Hogwarts Legacy offers up a beautiful world, letting you explore the world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to your heart’s content. But despite it looking the part, this Victorian-set RPG adventure game can only offer a facsimile: a world that, although ostensibly populated, feels lifeless and doesn’t let you have any real impact on it.
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However, beautiful really doesn’t describe quite how creative Hogwarts Legacy’s use of magic is. In the game’s opening, a doorway forms out of liquids before your eyes, becoming a shimmering portal. Later on, you’ll often see books in the background sorting themselves, or paper airplanes taking flight of their own volition.
Make no mistake, this is probably the best way to explore the world of Harry Potter. Which is interesting almost because of how flat and lifeless it is. Most of the non-player characters (NPCs) you’ll meet won’t react to you in any shape or form, whether you’re barging past them, trying to jump on their head, or even just casting a fire spell and spewing fire into their face. Experimentation often reminds you that it’s just a game: invisible walls stop you jumping around the staircases for quicker traversal inside Hogwarts itself, something that grates because the entire castle is made up of giant staircases. But although being unable to jump up onto things – similar experimentation ruled desks and most other furniture as out of bounds for clambering, too – might pull immersive-sim heads out of the game, it’s a mark of how impressive the game is in places that you’ll want to suspend that disbelief and immerse yourself more into the world.
This enthusiasm extends to the characters you interact with during cutscenes, who are well-written and in a lot of cases much more diverse than the original Harry Potter book. Characters seem to have their own identities and personalities that don’t exist just to service the story or the player’s journey through the game.
This diversity extends to the character creator. Whoever you create will no doubt look like a bit of a dork – trust us, we really tried to get away from tweed and floppy fringes – but otherwise is surprisingly free. You can create a character with different voice pitches and body types before deciding whether you would rather stay in the dorms for a wizard or a witch. It’s the sort of inclusion that should be the standard for character creators, but somehow still isn’t.
Sadly, these deep characters and intricate levels of customisation aren’t matched by the game’s story and side quests, which all feel somewhat flat. Most of the side quests involve going to a different place and casting a spell to resolve a problem. You might use Accio to pull a flying book towards you from a library, or to get a sparkling valuable item down from the rafters. The classes you have to attend in game to learn new spells are often cutscenes interspersed with some tutorialisation.
Generally the plot is inoffensively bland, a vehicle to get you into the world but offering little else. You’re a new student brought into the school as a fifth year student, and have to spend your time trying to catch up while also digging into a mystery that you’re central to, even if at first you’re mostly just pulling at strands. The writing doesn’t deliver much in the way of surprises, but it does feel distinctly in universe. As a player, you get to choose dialogue options fairly regularly, but none of them indicate any sort of personality. Your choices are often “earnest”, “earnest but I’d like a reward for this quest” and “little shit for no reason”, but no one really reacts in any way, so it’s just an illusionary choice.
The same is true for the game’s RPG elements. It was around 15 hours before Talents were unlocked in the game, so most of the character progression you get until then comes in the form of customisable clothes. These are fairly detailed and run the whole gamut of styles from Hogwarts Student to Tom Baker in Doctor Who, with a fedora and big scarf combo that made me flinch upon equipping it. Levelling in the game is linked entirely to challenges, but these challenges also give you customisation options to put a style you like on top of a different piece of armour too. Great news if you don’t want to walk around the school in a pair of magical pyjamas you found in a lake.
In the early game, you potter around the school learning new spells and making friends, venturing into town for social visits to local eatery The Three Broomsticks. Later, this tone starts to shift in unpredictable ways. Inside Hogwarts things are lovable and cute. You’re duelling over kids, you’re finding lost items, you’re making friends even as you sometimes smash a 13-year-old in the face with a crate.
Leave Hogwarts and the world gets a little nastier. Suddenly you’re fighting dark wizards to the death and calling down lightning bolts to fry ferocious spiders. Catching crossbow bolts out of the air and redirecting them at enemies. The combat seems like it’s taken a little too much of the Dark Souls formula and introduced dodge rolling and defensive parries into the mix, but it’s much easier and actually fairly dull to fight people.
