Licensed games have a long, troubled history. Through the years they have generally ranged from average, budget titles, to cash-grab atrocities with but a few memorable titles among the lot. Fortunately that’s improved in more recent times, but with a license as large as Harry Potter and a development studio (Avalanche Software) who’s largest accomplishment is the canceled Disney Infinity, many questioned how Hogwarts Legacy would turn out. Add to that a number of significant delays and it’s fair to say that I didn’t have a lot of confidence initially.
But, as it neared closer to release and more of the game was shown, there were glimpses of light. With each subsequent showing, it looked more and more promising until we began to ask “Could they truly pull this off?” Well, some magic was certainly worked along the way, because the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
The First Day of School
Hogwarts Legacy begins with you creating your student in preparation for attending Hogwarts. The options here are vast, and I enjoyed creating “Ainsley Bowden” as a student (let’s face it, my name already makes it sound as though I attend Hogwarts). After an excellent introductory sequence that sets up the core plot, it’s off to Hogwarts just in time to be sorted into one of the four houses.
Perhaps one of the most wondrous accomplishments of Hogwarts Legacy is that it fully realizes all four houses. By this I mean, specifically, each house has their own introduction, living quarters, and unique missions. Even loot you find throughout the game will be aligned to your house, allowing you to put your allegiance on full display. For fans of the IP who grew up dreaming about attending Hogwarts, it’s a fantastic achievement that allows players to fully invest themselves. And, of course, it adds replayability as well.
The gameplay loop of Hogwarts Legacy is a mix of attending classes, interacting with your teachers and classmates, and slowly uncovering the mysteries surrounding Hogwarts and the local area. Playing a video game where you attend class doesn’t sound particularly exciting, I realize, but it’s surprisingly engaging while also being presented with a notable level of charm.
Your interactions with professors and students are captured extremely well. The voice-acting is generally superb, complimenting your Hogwarts’ experience as a student. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll develop friendships, which will lead to extended, multiple-mission stories with several characters. These are engaging, and they surprised me with their breadth that ranged from sneaking around Hogwarts at night to rescuing dragons, discovering long-lost secrets, and more.
Hogwarts, itself, is a delight. It’s an absolute joy to tour the hallways, and Legacy’s systems are designed in a way that encourages and rewards exploration. While I didn’t grow up a fan of the Harry Potter IP nor have a strong affinity for specific details, it’s rather remarkable how Avalanche managed to make Hogwarts feel like a real place you’re visiting. Describing it as magical may sound cliche, and it probably is, but it’s also true. It’s filled with personality and wonder, and I never tired of strolling through its halls. And just when you think you’ve discovered all of it, you find something new and interesting.
A Wondrous World
Beyond the Hogwarts school, what surprised me the most is how vast the world of Hogwarts Legacy is. The open-world is no mere add-on simply meant to accompany the school, but rather a fully fleshed-out AAA experience. You’ll uncover secrets, hamlets filled with people and side quests, and iconic locations such as Hogsmeade and the Forbidden Forest.
While some of the activities can certainly feel formulaic after a few hours, you can levy that same complaint at nearly every open-world RPG ever developed. In the end, it’s always a joy to explore, and I was continually surprised by its depth and beauty as I flew around on my broom or my hippogriff!
The core plot of Hogwarts Legacy, meanwhile, isn’t exactly memorable. While I appreciate the flashbacks to the early days of Hogwarts, and a few moments here and there are spectacular, it’s relatively predictable otherwise. While I would have loved to be more invested into the main story, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience too greatly. The other aspects of Hogwarts Legacy are so enjoyable that it will still have you logging on everyday to continue your journey.
Perhaps most impressive is Avalanche’s ability to continue to introduce new abilities, features, and functions to the player well into the game, with each feeling meaningful. Often times in large open-world RPGs there will be a number of mechanics that feel tacked-on or unnecessary. I simply don’t get that feeling from Hogwarts Legacy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. With each new layer, I felt more invested into developing my student and discovering more of the world.
