Hogwarts Legacy Review - Sleight Of Hand

  • First Released Feb 7, 2023
  • PS5

Hogwarts Legacy brilliantly adapts all of the source material fans of the Potterverse will expect, but wastes it on a rote open-world filled with mundane quests.

Hogwarts Legacy is developed by Avalanche Software, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game has been embroiled in controversy due to transphobic remarks from Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Although she is not personally involved with its development, she stands to profit from its success. For more, read our in-depth article on how Rowling's comments have impacted the trans community. In this article, you will also find links to trans creators you can support, as well as charities you can donate to.

It's difficult to find someone oblivious to the world of Harry Potter. For many it was a property that grew up with them, with both the book and film series persisting in the zeitgeist for decades. It's confusing then that it's taken this long to get a game that promises to deliver on the fantasy of becoming a wizard or witch within that universe; attending classes, learning spells, engaging in mischief, and exploring the grandeur of Hogwarts Castle. Hogwarts Legacy delivers on that promise, to a degree. Its adaptation of this universe is undeniably the most extensive yet, allowing you to truly explore Hogwarts and its surrounding areas like never before. But it's also stuck too keenly in the present (and sometimes, past) of open-world game design, reducing much of what you do to repetitive checklist activities in a world that is disappointingly barren.

Hogwarts Legacy takes place in the late 1800s, although you might be hard-pressed to notice that from the way characters speak or by the clothes they wear, which look ripped straight out of the films set in the late 1900s. You play as a prodigal witch or wizard of your own creation, this time fighting against a goblin uprising led by one particularly nasty one named Ranrok. This props up a predictable and surprisingly sporadic narrative, with main beats and progression only taking place every few hours as you complete the requisite quests around them, which are often barely related. There's so little screen time for many of the main characters that you struggle to get a sense of their motives, especially so in the case of Ranrok, who only appears to deliver a line or two to some subordinates before he disappears for a couple of hours. It robs him, and the story, of any sense of emotional tension, reducing it to nothing more than "talented good student takes out bad powerful goblin" by the end.

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While trying to stop a potentially cataclysmic uprising, you'll also be required to juggle the duties that come with being a newly inducted fifth-year at Hogwarts. Being both a new and older student means you get to enjoy the thrills of learning some familiar spells from earlier years, but also have access to a wide range of more advanced ones as the year progresses. The initial introduction to each class is captivating, from partaking in duels in Defence Against the Dark Arts or being subjected to a screaming Mandrake in Herbology. These are some of the moments where Hogwarts Legacy is at its strongest, recapturing the sense of wonder that has made this world so enticing to so many. The mechanical components of each class, however, fall woefully short. The small minigame used to convey wand movements for each spell feels ripped out of the series' very first video game entry nearly two decades ago, while many of the activities introduced shortly after are brief, uninteresting, and usually used as a means to fill your map with many more instances of the same thing. They quickly extinguish any glimmers of hope that the school aspect to your time at Hogwarts will be as engaging as many of these classes might seem from the outside.

After your introduction to each class, your engagement with each professor and their craft is relegated to even less interesting quests. You're tasked with completing two objectives before they'll dole out another spell, with the chores in question sometimes not even making sense for the class they're required for. Some you'll end up completing naturally as you explore or engage with other quests, such as those that require you to use certain spells on enemies or acquire particular potions. Others will, however, routinely force you to deviate from the fun, such as objectives that ask you to either purchase or grow a particular plant in the Room of Requirement (which can take upwards of 15 real-world minutes, not too unlike the artificial timers you'd find in a free mobile game). It was confusing to have progression routinely stifled by these activities, given that most main quests generally required a certain spell before they could be started.

This growing collection of spells is most useful in Hogwarts Legacy's combat, which initially makes a strong impression. Basic attack and protection spells can be fired off with ease, with the combat flow mimicking a familiar setup of timing blocks and parries as you mash away at the attack button in-between. Advanced spells sit on a four-slot weapon wheel, allowing you to cast them using one of the four face buttons. They're filtered into red, yellow, and purple classes, each of which informs you of their overall purpose in battle. Purple spells, such as accio and descendo, are manipulation attacks that can control and move opponents, while red spells such as the fire spell incendio and disarming spell expelliarmus are all about damage. Used intelligently together, combat has a rhythmic flow to it that shines most when you're pulling off combos. Flinging a foe into the air, firing off some basic attacks and then suspending them there even further makes you feel incredibly powerful, but it's also an effective way to take down enemies that are happy enough to soak up damage from your basic attack.

