can batter them with basic cast combos before casing another spell to keep them suspended. It really does add a fun layer to the combat, while enemy shields that need to be broken by using the right spell colour keep you on your toes.
Although you can button-mash through combat, there is some extra depth. Casting the right spell at the right time can result in knocking an opponent out in a single shot or dealing big damage. For example, when a troll slams his club down, a quick Flippendo will flip the club upwards and into the beast’s face. Figuring these little tricks out is very satisfying.
Swapping between spells is a bit cumbersome, though. There’s a total of 34 spells in the game with 26 of those being equippable, and the maximum you can have equipped is 16. Basically, what you have to do is swap between sets of four spells by holding down the right trigger and then tapping a direction on the D-pad. You could, of course, go through fights using just four spells at a time, but it feels wasteful, so there’s some brain training involved in trying to quickly swap through sets and remember where you’ve assigned everything to. But outside of combat, the swapping can be a problem too, just because you wind up needing the one spell you don’t have assigned anywhere. It’s not a huge issue and I think Avalanche did the best they could do have plenty of spells in the game and find a way to let players use them all.
In the end, I found throwing spells in battle was actually a lot of fun, especially when I changed the targeting system to the camera-based option, making it much easier to choose where my magic was going. Arguably, the health bars are a bit excessive on enemies which can make the bigger battles with a dozen foes drag on, but the mechanics feel great and fun to use. Even after a few dozen hours, I was still enjoying the fights,
I’m not entirely sure why every game feels the burning need to have a gear system these days, and yet here we are in Hogwarts Legacy with a myriad of different robes, hats, glasses, masks and gloves to find, all of them boosting your attack or defence, or providing a bonus trait of some sort. Clothing can be upgraded, too, by using a magical loom and materials gathered from magical animals, and I appreciate the fact that the developers bothered to provide an in-universe explanation. I also appreciate the transmog system that lets you change the appearance of any piece of gear to resemble any other loot you’ve owned. For people like myself, it’s a great option for roleplaying since equipping new gear can make you look like a mismatched psychopath that was covered in glue and dragged backwards through a charity shop. The downside to this is that there’s really no reason to ever equip anything but the stuff with the highest stats. That’s especially true because if you don’t keep up with the stat race the enemies will become harder and harder to defeat without the best robes and hat equipped. Maybe I’ll be in the minority, but the loot system feels pointless.
The gear system feels like something a lot of open-world games do, which is pad themselves out with heaps and heaps of content. There are quite a few layers of extra padding on Hogwarts Legacy that don’t feel completely needed but will likely please at least some players. The Room of Requirement is not only a place you can find in Hogwarts but it’s somewhere you can hang out and customise via summoning spells. You can even grow plants there to brew potions in case you don’t want to buy them, and you capture magical beasts and keep them in the room. By feeding and looking after the animals you can collect their feathers, fur etc. and use those to upgrade your gear.
Another layer of padding is the sheer amount of collectables and puzzles to solve. A prime example are the numerous Merlin Trials, basic little puzzles that increase the amount of gear you can carry as a reward for completing them. There are a lot of them, and you’ll want to do at least some of them because the basic 20 inventory spaces will fill up very, very quickly, forcing you to stop and destroy loot constantly.
The performance for the PS5 version of the game was really solid. There are a couple of choices for the visuals, with the fidelity mode aiming for 30fps and all the bells and whistles, balanced mode that aims for 40fps with a few of the bells and a raw performance mode that shoots for 60fps. That’s the mode I opted for and the game was generally quite stable.
For people like myself who already know the wizarding world of Harry Potter, who have devoured the books and scoured the films, Hogwarts Legacy is close to being a full five-star game. Just being able to stroll through the halls of Hogwarts, admiring the moving paintings and the obscene amounts of detail that Avalanche have put into it, is probably worth the price of entry alone. The fact that you’re getting a really good open-world game on top of it with fun combat is just the icing on the conjured cake. Sadly, though, I don’t think Hogwarts Legacy delivers on its story premise.
For non-fans, it’s harder to judge. It’s especially hard for me to step out of my own love for Harry Potter and the massive influences it had on young me. I think there’s still a lot of merit to Hogwarts Legacy in its combat and fascinating world, but without a working knowledge of the Harry Potter universe, it’s undeniable that you won’t get anywhere near as much out of it as a fan would. By the time you’ve hit the credits, though, you might want to make the jump into the pages and movies of the Boy Who Lived
To me, Hogwarts Legacy was a magical time where for a brief while I got to feel like I was in the world, exploring the castle, casting spells and hoping that the fact that I hadn’t actually attended a class in weeks wasn’t going to lose Gryffindor the House Cup.