As you learn new spells and abilities, you’ll develop new ways of interacting with the world around you and combating enemies. Exploration is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of side activities to keep you busy while providing you with new loot, unlocks, and challenges to complete. With regard to combat, it’s clear the game was designed with accessibility in mind as you’ll feel like a full-fledged wizard near immediately. I feel this was the right move as, though it can feel repetitive at times, it’s always fun, and pulling off a perfect counter is always satisfying.
My main complaint is the lack of variety in enemy encounters. You’ll become very familiar with spiders, goblins, and evil wizards, and their attack patterns are repeated through the entirety of the game. Mixing up your spells helps some, but variety is certainly an area I hope Avalanche focuses on for any future content that may come down the line.
As with any large-scale RPG that incorporates a wide-range of things for the player to manage, the UI is critical. Maybe I’ve been playing and critiquing games for too many years, but one of the most pleasant surprises of Hogwarts Legacy to me is the menu and UX design. Managing your loot, quests, and collectibles is simple and intuitive, and Avalanche even managed to implement a number of niceties I didn’t expect.
For instance, you will eventually acquire hundreds of items of clothing, and what may give you the best stats and abilities may not always match how you want your student to look. Fortunately, Legacy contains a full transmogrification system at launch, thus allowing you to keep your stats at their peak while proudly dressing as the wizard or witch you’ve always wanted to be. Navigation is aided by easy to follow questlines and waypoints, the map separates out icons that are near each other for easy identification, and there are a wide range of accessibility options. Even after you unlock a large number of spells, switching between them is fast, easy, and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the game.
Accompanying your travels is a soundtrack that further endears the player to the setting. As I’ve described, Hogwarts Legacy is filled with charm, and the light-hearted, whimsical nature of the soundtrack matches it superbly. Whether you’re exploring Hogwarts, sneaking around at night in the Forbidden Forest, or visiting Hogsmeade, it perfectly sets the mood. Alongside the random chatter you’ll often hear roaming the halls and the liveliness of everything around you, Hogwarts Legacy cements the feeling of being in the world it’s representing better than nearly any licensed game in recent memory.
Presenting a game of this scale across several platforms has proved a challenge for even the biggest of developers, so it should be no surprise that there are a few hiccups. Playing on the PS5, you are presented with the typical Quality and Performance modes, but neither is ideal. If you’re used to playing games at 60fps or more, Quality mode can feel like a slideshow at times. Meanwhile, the Performance mode is very smooth but drags the texture resolution down noticeably. If you’re using HDMI 2.1 and VRR, fortunately you gain an additional few options, including a “Balanced” mode which I found works best. Though, it still suffers from frame drops here and there.
There are certainly times where you can tell it’s a cross-gen game that was in development for a long period, as well. At times it can be absolutely beautiful, while at others it can look rather drab and indistinct. It’s not something that soured my experience, but it’s certainly worth calling out.
Hogwarts Legacy is one of the best surprises I’ve experienced in some time. Despite being a muggle through and through, it fully engrossed me in its world and filled me with a child-like charm that I haven’t felt from any other recently released game. Over the course of my near 40 hours, I was always excited to discover something new, and, even now, there’s plenty more to see and do. While it may not reach the heights of some of the all-time greats, it doesn’t have to. It took a beloved IP and, for the first time in its history, fulfilled the promise of allowing players to engross themselves in it completely.
Now excuse me as I have date with a Centaur. Evanesco!
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I felt the need to mention the PlayStation exclusive quest “Minding Your Own Business.” This is an additional side quest only available on the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game. It’s very unique when contrasted to other quests in Hogwarts Legacy and is not only a lot of fun to play, but ends with you owning your own shop in Hogsmeade (where you can sell things for 10% more). Honestly, it was one of my favorite quests in the entire game. In the end, I truly dislike platform-exclusive content. But it’s sadly a reality of the industry.
I’m playing the game right now and, even though I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I’m enjoying it a lot. Great read!
Thank you! And glad to hear it.