Hogwarts Legacy Review – Mischief Managed
Hogwarts Legacy is a massive release, and one that has been high on many “most anticipated” lists for years, but the context surrounding its launch has been troubling, to say the least. Owing to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s transphobic views and rhetoric – which she has continually broadcast, including right up to this game’s release – as well as her transphobic actions, both she and anything related to Harry Potter have been a topic of massive controversy, in light of which many have been forced to consider how or if they want to engage with art that is so intrinsically tied to her.
WB Games and developer Avalanche Software have, on their part, tried to distance themselves from Rowling’s problematic views, confirming that she has had no involvement in the game’s development, while it seems they’ve also attempted to make their own stance clear with the inclusion of a trans character in the game, and a character creator that’s decidedly trans-friendly. Ultimately, in light of all of this, everybody will have to make their own decision on whether or not to play the game. If you do choose to play it, however, you’ll find it to be a dense, well-made open world RPG, and one that serves as an impressive adaptation of the Wizarding World universe.
“Everybody will have to make their own decision on whether or not to play the game, but if you do choose to play it, however, you’ll find it to be a dense, well-made open world RPG, and one that serves as an impressive adaptation of the Wizarding World universe.”
In fact, unsurprisingly, it’s the Harry Potter veneer that elevates Hogwarts Legacy above all else. At its core, it’s a fairly standard modern RPG- it’s an open world game that’s brimming with side quests and optional activities, loot mechanics and a cursory progression system, dialogue choices and more. The elements it has in place are ones that we’ve seen in countless western-developed RPGs since The Witcher 3 re-revolutionized the genre in 2015, which means the underlying systems and mechanics in place here are far from original. But Hogwarts Legacy frequently uses and contextualizes them in wonderful ways, using the Harry Potter property to great effect. An open world Hogwarts game has been a dream for millions for years, and though Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t check every single box on the wishlist, it does check the overwhelming majority of them.
The star of the show is, as you may have expected, Hogwarts Castle itself. Every nook and cranny of the famous school of witchcraft and wizardry is crammed full of obsessive details and neat little touches and flourishes, making it come alive in ways that surpass all expectations. Iconic locations are lovingly recreated, from the Great Hall to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, from the Room of Requirement to the Groundskeeper’s hut, and there’s something magical to see around every corner. A number of moving paintings of musicians together play a bouncy melody that can be heard only in one corridor, Peeves the Poltergeist annoys and harasses students as he floats through the walls, students on brooms fly over bridges as you walk over them, house elves apparate and disapparate as they go about their work in the background.
It’s no surprise, in fact, that the open world loses some of its charm when you’re not in the confines of the castle itself. Hogwarts Legacy is a massive game, with a map that extends far beyond the boundaries of the titular school, and while the areas outside of Hogwarts are still well-designed in their own right, they don’t boast the sort of intricacy and staggering level of detail that Hogwarts itself does. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of fun to be had in the dimly lit and eerie Forbidden Forest, or the charming and whimsical Hogsmeade Village, or the many, many other locations that comprise the game’s world- but they do sort of pale in comparison to the incredible atmosphere and obsessive attention to detail that you see in Hogwarts itself.
“The star of the show is, as you may have expected, Hogwarts Castle itself. Every nook and cranny of the famous school of witchcraft and wizardry is crammed full of obsessive details and neat little touches and flourishes, making it come alive in ways that surpass all expectations.”
Even so, exploring the game’s world, whether you’re in the castle or not, remains deeply engaging and consistently enjoyable throughout the experience. The world is crammed full of fun little puzzles, engaging micro-interactions, collectibles, and more, each of these activities keeping you occupied for anywhere between a handful of seconds to a couple of minutes, and ensuring that you never go too long without spotting something interesting to do or engage with. Collectibles known as Field Guide pages are scattered everywhere, and can be gained by using a range of spells in a number of different ways, injecting incredible variety to a game-wide side activity and eliminating a lot of the mundanity and repetition that usually comes with collectible hunts. Then you have secret doors and passageways to find, locked treasure chests to open, several kinds of different puzzles to solve, and so much more. Hogwarts Legacy takes the underlying ideas behind the Koroks in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and takes that idea to its absolute limits, pumping it full of variety and creativity, so that even though you’re effectively still only going about the open world hunting for collectibles through a series of micro-puzzles, it never feels like you’re doing the same activity enough times for it to start getting on your nerves.
