An open-world action RPG set in the world of Harry Potter and the broader Wizarding World franchise has been in high demand of fans for years. Since the last title released in 2012 the fantastical world of witchcraft and wizardry has remained unexplored in video games until now.
Taking place in the 1890’s, over one hundred years before Harry first picked up a wand, Hogwarts Legacy casts the player in the role of an unnamed student commencing their studies in their fifth year. The adventure that unfolds is rife with exploration, well developed supporting characters, an interesting narrative and exciting spellcasting combat. Mastering new spells inside and outside of the classroom, forging friendships and the freedom to explore the Hogwarts castle itself and iconic locations such as Hogsmeade and the Forbidden Forest allow players to leave a legacy of their own design.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I want to preface my review by saying I do not share, nor support, the views of JK Rowling. Her opinions are undoubtedly harmful, hurtful and unacceptable. My decision to purchase, play and share my thoughts of Hogwarts Legacy don’t come from a place of similar views.
Story “Live the Unwritten”
As soon as the game begins the player is tasked with creating their witch or wizard from an impressive suite of customisation options before launching the player into the prologue which wastes little time in introducing them to their role and forging a bond with Professor Fig who goes on to guide the player throughout the fifteen hour plus adventure. Upon learning of a pending Goblin uprising, the pair must unravel the sinister plot around the scholastic schedule of the player, balancing student responsibilities such as classes and assignments while also undertaking excursions into the broader Overland region that surrounds the castle.
Fellow students, professors, characters and creatures from all walks of life are interwoven throughout the story that inform not only the narrative but the gameplay elements that are discovered upon the way. What the player learns from them and the tools at their disposal can be put to use to carve a direct line through the story or to take in the wonders of the world around them and complete optional side quests and extra curricular assignments outside of the main quest path.
My full playthrough of the prologue can be found below.
Developer Avalanche Studios have crafted a satisfyingly cinematic story full of twists and turns and populated it with interesting characters and ideas. Diving into the past and experiences of key supporting characters, including the main antagonists – the Goblin Ranrok and dark wizard Victor Rockwood, explores and reveals each of their motivations and intentions in the looming power struggle. By the time the dust settles on the finale it ultimately feels as though the stakes were exaggerated and the big showdown to determine whether the might of the Goblins can overthrow the magic dwelling residents of Hogwarts fails to feel as epic or as high staked as the adventure suggested.
While the story might wrap up in underwhelming fashion the character development excels when it comes to the students, professors and other supporting characters. The personality injected into each of them in terms of depth and performance keeps them incredibly interesting and unique, with each character feeling authentic and full of unbridled purpose. What they say and do matters, whether it’s towards the story or their relationship with the player, the cast of characters that guide, help and educate them feel essential and would leave a genuine void were they not a part of it. I can’t recall the last time I personally experienced a video game that justified its entire supporting cast the way that Hogwarts Legacy has managed to accomplish.
Gameplay “Hitting the Books”
Since the player’s character is starting their Hogwarts journey five years later than the other students, a rare exception that has only been seen a handful of times in Hogwarts’ esteemed history, a Wizard’s Field Guide has been provided by the Ministry of Magic to assist in the player getting up to speed. Full of challenges to complete, information to store and plenty of rewards to unlocks, this Field Guide is also home to the player’s inventory, gear customisation suite and more.
Gear can be obtained by looting, as quest and challenge rewards or by purchasing from vendors located throughout the world. Players can equip handwear, facewear, headwear, neckwear, cloaks and robes and outfits. As with most RPGs gear comes in varying rarities that increases in strength depending on its grade and higher tier gear can have Traits crafted and slotted to provide additional passive perks such as increased spell damage or decreased damage taken from specific elements for example.
Offence is the primary stat attributed to gear that provides an increase to attack damage but Defence can also be increased on gear items via crafting too. A wide variety of styles are available and luckily Transmog is a feature, allowing players to select gear with better stats but if they are unhappy with its appearance they can change it to look like any gear they have previously discovered. There is no need to wear a wheat sack as a head piece and wear a trash bag for trousers in Hogwarts Legacy, players can dress for stats and alter their appearance so as not to big down the experience by having a depressingly mismatched attire.
