Hogwarts Legacy Review: Under a Spell
Legacies are complicated. They carry the weight of what came before, but live in the light of what’s happening now, forever grappling with the wills of two different worlds. With time, legacies lose relevance, or acquire new meaning. To understand them better is a study in multiple timelines. So, what then is the legacy of Harry Potter? For someone like me, a millennial who experienced Pottermania first-hand, JK Rowling’s fantasy novels are like family heirlooms. All seven books are neatly lined up chronologically on my rack, unmoved through the years. And like family heirlooms, they’ve also gathered a bit of dust and neglect. They certainly don’t take up as much space in my mind now as they do on my bookshelf.
On the other hand, while the Harry Potter films have made a lot of money, they are hardly revered as cultural artefacts. The less said about the more recent Fantastic Beasts films, the better. The Wizarding World has not withered away but has surely seen some erosion. The world of Harry Potter is sustained by nostalgia, living on in the memories of a generation that came of age reading the books. Then, there’s the legacy of JK Rowling. The writer behind the best-selling book series of all time has come under fire for her views on transgender issues. Many cast members from the Harry Potter films, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Eddie Redmayne, have stood firmly and vocally against her, while others have politely distanced themselves from her opinions. Once revered as a self-made author and feminist icon, Rowling is now a pariah to progressives.
This cultural discourse has inevitably tailed Hogwarts Legacy, the much awaited and debated triple-A action RPG, which arrived February 10 on PS5, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. One of the biggest video game releases of the year, Hogwarts Legacy has already set records and has sold like hot cakes. It has also faced boycotts as a portion of the profits from sales will go to Rowling as royalty. Despite all the conversation surrounding the game, it is clearly in resonance with the Harry Potter fandom. In our initial impressions, Hogwarts Legacy felt like a worthy return to the Wizarding World — the great Harry Potter game that everyone had been waiting for. But under the shiny skin of Harry Potter, which lends it its cultural standing, do the flesh and bones of the game stand up on their own?
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The short answer is a resounding yes. Hogwarts Legacy works well as a video game, perhaps more than it does as an extension of the world of Harry Potter. Of course, everything that is familiar is present in often astonishing detail and obvious reverence — the majestic Hogwarts castle, the bell-and-chimes music reminiscent of the iconic John Williams score from the films, and the many easter eggs and collectibles scattered around the game world — but I found myself addicted to the pure gameplay. Wand-based magic combat surprised me more than anything. It’s a lesson in simple but effective video game design. Hogwarts Legacy’s combat could easily have been a stale third-person spell-shooter experience, but instead, it’s a carnival of combinations and spell-juggling. Exploring the grounds of Hogwarts and the highlands and hamlets beyond it is consistently fun and engaging. There’s a fast travel system that niftily ties into Harry Potter lore, but I found myself travelling to quest objectives on my broom most of the time. The game’s motley crew of non-playing characters make side activities and distractions fresh and fun. While the Wizarding World DNA ensures that the charm rarely turns into chore, I never did mind doing the homework.
Hogwarts Legacy surprises right from the start. Once you’ve created your desired witch or wizard, the game takes off into a sprawling, kinetic opening act reminiscent of early adventures in the books. On your way to Hogwarts as a new fifth-year student, accompanied by Professor Fig, you’re attacked by a dragon, teleported by a Portkey, and subsequently thrown into the heart of a long-dormant mystery deep within the caverns of Gringotts Wizarding Bank. You soon find out about a Goblin rebellion and a dark wizard conspiracy to uncover a forgotten ancient form of magic. The same ancient magic flows in you, making you the long-lost key to solving the riddle.
Hogwarts Legacy’s story revolves around this arcane magic, wells of which are hidden across the world. You meet students and professors who came before your time, talk to paintings, and chase ghosts as you slowly unravel the threads. The narrative succeeds in conjuring the air of a novel as quests unfold slowly and you’re encouraged to explore. Side activities that reveal more of the world and its characters accompany all main story threads. You feel your environment, even Hogwarts, change in small but noticeable ways that make you aware of the passage of time. At one point, I began seeing carved pumpkins for Halloween all over the castle.
Perhaps Hogwarts Legacy’s finest trick is the way it nails the feeling of being at school. Its side characters are written with distinct charm and their individuality shines through. Sebastian Sallow is mischievous but driven and has a major role to play in the main story; Poppy Sweeting cares more about magical beasts than she does about people; Nerida Roberts is obsessed with merpeople and is mostly seen hanging about the Hogwarts Lake. Your professors are all unique too, with clearly defined personalities. Your Potions teacher Aesop Sharp, a former Auror, is stern and hard to impress; Mirabel Garlick, the young Herbology professor, is warm and thoughtful; and your Charms teacher Abraham Ronen is, well, charming and quick-witted, with a quip just as ready at hand as his wand. While Hogwarts castle is overloaded with impossible detail in every corridor and corner, it is its occupants that truly make it come alive.
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Loitering around Hogwarts is a fantasy-fulfilling experience, and even idle walks through the castle often present something new to look at or to find. You can summon floating Field Guide pages that are full of Hogwarts lore, or watch two magical suits of armour fight each other. You’ll see Peeves the notorious poltergeist ruining someone’s day, or a student floating like a balloon through a corridor — perhaps the victim of a magical experiment gone wrong. The castle is a maze, and it took me hours to find my footing. You could reach the end of a hallway and find yourself lost 30 hours deep into the game. The immersion is only broken when you reach a door that opens into a new section of the castle because there’s a bit of loading time before you can walk through to the other side; a minor annoyance in the way of seamless exploration.