This way of using magic is foreign to how it's portrayed in the rest of Potterverse media, but it rarely feels out of place here. There can be some narrative dissonance if you ponder on it too long--why are professors at Hogwarts so comfortable with students fighting thousands of dangerous goblins and dark wizards and witches just off school grounds, for example–but it's easy enough to suspend disbelief for the sake of the satisfaction of getting to wield magic so freely. It's sometimes a bit too jarring, however, notably when it comes to the numerous Unforgivable Curses that you'll have the chance to acquire. While there's thought around letting you choose whether you want to use them at all, there's nothing really punishing about routinely using some of the worst spells known to this universe. Characters might mention their displeasure at you using them, but it never tangibly makes a difference to proceedings, letting them exist as just another tool in your toolbox for when you might need it.

As you continue obtaining more spells, you're forced to assign them to alternative loadouts, with a maximum of four once you've unlocked them all. The way you swap between each of these loadouts, and in turn reassign which face buttons are assigned to each spell, is incredibly cumbersome. Outside of combat, you'll repeatedly have to dive into a menu and rearrange which spells are where, since you'll quickly obtain more than you can hold at a time. Swapping between each one while fighting also stifles the engaging rhythm of fights, and you can easily end up fighting more against your memory of which spells are located within which loadout than you do the threats around you. It ends up feeding into the repetitive nature of combat because it becomes far simpler to just stick with four basic spells that you never have to navigate away from, especially since they scale generously with your level and upgrades, while enemies don't really change meaningfully over the hours.

[Hogwarts Legacy is] stuck too keenly in the present (and sometimes, past) of open-world game design, reducing much of what you do to repetitive checklist activities in a world that is disappointingly barren

You'll engage with dark wizards and witches, along with dark goblins and a variety of fauna ranging from rabid wild dogs to gigantic web-slinging spiders. Despite the variety, it's fairly easy to approach each type with the same strategy, with only humans and goblins presenting slightly more of a challenge because of their color-coded shields, which you'll need to destroy with appropriate spells. Larger enemies are immune to the sort of juggling you might have become comfortable employing on smaller hapless foes, but they diminish any additional sense of danger they could've presented by featuring a grossly limited moveset for attacks. This is even worse with bosses, especially those repeated at the end of several key story missions, who only have two attack patterns you need to learn as you slowly chip away at their health bar. The repetitive nature of these fights makes you keenly aware of how they're artificially drawn out, sapping any real excitement from most of them.

Almost every quest incorporates combat in some way, which doesn't help its repetitive nature, but many also give you chances to use spells in less obvious ways. With your assortment of manipulative magic, Hogwarts Legacy trusts your intelligence with spatial puzzles that sometimes had me pausing for thought before arriving at a satisfying solution. The best quests were ones that mixed this up nicely with combat, peppering a multi-staged level filled with puzzles with some brief fights to shake up the pacing. Perhaps the best example of this is an assault on Falbarton Castle, which featured a variety of high walls to scale with combinations of levitation and time-freezing spells, along with smart combat encounters in uncharacteristically tight spaces where a small misstep could be a long fall to death. It's capped off with a suitably climactic scene where you take flight atop a Hippogriff for the first time; it swoops down a nearby valley just as the Hogwarts Express is traveling past, throwing up thick clouds of smoke as it passes by. It's a quintessentially Harry Potter moment that feels ripped out of the main canon, and emphasizes the attention to detail that Hogwarts Legacy abides by in this regard.

This attention to detail is most evident throughout Hogwarts Castle, far and away the most engaging area of Hogwart Legacy's expansive open-world. If you've ever tried to piece together exactly how all of its rooms connect, how staircases that move around join vital hallways together, or just where every little landmark is situated, there hasn't been a better way to get those answers to date. At times it feels like you're navigating an engrossing museum, taking small stops at places of magnificence such as The Great Hall or The Library, seeing students going about their day and small acts of playful magic firing off in the corner of your eye. It's visually gorgeous and inviting to pick apart, but also filled with small puzzles and activities that further encourage your exploration. It certainly might not have been big enough to contain the entirety of Hogwart Legacy's story, but its level of polish stands in stark contrast to the world outside of its walls.

While Hogwarts Castle is grandiose, the only other part of Hogwarts Legacy's gigantic map that comes close to matching it is the vendor-laden streets of Hogsmeade. Ignoring the same two vocal cues that played every time I ventured there, the town itself is every bit as cozy as your character will frequently suggest, while also providing vital mercantile services for all your potions, equipment, and more. The areas surrounding both of these large landmarks are disappointingly barren by comparison. The Forbidden Forest is suitably eerie at any time of the day, but its visual impact is impaired by all the other identical forestry that stretches across all of the surrounding hills. Smaller villages appear throughout the map, too, with a handful of merchants and some side quests to accept in them, but these are even more cookie-cutter in their construction, to the point where it's almost impossible to tell one from another as you're exploring. Nothing makes this more evident than when you're flying across the countryside on a mount or broom. While it's unsurprisingly easy to pick out both Hogwarts and Hogsmeade from a distance, everything else blends into an indistinguishable blur of forestry and bare fields, which rarely invited me to explore it over fast-traveling between quests.

