Disclaimer: We received our copy of Hogwarts Legacy only a handful of days before the review embargo. Given this is a large and long game, we’ve opted to do a review in progress, meaning these impressions will be updated with a final score once we finish the game. However, roughly 30 hours have been invested into the game thus far.
Hogwarts Legacy is finally here and somehow, it manages to mostly live up to the lofty expectations that it has created over the last several years. While it’s not perfect, it comes exceptionally close to being the Harry Potter game that many have yearned for.
The year is 1890 and you’re a rare fifth year student who is also totally brand new to the titular wizarding school. Given this is set in the world of Harry Potter and you’re the protagonist, you’re not just going to be going to class and stuffing your face in the Grand Hall. Instead, you’ll be juggling your school life with a strange mystery surrounding ancient magic and some long forgotten students and professors of the school. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a sinister goblin uprising happening simultaneously.
The story of Hogwarts Legacy is just one of many, many layers to this absurdly dense game. It’s been quite some time since I’ve played a big open world game that didn’t feel like it was trying to be big just for the sake of it. A lot of open world games fall into the trap of making an unfathomably large map and populate it with a bunch of mindless busy work that lacks substance. Hogwarts Legacy, on the other hand, feels huge and justifies its scope and scale in a way that constantly reels you in. Although it’s not quite as sophisticated, it offers a sense of wonder that I haven’t felt in an open world game since Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Hogwarts Legacy encompasses far more than just the school and the town of Hogsmeade, creating a sense of authenticity for this world we’ve really only seen a small fraction of in the films. For example, the Forbidden Forest feels as creepy and deadly as one would hope with giant venomous spiders dangling from trees, centaurs stalking your every move, and spooky caves to get lost in. At one point, I was exploring the map and saw a cave that I wanted to explore. As I got near it, a boulder was hurled at me and a troll emerged from the darkness.
I considered fighting him, but he had a giant club and the strength to hurl giant pieces of the Earth at me, so I opted to back down. I sprinted away from him as he hailed boulders down at me like mortar fire, but there was a cliff ahead and I was running out of room. As soon as I got to the edge of the cliff, I summoned my broom and took flight, managing to dodge yet another boulder. Just to increase the intensity of the situation, I buzzed the troll’s face with my broomstick and took to the skies. It’s emergent moments like this that help make Hogwarts Legacy’s open world fresh and exciting.
These brilliant little touches are in almost every corner and keep the energy of the game alive, especially in Hogwarts itself. As I was traveling to a class, a kid was with his friends as he opened a Howler from his dad, which proceeded to yell in his face and embarrass him. I’ve also seen kids walking on walls, being levitated by other children, ghosts causing mayhem, and much more. There’s never a dull moment in Hogwarts. Given all of the moving pieces within this castle from actual human beings to paintings with talking subjects, Avalanche Studios has managed to make it all feel truly authentic.
Some players may be a bit disappointed to hear that this isn’t exactly the Harry Potter version of Bully or Persona. Although you have friends, there aren’t really relationships to maintain and you’re not on a class schedule at Hogwarts. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside of the school and going on an epic quest, so it makes sense that the game wouldn’t want to burden you with forcing you to be at a class at 9AM every day. Still, this does intrude on the Hogwarts fantasy a lot of fans might have.
Instead, professors will give you homework assignments that range from making and trying new potions to using certain spells in combat. They’re all pretty easy and in exchange for completing them, the professors will typically teach you a new spell or offer you a new tool. Similarly, at least in my time playing, there aren’t many ways to be social at the school. There are no romance options, no ways to hang out with friends in Hogsmeade, or anything of the sort. There are some mini-games to enjoy, but they’re more or less a fun way to practice magic and nothing else. Almost all of your interactions with other students will come down to helping them with favors, meaning very few people are actually your friends and you’re more or less just the person who bends to their will.
If you do opt to do every single quest that someone offers you, you may also come away a bit surprised by how linear things feel. Given this is a big RPG with a custom character that gets to choose their own house at the start of the game, I was surprised by the lack of significant choices or branching paths. Nothing seems to have any kind of major impact on the story or the world, at least not in what I’ve played so far. There have been a few instances where a professor gave me a stern talking to for being disobedient, but they still pat you on the back and send you on your way with no notable impact.
The world of Harry Potter already has this idea of rewards and consequences baked in with the points system at Hogwarts. Points can be given to and taken away from houses based on the actions of students, but that is not utilized as a mechanic in Hogwarts Legacy. The game is confirmed to have multiple endings, so clearly there is a way to have some kind of unique impact, but it either comes really late or is not immediately obvious while playing.
If you’re not too bothered by the RPG elements being a little lacking and are more interested in just casting powerful spells and causing mayhem, Hogwarts Legacy is a total blast. Players are given a basic spell that you can rapidly fire off as much as you want, but are allowed to customize a set of 4 more powerful spells, many of which you’ve likely seen in the books and films. You can lift people up, push or pull them away, light them on fire, freeze them, and yes, even kill them.
If you play Hogwarts Legacy by simply just waving your wand around and not thinking about it, it will probably get very stale, very fast. However, if you get strategic and creative, Hogwarts Legacy opens up a new range of possibilities. For instance, Incendio (a spell that lights people on fire) has a short range of attack, so you have to get up close to use it effectively. However, you can use Levioso to lift enemies in the air and then Accio to pull them directly in front of you while they’re still suspended in the air where they can be lit ablaze. If you’re feeling really crafty, you could even push their fiery body toward another enemy and spread the flames. Since you unlock tons of spells as you progress, the gameplay only continues to open itself up for more inventive action as you invest more time into Hogwarts Legacy.
If you’re particularly efficient in combat, you’ll charge up a meter that allows you to use “ancient magic”, which is essentially an absurdly overpowered attack. These ancient magic finishers allow you to shrink a giant spider down to a normal-sized one to crush it with your foot, strike a foe with lightning, and literally atomize someone. It’s a bit demented for a game about children swishing wooden sticks around.
Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t really acknowledge how violent it can be, which causes some tonal problems. One minute you’re having lighthearted fun in potions class and the next you’re lighting someone on fire before making them explode into dust. Despite how grim it is, it’s hard to deny that the combat is remarkably satisfying.
The only place combat seems to falter is in the crowd control, especially if you’re in a smaller environment. You can free aim as much as you want, but you’ll have better luck with the game’s lock-on system, which is still fairly clunky. Sometimes the lock-on doesn’t attach to the right person because someone else is standing behind or in front of the person you want to attack and it can lead to you using the wrong spell on the wrong person, making said spell temporarily unavailable while it recharges. This is especially a problem as some enemies can throw up a colored bubble to protect themselves from your attacks, the only way to bring it down is to use a spell that corresponds with the color of their bubble. If you mess this up, you may be left somewhat vulnerable to them for a few moments. It’s not the worst system, but I did find myself getting tripped up with the lock-on semi-frequently.
While it doesn’t do everything perfectly, Hogwarts Legacy stimulates the imagination with a rich world to explore and gameplay that empowers and thrills the player. The Harry Potter films had the tough task of taking words on a page and creating a visual language for them. Hogwarts Legacy had the even tougher task of taking that visual language and making it interactive, ultimately expanding it all into something that is fun to play and immerse yourself in. Although there’s still a long year ahead of us and tons of great looking games on the horizon, Hogwarts Legacy is already one of the best games of 2023.
Hogwarts Legacy will release on February 7th for Deluxe Edition owners and February 10th for everyone else on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC. A PS5 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.