Wand handles can be found and equipped, offering the only form of customisation for your wand outside of choosing which wand to start with early in the story. As mounts become available in the story, they too can have their appearances altered in the Gear menu too.
Talents are the equivalent of skill points that are obtained by reaching a certain point in the story and are awarded when reaching a new level of progression by gaining XP. These can be spent in five categories, each packed with options to enhance various aspects of combat, exploration and crafting.
Collections documents every new thing encountered, whether it’s a beast, an enemy type and collectibles, this is reserved mostly for completionists seeking to uncover absolutely everything that Hogwarts Legacy has to offer.
Challenges are an excellent way to unlock exciting new cosmetics and perks by completing various tasks X amount of times. These encourage exploration and contributed to a steady XP flow to help players level up, essential for progression in the story as unfortunately, main quests are gated by level requirements, meaning players can’t simply power through the story but are forced to explore and complete other activities in order to continue the story.
The map is also located in the Field Guide and allows players to switch between a map of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and the broader World map. All points of interest are visible, such as undiscovered side quests, fast travel points and activities. The number of fast travel points is very generous and since it shows the locations of ones not yet discovered it certainly makes open world traversal more accessible and clear in terms of where the player should go to trigger new fast travel points to ease the burden of backtracking. A very small portion of the map can be seen below.
Initially players must explore on foot and via fast travel points. With story progression players will be able to purchase a broomstick which can be used anywhere with the exception of a very few locations, a Hippogriff mount is also unlocked late in the game which can also be used as well as an additional secret mount which I won’t mention to avoid spoilers. These mounts are all very fun to play with and make traversal more enjoyable and unique. The broomstick can be upgraded with speed and acceleration boosts by completing a certain chain of side quests which is well worth doing.
Gameplay “Where the Magic Happens”
Classes are just a small part of the Hogwarts Legacy experience, more so as a means of introducing the professors and students that will go on to become key parts of your adventure. Herbology, Charms, Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts classes for example all teach the player some essential spells but also how to grow different types of plants for varying purposes, brew potions for temporary buffs or other effects, all of which can be done inside their respective classrooms or later in the game in the Room of Requirements.
This room becomes somewhat of a customisable hideout that players can decorate with art, construct potions stations and herbology tables for instance. Eventually beasts can be rescued from the wild and stored in a Vivarium and can be fed and groomed to provided unique materials required for crafting Traits for gear. It’s a great way to further personalise the experience by affording players the freedom to have their own little place to call home all while being extremely functional and beneficial to maximise the ways the room can be used.
Outside of classes, Assignments are a special type of side quests that are available where teachers lay out a handful of tasks to accomplish before teaching a new spell when they have done so. Most of these are completely optional and typically only enhance exploration and environmental puzzle solving but some are tied to story progression, which is a little odd as they are supposed to be optional. Regardless, the tasks are very simple to complete and don’t take more than a few minutes, I highly encourage players to get these done as they become available to make exploration more accessible early on.
Before getting into the excellent spellcasting gameplay I want to first share a piece of advice I wish I had known earlier in my time with the game. Sebastian Sallow is a Slytherin student with whom the player becomes acquainted with early on, progressing his side quest chain is the path to unlocking all three of the Unforgivable curses available. Crucio, Imperio and the killing curse known as Avada Kadavra are only obtainable by completing Sebastian’s quests. These are easily the most powerful spells in the game and are a lot of fun to experiment with, so for all those players wanting to fight dirty… you’re welcome.
The crux of Hogwarts Legacy, pun intended for fellow franchise fans, is the spellcasting gameplay. Once spells are learned they can be equipped to what is essentially a set of four hot keys, using Talent points and reaching certain levels allows players to assign four sets of spells that can be switched between with ease. Spells can be assigned at any moment, even when in combat, and understanding their use and strengths is essential to late game success in particular. Spells fall into seven categories and have a variety of functions from damage, freezing, levitation and other throwing for example, each having strengths and weaknesses against different types of enemies.
