The long-awaited and highly anticipated roleplaying game set in the Harry Potter universe is finally released. From Avalanche Software, a subsidiary of Avalanche Studios, and published by Warner Bros. Games, Hogwarts Legacy attempts to drop the player in the magical world of witches and wizards and let them become a hero in their own right. This is an ambitious departure from the studio’s previous games, such as Cars 3: Driven to Win. But the team succeeded in building a fun and full world bursting with magic and mysticism around every corner.
Though not without its flaws, Hogwarts Legacy checks all of the boxes for both a rich open-world game as well as an expansive fantasy experience. Occasional frame rate drops and sluggishly loading textures keep the game from feeling like a perfected current-generation experience. Still, none of these issues were brash enough to detract from the overall experience.
Hogwarts Legacy is now available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PC for $69.99, and the deluxe version is $79.99. It is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One on April 4, 2023, and Nintendo Switch on July 25, 2023.
This review contains minor spoilers for Hogwarts Legacy.
Story – A Growing Witch or Wizard
The marketing tagline “live the unwritten” introduces the story of Hogwarts Legacy marvelously. The player builds their own character to join the wizarding world. As a fifth-year student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. According to the universe’s lore, individuals typically receive their acceptance letter when they are eleven. But an individual can join late on rare occasions. This was a refreshing way to introduce the player as someone learning their powers while allowing slightly more mature content.
Aside from discovering their connection to magic later in life, the protagonist also has arcane abilities related to extremely rare and powerful ancient magics. This not only opens additional opportunities but explains why they are thrust into the thicket of a conflict stretching well beyond their struggles with potions class.
That is not to say that those not previously exposed to the story of Harry Potter would be left in the dark. Everything is presented in a manner that is original and unique to the game’s story. Happening upon a hidden chamber from the second-floor girls’ lavatory may spark a flame of nostalgia for fans it is still an exciting and intriguing moment for newcomers.
Hogwarts Legacy toes the line between whimsy and grit masterfully. Fun and lighthearted moments do not feel like a waste when followed by a heavy scene. Nor do the emotionally rigid moments come across as cheapened by the bright colors and cheery faces in the herbology classroom the next moment. Everything ebbs and flows organically, and each mission, whether main or side-quest, comes across as meaningful.
Gameplay – Ancient Magics Unleashed
To say that Hogwarts Legacy has a little bit of everything would not be a stretch. Upon first starting the game and seeing how many different things are woven into the gameplay may cause a moment of doubt. Luckily, every system in play has been given the time and attention required to make it work.
Combat has as much rhythm and flow as the play gives it. Regardless of how many different spells or incantations the player has learned, they can choose four for their spell wheel. These can be changed at any time, even during combat, giving players a chance to develop their own style. With a dueling club available, there is plenty of time to practice different spells, combinations, and chains before entering a heavy-combat area.
Environmental puzzles litter the map. Though the same handful of “puzzles” are used repeatedly, each has a different level of flare and thought involved. Some areas are locked off behind level requirements, but most require learning a new spell before returning. Number and symbol matching, moving platforms, and triggering timed sigils are just a few of the various environmental puzzles scattered around the wizarding world.
The Lighter Side of Magic
Most missions require a small minigame at some point or another. Some of these can be simple, and fun fetch quest-style challenges in which the player uses the accio spell to retrieve flying books. Others can be a bit tedious. One example is the winged keys. After stumbling across a flying key and following it to a locked cabinet, the play must watch the key and slap it as it flies passed the keyhole. The rewards are rarely worth the time for these specific minigames. But these are not generally required and only make up a nearly negligible portion of the overall experience.
One aspect that seems to have many potential players’ attention is flying. A few hours into the game, the protagonist attends flying class and can purchase a broom if they so choose. Flying, for the most part, is a smooth and fun experience. The controls are a little tight and can cause some jerking when trying to turn, but this is nearly covered up by haptic feedback. The difficulty or clunkiness of controls felt like they were unavoidable, so they were instead woven into the fabric of flying. Much like the fog of Silent Hill covering texture loading, Hogwarts Legacy seems to have turned issues into features.
The player must attend class to progress the story and learn new spells, charms, potions, and other skills. The classes are structured as fun minigames in and of themselves. Some of these minigames could easily succeed as a quick party game themselves.
Audio and Graphics – Building the Mystical
Regarding the actual build of the game, sound and visuals, Hogwarts Legacy struggles to compete with many other current AAA games. Though the music of the world is powerful and moving, uniquely designed for each scene, it tempers off with movement and location. Throughout the world are honking daffodils. These brightly colored flowers make loud noises similar to a vintage clown horn. Yet, sometimes, they are barely audible, and others are so loud that they cover some character dialog. Much of the environment incorporates dynamic audio to help the player track things, but on a few occasions, the direction of the noise and the object did not align, causing the puzzle to be a tad more difficult than intended.
The wizarding world in Hogwarts Legacy is stunning to look at in that everything is grand and sprawling. Very rarely are there patches without something to look at or do. A massive spire rises from the earth before your very eyes and towers over as the arcane magic ignites in wisps around it may dominate the scene. Or a fuzzy and colorful puffskein hopping around may catch your attention.
Whimsy at a Cost
There is always something not of the muggle world on screen. But, to fit so much into every moment appears to have hobbled the visuals a bit. Fidelity mode kept the game at 30 frames per second and brought the textures up to the level of a modern game. Performance mode stayed in the range of 60 frames per second but looked like a mid-generation PlayStation 4 game. These issues were noticeable but insufficient to ruin the immersion by any stretch of the imagination.
Hogwarts Legacy is a fantasy roleplaying game that offers delight to old franchise fans and newcomers to the series. With no shortage of fantastical fauna and flora to be discovered, a story twined with whimsy and grit, and more masterful systems than one can swish and flick a wand at, there is a little bit of everything. Occasional fidelity or performance drops below the modern standard come and go. But are not frequent or bold enough to detract from the overall experience. Hogwarts Legacy offers a chance to live in the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry that will enchant most players.
Hogwarts Legacy was reviewed on PlayStation 5.