But while Hogwarts Legacy does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re in the famous magical school and have the complete freedom to explore it to your heart’s content, it fails to properly immerse you in the life of a Hogwarts student. Characters are forgettable and bland, and you hardly ever feel like there’s any sort of meaningful relationships or bonds being formed between any students. The rivalries and friendships that you’d expect to see in a school setting like this one are almost entirely missing, and the fact that things such as the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup are nowhere to be found in the game make the Houses feel like little more than set dressing. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much schoolwork to engage with either- while you do attend classes every now and then as part of the main story and some side quests, they never really feel like actual classes. The student life is obviously an integral part of the Hogwarts fantasy, so it’s certainly a little disappointing that that aspect is roundly ignored in the game.
The main story itself isn’t anything to write home about either. You play as a new student who’s enrolling in Hogwarts as a fifth-year, and though that’s overwhelming enough as it is, there’s plenty else going on in the Wizarding world as well. A revolutionary goblin known as Ranrok is in the process of igniting a violent rebellion against all of wizardkind, while you yourself, it turns out, are uniquely attuned to a lost and mysterious form of ancient magic that is tied to Ranrok’s own ambitions. It’s an interesting setup, but the game doesn’t do an awful lot with it. Hogwarts Legacy tells a serviceable story that does enough to keep things ticking along, but the most that can be said about it is that it’s overwhelmingly ordinary. The aforementioned lack of any truly interesting characters obviously doesn’t help with that either.
“Hogwarts Legacy tells a serviceable story that does enough to keep things ticking along, but the most that can be said about it is that it’s overwhelmingly ordinary. The lack of any truly interesting characters obviously doesn’t help with that either.”
When it comes to the combat, however, Hogwarts Legacy is an absolute win. The game’s quest design is fairly standard, and it often fails to go all-in with its choice and consequence mechanics, and yet, even so, it manages to retain your interest while you’re doing quests on a consistent basis- and the combat is vastly responsible for that. It starts out fairly simple, giving you a basic attacking spell and the ability to block incoming attacks, but the deeper you get into the game, the progressively more complex and dynamic the combat system gets. You’re constantly picking up and learning new spells and abilities, and when the combat is in full flow and you’re having to juggle different spells, blocks, dodges, and potions together, things feel excellent. Spell combos in particular are incredibly gratifying to use, and you’re constantly encouraged to use different spells in conjunction with each other in differentand creative ways. Make an enemy levitate, pull them toward you with Accio, set them on fire with Incendio, push them away with Depulso, and then juggle them in the air with a barrage of basic attacks. It’s a ton of fun, and it keeps getting more complex as you learn more new spells and get more abilities.
Other gameplay systems surrounding the combat aren’t quite as successful. Stealth, for instance, is cursory at best and fairly bog-standard in its implementation, while the game also obviously has some progression systems to engage with throughout its runtime. That comes in two forms- there’s a loot system, which is quite superficial in its implementation and doesn’t offer much by way of build variety, but deserves quite a lot of credit for its excellent transmog options. Then there’s the Talent system, which is effectively Hogwarts Legacy’s skill tree, and, like a fair few other things in the game, is an ordinary RPG system that’s wearing a Harry Potter skin. As an RPG, the game isn’t vastly impressive- but it’s adequately effective in what it sets out to do.
On a technical level, Hogwarts Legacy is kind of an inconsistent game. There’s absolutely no denying that, for the most part, it looks gorgeous. No, it’s not a technical showcase that will squeeze all the juice out of the hardware it’s running on, but it’s a pretty game, and one that has the technical strengths to back up its ambitious art design ideas. As you’d expect from a game of this size and scope, though, it does stumble in a few areas, which manifests in ways that are quite common to see in modern open world RPGs. There are visual glitches, occasional issues with loading, wonky facial animations during cutscenes, instances of texture pop-in, objects occasionally clipping through each other, and other similar issues. None of it has been game-breaking in all the time I’ve spent with Hogwarts Legacy so far, but all of these issues come together to make the experience feel like it’s somewhat lacking in polish.
“Combat starts out fairly simple, giving you a basic attacking spell and the ability to block incoming attacks, but the deeper you get into the game, the progressively more complex and dynamic the combat system gets. You’re constantly picking up and learning new spells and abilities, and when the combat is in full flow and you’re having to juggle different spells, blocks, dodges, and potions together, things feel excellent.”
Hogwarts Legacy obviously does not exist in a vacuum, and as much as many might want to, it cannot be separated from the context surrounding its release. But while there’s no right answer when it comes to how you should choose to engage with something that is so intrinsically tied to J.K. Rowling – every person will have to make that decision for themselves – the game itself has a lot to offer, the majority of which is impressive in its execution. Though not without design and story issues of its own, Hogwarts Legacy ultimately comes across as a densely packed and well-made RPG that fans of the Harry Potter universe will find incredibly easy to enjoy.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
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