Executing spells is a simple as holding RT on Xbox (R2 on PlayStation) and pressing one of the four face buttons, switching between sets of spells if the ability to do so has been unlocked via Talent points. Attacking is simple and luckily so is defence, with a button prompt appearing on screen for when to defend or dashing out of harms way.
The combat is so simple on the surface as far as actually casting attacks but the depth of the combat is wonderfully developed, especially when it comes to combining spells for maximum damage or crowd control when dealing with multiple enemies at once. Enemy targeting is available but the game does an excellent job at auto-targeting any available enemy, making combat accessible for players of all skill levels with regards to combat. Experimenting with different combinations of spells and unlocking new ones along the way keeps the combat feeling satisfying and refreshing while introducing new enemy types and alternate combat tactics throughout.
Hogwarts itself is full of secret passages, chests to find and loot, students to help with side quests and countless collectibles and other secrets to discover. The fact there is a larger world outside of the castle that is just as packed with things to do, enemies to fight and puzzles to solve goes a significant way to maximise player retention and keep the world exciting and dense with opportunity. There are dozens of hours worth of side quests, exploration activities and collectibles to find to keep Hogwarts Legacy at the top of player playlists.
Presentation “Smoke and Mirrors”
Hogwarts has been brought to life with such meticulous detail and depth that is genuinely awe inspiring. The jaw dropping environmental art design is stellar and the variety of landscapes that players can explore each have a distinct look and feel to them that prevent visual repetition from setting in and dampening the wonder of exploration.
The way the castle itself has been animated to be so lively and fluid, especially considering the likes of the rotating staircase and magically appearing passages for example, it’s all so faithfully adapted from the books and films we’ve come to adore throughout our lives, and childhood even in my case.
When it comes to character models Hogwarts Legacy looks as though all attention has been giving to the supporting characters, with background characters lacking the detail of their narratively relevant associates. Even the players character looks out of place, due in part I suspect to the customisation aspects that mean we could look a million different ways. It’s a shame to see our character not quite fit in when surrounded by key characters but the general immersion does not suffer as the world is so beautifully realised and the smooth animations maintain the authenticity of the experience.
Sound design and the score is such an integral part of this experience and both have been so flawlessly implemented. Beautiful, magical melodies accompany moments of enchantment when necessary and dramatic, ominous overtures that preclude tense encounters and secretive happenings. Each spell has a satisfying kick to their execution in their sound design and it’s fun to pay attention and listen for them in combat when they are being cast against you, making them identifiable even if they are coming from an enemy out of your direct line of sight.
I did stumble across a few technical issues throughout my experience such as doors not opening when I approached them and having to wait for a loading icon to spin in front of me until it was ready, sound effects disappearing and only being fixed by closing the game and restarting it and few occasions of the voiceovers getting a tinny and echo-like sound that would come and go on its own. Aside from that, my journey as a fifth year was considerably smooth.
Verdict “Forging a Legacy”
The sheer scope and ambition of all that Hogwarts Legacy had to offer is genuinely breathtaking. Stunning visuals, excellent gameplay, meaningful exploration and incredible character development have all come together to deliver a unique and unforgettable showcase of the magic of video games.
Hogwarts Legacy is an enchanting triumph, offering an unparalleled experience of the wizarding world that has captured the imagination of Harry Potter fans for over two decades. Set over 100 years before the source material, the emotionally charged original story teeming with layered characters, satisfying magically infused combat and rewarding exploration, this is an adventure not to be missed.
+ Excellent spellcasting combat
+ Stunning audio-visual presentation
+ An open world full of fun activities
+ Depth of character development
+ Solid customisation
– Underwhelming conclusion to the story
– A few technical issues
Developed by: Avalanche Studios
Published by: Portkey Games | WB Games
Release Date: February 10 2023
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 and PC
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