Witchcraft and Wizardry?
I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I used to be, but haven’t been since around the time of the second movie, despite being a fan of the books when I was younger. However, the world has always held a degree of intrigue for me. A level of curiosity that has been begging for a decent video game, with enough separation from the stories in the books to allow for a brand new tale to be told. Hogwarts Legacy, on the surface, seems to be the title that I’ve been hoping for. Whether it holds up is an entirely different matter.
There is, naturally, a rather large elephant in the room whenever this game, or indeed the series, is mentioned. It’s no secret that there have been a number of controversial statements and actions from the series’ creator, to the point where many people (myself included) believe that they will cause harm to members of the trans community, either through the actions of others, or as a direct result of some of those actions. It’s led to an unenviable position for a number of websites, with discussions around coverage of the game ranging from a blanket ban, to coverage without mentioning the controversy. As a relatively small site in the grand scheme of things, our goal is to put out coverage of video games when we can, and I would hope that the understanding is there for people to read the critical points on the game, without taking it as tacit approval of the abhorrent views that are becoming ever more prevalent in our society. We received a copy of the game from WB, and as a result, we will be donating the cost of a full retail copy, as well as all monetisation from any content related to it, to Mermaids – a UK based charity that provides support to trans youths and their families. Trans rights are human rights.
Hogwarts Legacy, then, is set in the 1800s in the titular school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Your character is starting school as a fifth-year, an unusual circumstance, and it’s immediately apparent that something is a little different. They have the ability to see traces of “ancient magic”, which others don’t, and it leads you on a quest with your professor, Fig, to uncover the secrets of a plot which threatens wizarding kind on its most fundamental level. Throughout the story, there’s a plethora of activities to get stuck into, as you build your character and try to navigate the difficulties of a being a student in a new place, as well as the aforementioned “big threat”. You can choose which house you get sorted into, and you are immediately tasked with getting yourself up to speed in your studies. Conveniently, this lends itself well to being given new spells and abilities with which to explore the grounds and world further. Once you get given access to a broom, then exploration becomes second nature, with a robust fast travel system existing alongside the open nature of the world around you. Upon my first visit to Hogsmeade within the game, I was reminded of certain things from my childhood that had been lost to the sands of time. Honeydukes and the Fizzing Whisbees. Ollivanders and the selection of wands. It’s a world that has so much to explore and get immersed in, that I could genuinely spend hours just wandering around and taking it all in.
Of course, the generic statements around the immersive aspects and the other RPG elements could be picked out of this review and plonked into most others without much of a second thought. From a mechanical standpoint, this is nowhere near as deep as the likes of Fallout, or the Elder Scrolls series. It’s very much an introduction to a number of RPG elements, and I feel that’s more than enough for the game, given that its target audience is going to be skewed a little younger than those titles. Personally, I really enjoyed this aspect. I’m not a huge fan of massive, sprawling RPGs with open ended quests and worlds, but I do like the idea of character progression and a bit of choice as to which way you decide to go. With this being said, Hogwarts Legacy does enough to keep me on the hook, and doesn’t lose me with 50 different side quests happening at any one moment.
When it comes to combat in the game, the spell casting system is your primary focus here. You can throw out some carnivorous plants to assist you, but most of your time will be spent flicking between one of four groups of spells to chain together and take down your foes. As you progress, you can end up with somewhere in the region of 24 different spells to cast, so you’ll need to work out which ones compliment each other well as you flick between them all. Do you attempt to brute force your way through enemies with pure power? Or stop them in their tracks before applying plenty of damage? There are, of course, the unforgiveable curses that you come across later in the game, but for the most part it’s about that balance of damage and ease of use. I did find this a little fiddly at points when things got a bit chaotic, but I feel some of that may be down to my poor choices in the layout and the “blast first, ask questions later” approach I took for the most part.
With all this being said, the most impressive part of the game is the building in the title. The sheer scale and scope of Hogwarts itself is truly incredible, with hidden sections, transforming walls and familiar areas all combining to create something that feels genuinely full of wonder. It does, admittedly, feel a little sparse at times as you traverse the corridors, but the segments involving classes and bigger groups of students make it feel as lived in as any video game environment that I’ve seen. The castle itself feels like its own unique character, with plenty of stories to tell and advice to give out.
From a technical standpoint, the game is pretty damn solid. There are several modes to enable to play the game the way you want to (we will hopefully have a performance analysis up relatively soon), and even in the performance mode, the vast majority of the game looks really sharp. Loading between areas in the castle is hidden cleverly behind closed doors, although sometimes these do result in a little swirling circle above the door until it fully loads. It’s the one technical aspect that I thought would be a non-issue on the PS5, but on the whole it’s really not anything to complain about. Frame rates appear to be mostly consistent, while the abundance of magical effects never cease to be impressive as things float around, apparate out of nowhere and generally look like they would do if magic was as prevalent as it is in this mystical world.
With everything combining, Hogwarts Legacy is a very accomplished game. As someone with very little affinity to the wizarding world franchises, I found myself really enjoying it for what it is. An RPG that doesn’t feel too bloated, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and has enough content to satisfy most players, whether they’re a Potter-head or not.