“Never Judge a Tome by its Cover, I Say…”
-- Sebastian Sallow
Putting aside all of the JK Rowling noise surrounding Hogwarts Legacy in the build-up to the game’s release, and sinking ourselves into it solely as a game created by a diverse team of people with a clear love for the Wizarding World Universe, we’re proud to share that Hogwarts Legacy is a fantastic beast of a game.
Without trying to sound too droll or cheesy, it’s a charming experience full of tease and wonder; tapping into those verbs (and more) from all of the books and films and other forms of media people from all over the world have loved for years and years. And yet it also presents itself as a confident videogame with more than a number of unique concepts that levioso it not just among other Harry Potter titles, or other licensed games even, but among all games of this nature. That is a title centred around magic and discovery and adventure. A game where growth is contextually tied to learning and gaining in ability and strength. A game where context is fiercely embedded into traditional videogame pillars in such a way that they feel intrinsic to the full experience; where the game is the story and the story is the game.
Hogwarts Legacy is many moving parts, much like Hogwarts itself, but at its fore it is a journey. And the best games featuring a journey are RPGs -- entirely what Hogwarts Legacy actually is. Except it’s not an open-world knockoff of so many other action-RPGs that currently flood the gaming landscape, and instead might be the most forward-thinking high-fantasy RPG in some time. Since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, in fact (though not to *that* degree, and excluding Cyberpunk 2077 here for thematic reasons). And despite being based on a series of books with established rules and lore and in being beholden to those things as a licensed product, Legacy is incredibly progressive in its mechanics and systems and setup, funnily enough, because of its utilisation of those rules and lore. And through that it somehow breaks the rules and elevates itself to spheres few licensed games dream of. At least in scope.
It’s not without its shortcomings, though, and it has its moments of fetch and benign and repetition. Not to forget how poorly structured some of the moment-to-moment mission legs are, from a traversal perspective. And that camera… grrr. But most of its failings or needs for polish (which can be addressed post-launch, to a degree) don’t derail the experience on the whole. Rather, Hogwarts Legacy manages, very simply, to grab your attention and throw you in its world, whether you’re a Wizarding World Universe fan or not.
And here’s the clincher -- I’m in the not camp.
"The writing is fantastic while every single line of dialogue is delivered brilliantly by the game’s diverse cast of actors. The whole thing is a densely-packed affair...”
I knew of the Weasley name when introduced to Professor Weasley, but I’m not ashamed to admit I have no idea who Fig or Black or anyone else is, or was. And that’s okay. In fact, I think it’s for the best, what with the potential for spoilers and all. And it’s not as if I haven’t enjoyed the story in the game, either. In fact I've found the writing to be fantastic, despite my limited knowledge of the universe. While every single line of dialogue is delivered brilliantly by the game’s diverse cast of actors whose gravitas is a spell unto its own. The whole thing is a densely-packed affair with writing that interweaves like the myriad corridors, stairwells and levels that make up the grounds of Hogwarts. There’s also plenty to uncover among your many jaunts, point-to-point, and you’ll often be stopped by students seeking help, or be pulled into any one of the game’s numerous environmental puzzles or Challenges.
Onto the game proper, across said jaunts, everything is kept in your Field Guide -- a journal of sorts that acts as your contextual in-game menu(s) helping you to track quests and gear and inventory. There’s Owl Posts to receive and read and engage in and Talents to unlock and Collections to uncover. A Map to pour over, too. This approach is reminiscent of Raz’s journal from Psychonauts 2, but here it’s a contextually-leveraged piece of the game-world that also acts as a bit of a conduit to the broader Wizarding World Universe, and sort of just fits. And this is a bit of a running theme by now, if you hadn’t noticed, where Avalanche (not that Avalanche, the other one) has gone above and beyond to ensure all the pieces of this game-world -- mechanical or otherwise -- just… make the most Wizarding sense.
"But what makes our created hero in Hogwarts so special is his affinity to not only magic overall, but Ancient Magic...”