Then there’s the world beyond the Hogwarts grounds. The castle’s surroundings, set in the Scottish Highlands, include hamlets, bogs, caverns, forests, lakes, and shores, each offering challenges and collectibles, from Merlin trials and Ancient Magic hotspots to infamous foes and astronomy tablets. Hogsmeade, the small village just north of Hogwarts, has been given just as much attention as the titular castle, with famous landmarks from the books painstakingly recreated. The festive energy of The Three Broomsticks, the sugary saturations of Honeydukes, and the questionable patronage at the Hog’s Head Inn are all apparent. Just on the outskirts of Hogsmeade lies the Forbidden Forest. In the daytime, the forest is an idyllic retreat bathed in pleasant sunshine. At night, it transforms into a moonlit eldritch maze, with thick trees and thicker fog.
You attend classes and learn spells at Hogwarts, but your adventures mostly take place outside the school walls. In the wilderness you’ll encounter goblins, trolls, dark wizards and dugbogs. Your wand is your weapon and your handy spells your ammunition. Combat in Hogwarts Legacy is a refreshing take on the third-person action formula. Spells are utilised in purposeful combinations as duels become a sort of a dance between you and your foe. You can block an enemy’s attack with the Protego spell by tapping the Triangle button on the PS5 controller to create a protective orb around you, hit back with Levioso to suspend your opponent in the air, cast Accio to pull them closer, and finish with brute force using Descendo to slam them into the ground. This is just one example; you can come up with imaginative combos, lining up spells from your arsenal as you please.
You also have to keep changing your spell wheel on the fly. Each wheel has four spell slots, and you can unlock a total of four wheels as you upgrade your skills. So, as you’re dodging and shooting spells in the heat of battle, you also must judiciously juggle between you spell loadouts, switching between attack, control, and force magic. This can get chaotic and messy when taking on multiple enemies, but it’s never not fun. You can also choose the stealth route and turn yourself invisible with a disillusionment charm when infiltrating an enemy hideout to whittle down your foes before taking them on. To top it all off, you can also perform an Ancient Magic attack, which can be triggered when a corresponding meter fills up. Hogwarts Legacy has crafted a truly engaging combat system, but I feel it could have gone a step further by allowing for companions, in the spirit of the books. Professors and fellow students do tag along for some of the quests, but a fleshed-out system for teaming up to take on the world’s dangers would have worked wonders here. After all, all the best adventures at school involve your friends.
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Beyond the combat playground, Hogwarts Legacy offers everything that you’d expect from an open-world action RPG. Hidden treasures, Merlin Trials, and enemy encampments dot the map, inviting you on extracurricular excursions that help you accumulate experience points and beef up your character with new skills and better gear. While most of these ancillary tasks avoid open-world tedium due to tight design and Wizarding World novelty, collecting pieces of gear quickly becomes unpleasant labour as they’re littered everywhere. You could constantly pick up a new pair gloves with marginally better stats than the ones you already have on, or the same hat you found a couple of hours ago. This balloons your inventory, and you must either sell, destroy, or discard the excess periodically.
Crafting in Hogwarts Legacy is limited to potions and plants, both of which can be brewed and bloomed in the Room of Requirement. There’s also a loom that lets you craft buffs for your gear. The game includes a creation system for its Vivarium, a sort of magical zoo into which you can release captured beasts to build a wildlife ecosystem. Caring for the beasts in the Vivarium grants you magical ingredients required for the loom. It’s tacked on and completely optional, but you can go crazy with it if you want and create your beastly imaginarium.
Whether you’re walking the halls of Hogwarts or hoarding Hippogriffs, it all looks good. Hogwarts Legacy goes big on atmosphere and finds the visual sweet spot for an RPG. It barely ever looks wooden and lifeless like many major genre games tend to. It does veer close to the uncanny valley sometimes, but even in its rustic animations during cutscenes and dialogue, the game retains a measure of charm. The castle itself is nothing short of glorious and its visual splendour is evident night and day. The game does have issues with lighting, and I encountered flickering several times. There’s also a persistent issue with drawing fog; every time you open a door to head outdoors, the game takes a moment to draw weather effects. Draw distance suffers when flying around on your broom, as objects in frame pop in late.
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These are all minor gripes, though. Hogwarts Legacy is not a looker like Horizon Forbidden West, but it is no slouch either. The game nails its warm and cosy art style and it is truly a pleasure spending time in its world. On the PlayStation 5, Performance mode promises 60fps. This falls during intense battles, but otherwise usually stays consistent. There are two other modes, Fidelity and Fidelity with Raytracing, which deliver superior image quality and accurate reflections at the cost of smooth gameplay.
With Hogwarts Legacy, Avalanche Software has tried to cast a wide net. It’s been a minute since a Wizarding World adaptation truly inhabited and expressed the pure charm of its source material, and Hogwarts Legacy is very clearly here to fill that void. What Warner Bros. Games knows well, is that there is always a market for magic. Avalanche has constructed a mass-market product that will appeal to an audience well beyond gamers, but it will please that crowd too.
Hogwarts Legacy ticks all right the boxes. It could have very easily been a watered-down RPG trying to cash in on its name, but at its core there is a robust and fun video game that stands up on its own, even if one doesn’t care for Harry Potter. The fun combat system, consistently surprising world exploration, and a cast of likeable and colourful characters lift Hogwarts Legacy, as if carried by a levitation spell. Avalanche Software has borrowed a popular body of work, but made sure to breathe its own soul into it.
- Excellent combat
- Engaging story
- Likeable cast of characters
- Detailed world design
- Tries to stuff in a lot
- Lack of a companion system
- Tedious inventory management
Rating (out of 10): 8
Hogwarts Legacy released February 10 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X.
Pricing starts at Rs. 2,999 for the Standard Edition on Steam and Epic Games Store for PC, and Rs. 4,399 on PlayStation Store for PS5 and Xbox Store for Xbox Series S/X.