Fans of Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, and newcomers alike, get the AAA role-playing game experience with Hogwarts Legacy. What could easily have been just a cash grab turns out to be a rather good and fully-featured role-playing game.
Aside from that which I’m obliged to know as a parent, I’m not that familiar with Harry Potter and the associated books and movies. I’ve watched a couple of the films, but I can’t say I’m that much of a fan.
Hogwarts Legacy allowed me to dip into the Wizarding World and give the franchise another go. I did like the idea of the period setting of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (although I never finished watching the movie). The game, being set in the 1800s, similarly provides a reasonable chronological buffer between the game and the exploits of the boy wizard, Harry Potter. I was keen to have my own magical adventure and sample the world-building that others around the globe find so appealing.
After the obligatory character customisation sequence, the game craftily sneaks the player into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a fifth-year student, already somewhat aware of their magical abilities. On the way to the school your character and their mentor, Professor Eleazar Fig, get attacked by a dragon, setting the scene is that something peculiar is up.
The game starts gently, easing players into student life at Hogwarts. The sorting hat is a lot of fun, looking identical to the movies, with a few questions allowing players to be granted their house. If you are keen on a particular house, you can still select your favourite.
What follows is a couple of hours of pseudo-tutorial. There’s a bit of hand-holding and it can be a little slow, but it’s not badly done. The game is surprisingly complex so it’s worth paying attention to. Various supporting characters introduce spell casting, herb-growing, potions, and broom riding, via lessons in the school as well as quests.
With Hogwarts Legacy, we have all the familiar mechanics of a modern role-playing game. There are levels, abilities (spells), and armour (your uniform) to upgrade. The mission-based gameplay sets the player tasks that propel the main storyline, as well as optional side quests. The side quests are fun as they give the player reason to explore the school and its surroundings, taking in the tremendous work that’s gone into modelling it. The game plays it surprisingly straight as a fantasy RPG. I could easily believe that I was a wizard character in an Elder Scrolls game.
It’s all just so astoundingly well done.
Hogwarts School is meticulously detailed and has exactly the maze-like layout that you’d expect. From the random ghostly apparitions to the moving paintings on the wall, it is in every way, a magical place. And you get to explore it all. The school looks absolutely gorgeous, especially with ray-traced reflections turned on. It’s also a living, breathing world with students going about their business all around you.
Outside of the school is an impressively large area filled with enchanted forests, hamlets, and the village of Hogsmeade with all its shops and colourful characters. The map is huge, a lot bigger than I was anticipating. Thankfully just as throughout Hogwarts, in Hogsmeade and the surrounding area there are fast travel points to be discovered, making return journeys a bit quicker.
The game map really opens up once you get your transport. After you buy your first broomstick you can travel without engaging in the dangerous local fauna unless you want to. As the game progresses, you also get to ride mounts. You can’t break out your broom or jump on a critter just anywhere, only in the open areas. Soaring over the landscape on my broom and taking in the view was mesmerising.
Travelling on foot did allow me to carefully engage with some of the hostiles that roam the game world outside of the relative safety of the school. For the combat, Hogwarts Legacy seems to have taken a leaf out of Warner’s other, very successful, video game franchises: the Batman Arkham games and the Middle-Earth games. Of course, wand-based fights are mainly projectile in nature, rather than melee. But as I built up my spell-casting repertoire, the game started to mix things up a little.
The vast number of spells, ranging from simple elevation spell to powerful blasts, allow for combos that tied my fingers in knots more than once. The selection dial only allows for four spells to be accessed at once, with additional dials, that can be switched, unlocked as I progressed. Overwhelming at first, lifting enemies and pounding their defenceless bodies becomes very satisfying. More powerful enemies have shields that need to be broken using physical attack spells or fire spells to be defeated. Overall, I found the magical combat to be well adapted, if a little scrappy sometimes, but still a lot of fun.
The game gives players lots to do, all wrapped up in a story that is very well-written and intriguing. Both the main questline and the various side quests hooked me in enough that I found the game very hard to put down.
The action on the screen is accompanied by a very cinematic soundtrack. There are familiar audio cues that fans will recognise from the movies. The orchestral background track rises during important events with original music that wouldn’t be out of place in an epic Disneyworld performance.
The scale and presentation of the game are polished to a tee. The developers have employed the Unreal Engine to bring the Wizarding World to life. I played a lot of the game on an Xbox Series S running at 1080p and it still looked spectacular. On an Xbox Series X in 4K, though, you get more detail and better lighting. The Series X gives players the choice of visual fidelity, fidelity with ray tracing, or performance. You can also cap the framerate giving the game a more uniform look, but potentially losing out on higher frame rates when the visuals are less demanding.
There are also control customisation and sensitivity settings. It would seem that console gamers are finally getting the tuning options that were previously reserved for PC gamers. The game also comes with a comprehensive set of accessibility features including a menu reader, audio visualisation, and high-contrast text. It’s good to see inclusive options like these becoming more common in games.
From a gameplay point-of-view, there’s very little to fault. There’s a bit of fetch-questing that I found painful at the beginning. And the in-game map is a bit poor, but sufficient enough to set waypoints and, later on, activate fast travel. Hogwarts’ amazing architectural design can make navigation a bit of a pain as you negotiate various staircases following waypoints on the map.
As a non-fan, the silly-sounding “magical names” filled me with cringe. Also, the toffee-nosed British accents, which must sound delightful and mesmerising for people not from the UK, were a bit grating for my English ears. But the detail and polish that’s gone into making what could easily have been a cynical cash grab soon had me forgetting all that.
Aside from a few niggles, even for someone with little interest in Harry Potter et al, Hogwarts Legacy is a still great game. I can see the game drawing even more people into the books and films of the Wizarding World Franchise.
Hogwarts Legacy is a lot better than it ought to be and a very pleasant surprise. This is a top-tier AAA title that delves deep into the franchise’s previously established lore, whilst remaining accessible and very entertaining for newcomers. Most definitely one for the fans, but also worth a look if you enjoy open-world fantasy role-playing games.