Hogwarts Legacy promises to take fans inside the halls of Hogwarts in a 1:1 scale experience for the first time. This premise is something that Harry Potter fans have spent years hoping would one day be realized, making it one of the most-hyped games of the decade, and a tall order for Avalanche Software — a team most known for its ill-fated Disney Infinity series.
For the most part, Avalanche has nailed it. Hogwarts Legacy is the closest we’ve been to living the life of a student at the titular academy, with only a few issues present in an otherwise magical experience. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to overlook these problems when you’re slinging spells in creepy spider-filled tombs or riding your broom into Hogsmeade.
Y’er a wizard
In Hogwarts Legacy, you play a student starting at the school as a fifth year. You begin the game by boarding a thestral carriage with your mentor, Professor Fig, and starting your journey toward Hogwarts. After tragedy strikes in the opening moments, your character learns that they are one of few wizards who can detect and harness ancient magic, which immediately puts you in the firing line of the story’s antagonist, the goblin Ranrok.
Ranrok leads a rebellious faction of goblins who hope to break free of what they consider oppressive treatment by wizards. Unfortunately, he hopes to harness the ancient magic to do so, and since your character is the only one confirmed to be able to use it, you’re frequently the target of his machinations.
The mystery surrounding your character’s special abilities propels the entertaining story forward, but it’s definitely the backdrop here, with Legacy’s open world being the real star of the show. You’ll meet some entertaining characters during your adventure — the helpful house elf Deek, the wise Professor Weasley, and the bumbling headmaster Phineas Black to name a few — but the real star of this show is undeniably Hogwarts and its surroundings.
Not just nostalgia
Hogwarts Legacy’s sense of scale is its most impressive feat. The titular school is a sprawling castle with a plethora of nooks and crannies to explore, and throughout the game, more of its secrets will open up to you. Even after spending hours attending classes and roaming its hallways, I was finding new areas of the school that I’d never seen before.
Just when Hogwarts starts to feel familiar, the game pulls the camera back and introduces the rest of the game world. Around ten hours in, you start exploring the countryside around the school, which is a sprawling sea of green dotted with humble wizard hamlets. Of course, there are plenty of familiar landmarks for franchise fans to discover, like the Forbidden Forest, and all of Hogsmeade village is also included where you can purchase a wand at Ollivanders or have a Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.
However, Hogwarts Legacy isn’t just a nostalgia fest. While it does have a litany of references to characters, locations, and concepts from the rest of the franchise, it stands on its own two feet. It’s a game that can be equally enjoyable to someone that’s gorged themselves on every piece of Potter media available or someone who has (somehow) never even heard of Albus Dumbledore or the Boy Who Lived.
The decision to set the game so far before any of the events before the main series was an excellent one. I found it all the more enjoyable that, for once, no one was talking about Grindelwald or Voldemort. Since it’s set before the great wizarding wars of the 20th century, things are a bit simpler. Sure, the main story with Ranrok is plenty dire, but the cloud of gloom and distrust that hangs over the wizarding world in previous works isn’t prevalent here.
But this lack of a looming Voldemort-scale threat also contributed to me feeling a little disconnected from Hogwarts. You’re very much playing a created avatar instead of an established character, and your only personality traits are that you’re either unshakably courteous and friendly or a gigantic asshole. Of course, how you treat other characters affects how they react to you sometimes, but you won’t find yourself barred from any quests, no matter how hateful you are.
The result is that aside from the main quests, where the focus is completely on your character, the game can sometimes feel like a theme park. You’re seeing the sights and soaking in the ambiance, but your character has no place among the crowds of students that inhabit the halls of Hogwarts.
I would have liked to have seen more emphasis placed on attending classes and your relationship with your house. For example, aside from having access to the common room and donning their robes, it doesn’t matter if you belong to Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw. The rivalry between the houses is a big part of Hogwarts’ culture, so even something as simple as implementing a house points system as an overarching side quest would have given an indirect way to show how your actions influence your peers.
On the side
Legacy is packed to the brim with side quests, collectibles, and easter eggs to uncover. The amount of things to do feels refreshingly like older open-world type games. Everything can be explained away by magic, so nothing has to make much sense; yes, there are floating field guide pages everywhere that you need to snag out of the sky or reveal through magic. Sure, there are floating keys and magical moths you need to chase down. In some games, these sorts of simple fetch tasks feel out of place, but here it just adds to the whimsy.
Of course, there are some more meaty side activities as well. You’ll gain access to an incredibly customizable home base in the Room of Requirements that you can obtain furniture and fixtures for. You’ll also get a chance to capture and keep a menagerie of magical beasts. Fortunately, all these things are unlocked at a steady pace, so you’re never too overwhelmed or stuck with a lack of things to do.
I estimate that it’ll take most players around 35 hours to complete a playthrough. However, there’s enough side content that it could take double that to platinum the game.
Combat is surprisingly engaging in Hogwarts Legacy. I didn’t have high hopes considering here are only so many ways you can sling a wand at an enemy, however, the game rewards technical gameplay, and as you gain more spells and abilities, you’ll become a combo and parrying machine.
Your basic magic attack is straightforward; three little blasts of magic followed by a fourth stronger attack. However, you can mix it up with spells to cause immense damage to a foe, and stunned enemies take more damage, so you can enhance the damage done by your relatively weak standard attacks.
Parrying and counters are a big part of combat as well. You have the ability to deploy a magical shield around yourself that can deflect most attacks. By timing this just right, you automatically counter by casting Stupify, which temporarily stuns an enemy and allows you to follow up with a volley of your own.
However, not all attacks can be absorbed by a shield. Some can only be dodged, which adds more nuance to defensive gameplay. Things can get extremely complicated once you’re in combat with a large group of enemies, but once you master combos and defense, things fall into a satisfying rhythm.
Hogwarts Legacy Review: The final verdict
Hogwarts Legacy is the game Harry Potter fans have dreamt of since the first book was released. It puts you firmly in the shoes of a student and turns you loose to find your place in the world of wizardry. Unfortunately, its biggest issue is that it often feels like you’re just visiting.
I hope that the follow-up to Hogwarts Legacy leans into the social aspects of life at the school and gives your character an established backstory. However, aside from some narrative weaknesses, this game is a blast and an early contender for GOTY 2023.