To be clear, there are things to do within this visually drab open world, but they're usually just as uninteresting as their backdrop. Hogwarts Legacy's world is littered with an abundance of trivial activities to complete, the likes of which you'll be familiar with if you've kept abreast of modern open-world designs. There are enemy camps to clear out, flora and fauna to either collect or hunt down, pages from your collectible field guide to uncover, chests behind locked doors to rummage through, and so much more. It's meant to alleviate the time spent traveling to and from story missions while also offering monetary and gear rewards, but it's so easy to overlook entirely given how frequent those rewards are handed out in far more intrestings main quests.

Problems arise, however, when Hogwarts Legacy forces you to engage with these mediocre side activities in order to progress. Many story quests are gated with both level and spell requirements, the former depending on your current numerical level and the latter on whether or not you have access to a specific spell. Experience is only rewarded for many of the activities strewn around the world and the various, albeit bland, side missions you can complete. Depending on how much you choose to explore Hogwarts Legacy's world organically or not, you can find yourself (like I did frequently) forced to take a pause from the main path and work through open-world missions just enough to continue, before being faced with the same hurdle again.

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The allure of better gear should offset the monotony, but it's so graciously handed out by defeated enemies that you'll find yourself rubbing up against your restrictive inventory. You start off with 20 slots that are shared across all five of your gear categories, which can be filled within just one or two missions if you're not making a habit of visiting a merchant to offload items or wastefully destroying them. Worse still is that the only way to alleviate this issue is to complete countless Merlin Trials across the map, all of which are one of a handful of small, quick puzzles repeated ad nauseam. Each milestone in this quest rewards you with four extra slots, and the requirements to the next one increases as you go, making it a tedious slog if all you want to do is reduce the frequency with which you have to manage your inventory.

There's a sense of bloat that permeates many of Hogwarts Legacy's mechanics, informing design decisions that turn it into a familiar loot-based action game. There are so many systems that exist solely to tempt you into caring about maxing out your equipment levels or upgrading gear to enhance its stats, both of which are completely unnecessary in the face of how little a challenge the combat poses to keep up with you. The Room of Requirement, a small hub of sorts, is a space that lets you reveal unidentified gear, similar to Diablo or Destiny, craft potions and cultivate violent flora that both feature long timers you have to wait on before you can claim them, and a massive space for all your collected beasts that can be farmed for resources vital to upgrading your gear. Aside from the odd visit to complete a quest or craft a single potion, I felt little reason to return to this space for the many purposes it was designed for. Even unidentified gear became mostly irrelevant, as better gear (often in the same rarity class) would drop before I felt compelled to make the trip. These are some of the numerous systems that Hogwarts Legacy pushes you to engage with, often forcibly through questlines, with many of them not coalescing with the structure of the rest of the game, ending up as superfluous and a waste of time.

Time is something Hogwarts Legacy and its repetitive quests, dull open world, and monotonous combat often do not respect, from its slow opening to its insistence on introducing new systems to juggle just for the sake of it. It's a bit of a shame that these parts couldn't coalesce in the same way that its presentation and respect for its universe does, because Hogwarts Castle persists as a delightful puzzle box to explore from the moment you step foot in its doors to the last day of term. There's equally delightful moments during some of the main quests, specifically those that balance puzzle-solving and combat in ways that challenge your understanding of the spells you have in engaging ways. But these moments are so spread out between much less interesting filler content that it will likely take some of the most dedicated Harry Potter fans to justify seeing the entire journey through.

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The Good

  • Hogwarts Castle is intricate, gorgeous, and a delight to explore
  • Combat is initially thrilling, with a great sense of power behind the spells you get to play with
  • Some main quests balance puzzle-solving and combat while challenging your understanding of your abilities

The Bad

  • Cumbersome spell-switching and uninteresting enemies quickly make combat a repetitive chore
  • So many layers of systems that just induce busywork without being fun or additive to the whole experience

About the Author

The reviewer got lost numerous times around Hogwarts Castle but never once minded it across 30 hours with Hogwarts Legacy. They only cast an unforgivable curse once because the spell loadouts are confusing. The game was purchased for the purposes of this review.