And that’s almost no better represented than in the game’s genuinely stellar combat. I’m aware of duelling in the Harry Potter world, and I know enough about the wands and the like to understand the value of magic and magic ability. But what makes our created hero in Hogwarts so special is his (my pronoun in my case, and named me, as well) affinity to not only magic overall, but Ancient Magic. This untapped reservoir means he can use Force-like powers to level the riff-raff you’ll come across. And these are all manner of beasties. But in magic we get more than a handful of spells to choose from, and each mapped to A, B, X, Y or Square, Circle, Triangle, X, depending on your controller of choice. And they always stack perfectly well alongside each other, regardless of the combos you choose.
There are cooldowns of course, but the basic setup sees you having control of a principal ‘blast’ of magic, after which you also have Levioso, Accio, Lumos and Incendio, among a huge range of others -- all of which you learn, again contextually, within the game’s ‘magic uni’ makeup -- and how you utilise these is entirely up to you. Some enemies are weak to certain magiks, while others require combinations to defeat based on their own defences or under strict circumstances. But by and large the game gives you ownership of your offensive capabilities, which is good because it’s a steadily-lauded aspect of our crafted player, from those in-game, and whom in fact is a fifth year arriving a little late to the Wizarding party.
"You forge relationships with other students, and from this you have dialogue options that help shape these and how you’re perceived in the broader game-world...”
The game’s story doesn’t require you to know a lot about any of the Potter books. In fact its world is unfurled at a steady clip, which was great for me. But there’s density here for those willing to seek it out. You forge relationships with other students, and from this you have dialogue options that help shape these and how you’re perceived in the broader game-world. Fail at a first time attempt at a new spell, and the game and its denizens remember that, and remind you of it. It’s all a bit smoke and mirrors and even a bit binary if you peek under the hood, but the dialogue and VO delivery is so good and seamless, that you don’t really think about it like that.
Despite being a player-created character you do have a voice, and it’s as equally good as the peripheral characters around you, but made all the more impressive as Warner Bros. games sprung for multiple voice options with the same dialogue delivery throughout. It’s a massive undertaking and I’d be selling the game short if I didn’t warn you that this is a talkie. You can skip most of everything of course, but it’s worth noting you’re in for a bit of a story longhaul.
And that can sometimes break the experience for some, but there are aspects of Hogwarts that also add to a bit of unpolish. Texture load-ins are glaring, as is pop up. At one point early in the game I was tasked with following Professor Weasley, but she backed herself against a wall and got stuck there, as if walking backwards on an invisible treadmill. I know this is Hogwarts and nothing is ever as it seems, but this was no illusion, just a borked bit of the game. I also found myself blocked by a brutish troll to the point I had to reset the game, and there were times in my review session where audio dropped out entirely for short periods. As mentioned earlier, a lot of this stuff can be addressed in a Day One or a bit further down the track, but stacked against how much good there is here, they do tend to stand out.
"As soon as it’s handed in, they just go silent, which is antithetical to how alive the overall game-world feels...”
There are some odd elements, too, like being able to grab gold from, say, a bag in a shop, behind the counter, which has the salesperson there -- and you’ve also just made a purchase, so… you know, a functioning, active business -- and no one bats an eye when you just take the coins within. Also, often you complete a quest or an assignment with one of the professors or other quest-givers, and as soon as it’s handed in, they just go silent, which is antithetical to how alive the overall game-world feels.
Still, these issues aren’t game-breaking, and some are either oddly overlooked design decisions or just the game’s lack of another month or so in QA.
I’ve avoided as many spoilers as possible and barely scratched the surface of what’s in store for those willing to reward the hard-working developers of Hogwarts Legacy. The game-world is HUGE, and not nearly as checklisty as many other games of this nature. And certainly doesn’t suffer so-called bloat. Rather it’s rich and rewarding and inviting to a fault. And charming, to conjure back up a droll verb, to the point of being unable to back away from its magical tendrils. Our score here, too, would have been higher had it come to us with more polish, which is saying something when you consider its numerical gravity.
Enrol yourself today in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This might be one of the year’s best courses.
What we liked
A densely-layered world full of wonder, mystery and surprises
The scholastic approach to an RPG is a refreshing one that helps the context of levelling and growing like none before it
An excellent cast who all deliver brilliantly
Can be deliciously dark at times
What we didn't like
The camera is your worst enemy at times
Not nearly as polished as it should have been
A few glaring design decisions that didn't feel fully thought out