Spells are the way you’ll do most of your fighting – alongside the occasional combat cabbage – and they’re used in an interesting way here even if the execution doesn’t quite come off for me. Each spell in the game has a different colour assigned to it and by casting a spell of the right colour you’ll shatter an enemies shield. Accio – which pulls enemies towards you – often feels the same in combat as Levitate, which floats enemies gently in the air and allows you to fire your basic cast ability at them while they’re helpless. You can combo these spells together into huge damaging chains, but on normal difficulty it’s often just easier to pummel an enemy with basic casts and deflect attacks with quick use of your shield spells than it is to put too much thought into things as fights get frenetic.
Your character also has access to “ancient magic”, which often takes the form of innate quick-cast abilities in combat, like the aforementioned box tossing and lightning bolts. The result is a combat system that feels nearly-there and will find fans, but ultimately is a little too complicated for most, although in its most basic form it feels intuitive.
These spells all have their place, though. Solving puzzles is probably the best part about Hogwarts Legacy: experimentation is the key, whether it’s repairing a broken wall, levitating a statue or even just walking around the back of an enemy encampment and clambering on some boxes for an unseen entrance and stealthy quest completion.
By far the biggest issue in Hogwarts Legacy at the time of this review is performance on the PC build. We’ve seen several games recently with deeply flawed PC builds, and it appears, sadly, that Hogwarts Legacy is one of them. Walking into certain areas will see trees violently shaking themselves like a malfunctioning Whomping Willow, obscuring vision as the framerate drops into the single digits. Walking into Hogsmeade’s town square early in the game every NPC in the square started to shimmer in and out of existence, flickering wildly as the trees slowly grew and shook until basically nothing could be seen. This was one of the worst moments that we saw in terms of performance, but bugs of that calibre were common during the 20 hours we spent with the game. Many sections had poor framerates, making tough jumping puzzles and combat difficult with unpredictable stuttering.
It feels fixable with patches, and hopefully it gets fixed, because the PC version’s performance issues are really just a wrinkle in the ointment of a game that’s surprisingly detailed and full of different systems. It’s hard to think of a part of the Harry Potter world that hasn’t been drawn on here, almost to the point of there being too much filler in the game. Whether it’s collecting diary pages, searching Hogwarts for secrets, learning spells with mouse movements and even just unlocking all of the fast travel points – Floo Power, obviously – there’s no aspect of the “going to Hogwarts” fantasy left unturned. While I would argue this has made the game unwieldy and daunting to get to grips with, fans of the franchise will likely adore the attention to detail.
Hogwarts Legacy is available on PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PC, with future ports planned for the PS4, Xbox One and Switch. We played it on PC.
Hogwarts Legacy is fun and manages to get a lot of things right, but it already feels somewhat dated, no doubt a hangover from the six-year development cycle. It’s a stunning way to experience Hogwarts and the surrounding area and is probably the best representation for fans of the universe, regardless of the medium. Honestly, this is an exceptional piece of fan service and a loving recreation that for performance reasons and dated design, doesn’t quite come together.
- A beautiful recreation of Hogwarts and the standard areas
- 1800’s setting is a bold way to use the license and a lot of fun
- Use of magic to do some very cool effects
- RPG elements are very light
- World can feel lifeless
Hogwarts Legacy has received a large amount of attention and criticism in recent months, stemming from J.K Rowling’s recent commentary around transgender people, trans rights and her controversial opinions about gender identity. This review is based on the Hogwarts Legacy gameplay and the time spent hands-on with the game, it is not an endorsement of Rowling’s opinions or comments. Warner Bros. states that “J.K. Rowling is not directly involved in the creation of the game, however, her extraordinary body of writing is the foundation of all projects in the Wizarding World. The publisher also notes that Hogwarts Legacy “is not a new story from J.K. Rowling.”
For help and advice on transgender issues visit the following websites; Mermaids, Stonewall & Gendered Intelligence.