Wander into the Wizarding World in our Hogwarts Legacy review.
Ever since first being formally announced in September 2020 as being in development by Avalanche Software and to be published by Warner Bros. offshoot Portkey Games, Hogwarts Legacy has been one of the most hyped games on the release radar. I guess that is just what comes with an IP as massive as Harry Potter and the Wizarding World.
You know what else comes with anything linked to Harry Potter and creator, J.K. Rowling? Controversy. I feel that it is important for me to provide some brief commentary around this before diving into the review proper.
J.K. Rowling has said some things against the transgender community. I’m not going to go into any detail here, but a quick Google search will find the information for you if you want to know more. As a result of these comments, the transgender community (and people who support them) have loudly boycotted J.K. Rowling and her literary creations. This extends to anything linked in any way to the ‘Wizarding World‘, including projects with which J.K. Rowling has no direct involvement (such as Hogwarts Legacy).
Funnily enough, the Streisand effect is hard at play here. The concerted efforts from some people to kick up large amounts of ‘negative press’ for the game seems to have only had the opposite effect by ensuring that an even greater proportion of the population is aware that the game exists. Within a couple of weeks of release Hogwarts Legacy had already sold a massive 12 million copies across all platforms, and I can only imagine that number has continued to grow.
If you hold a personal grudge against J.K. Rowling – that is your prerogative. If that makes you want to avoid all Harry Potter related media until the end of time – that is your choice. If you want to tell other people to burn all of their Harry Potter books… well you can tell them to do that, but at the end of the day they get to make their own choice.
Here at Qualbert we have a great deal of respect for all people from all walks of life. We are a small group of reviewers, but within that group we come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Other than respect, another thing that we all share is a love for video games and the people that make them.
The team at Avalanche Software has been hard at work on Hogwarts Legacy since at least 2018. There are clear efforts that the development team wanted to make this an inclusive game. You can make your character transgender if you wish by having any combination of physical appearances, clothes, masculine/feminine voice and be called a ‘witch’ or ‘wizard’ throughout the game. There is also a transgender character in the game that you interact with multiple times, in addition to a smattering of gay and lesbian characters as well.
Yes, there is a transgender character in Hogwarts Legacy.
At the end of the day, my mission here (as with all of our reviews) is to tell you about a game – in this case Hogwarts Legacy. Is it good? Does it run well? How does it look and sound? Most importantly – is it fun to play?
I will give you my perspective on all of these things because a massive group of talented people put literal years of their life into making this game. I will give you knowledge and understanding about the game and its contents so you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to spend your money and time to experience it fully for yourself.
Now with that out of the way, lets talk about the damn game in our Hogwarts Legacy review.
Hogwarts Legacy Review – Story
Hogwarts Legacy takes us to the familiar setting of the Hogwarts school and surrounding area of Hogsmeade. Though there are many (MANY) elements to this game that will tickle the nostalgia bug, this is a brand new story set in the Wizarding World of the 1800s. Set long before the events of the Harry Potter series and the more recent Fantastic Beasts movies, only the places and some names will be familiar to all but the most fanatical Potter fanboys and fangirls.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (if you somehow didn’t know that already).
We take the role of a new student joining Hogwarts to learn the mystical arts. For reasons unknown, this student has an unusual start to their studies, commencing education at a fifth-year level. Fortunately, one of the school professors – Eleazar Fig – has agreed to provide us with some private tutoring to get us up to speed before the school year starts. These tutoring sessions take a dark turn when our protagonist’s carriage is attacked by a seemingly wild dragon. A portkey safely teleports Fig and the student deep within Gringotts bank where our story about a hidden ‘ancient magic’ begins.
No cash here mate. No cash.
It is revealed that our young witch/wizard has the ability to somehow see and channel this mysterious ‘ancient magic’, which also appears to have a link to some Professors that used to teach at Hogwarts. Despite simply attending Hogwarts to learn as a normal student, we soon become a target for evil forces seeking to release the power of the ancient magic. We are quickly embroiled in battles with Dark Wizards and an evil goblin hoping to rebel against the ruling Wizard class.
Thank god for that subtitle, I wouldn’t have known what I was looking at otherwise.
Once safely at Hogwarts after the dragon attack, we get to experience this magical new world just like Harry Potter. We attend our first day at the school and are sorted into one of the four houses. Before playing the game you can complete some quizzes online to learn what your House and Wand should be (which you can do via the Official Harry Potter Fan Club). However, you can still override this recommendation and effectively choose your house with the sorting hat if you wish.
We are quick to meet classmates, Professors, shopkeepers and various other denizens of the Wizarding World who are more than willing to help solve the deep mysteries of Hogwarts castle and the surrounding area, as well as send us on many side-quests that will fast-track our magical learnings. Just like the sorting hat ceremony, many of these interactions feel like they were pulled straight out of existing Harry Potter media and are just a joy to experience – like receiving our very own Wand for the first time from the great Ollivander himself.
Indeed, there is a huge cast of characters introduced here – Witches and Wizards of all ages, Goblins, Elves and fantastic beasts. Each character is unique, well written, and generally well voiced with only a couple of minor exceptions which feel ‘overacted’. They help push the story along and provide strong motivation to complete additional side quests for those players wanting to learn more about the Wizarding World and the backstories of these new personalities.
The story in Hogwarts Legacy leans on the heritage of the original novels and creates a brand new story that overall was an enjoyable experience. I would say what happens here feels more strongly linked to the world of Harry Potter than many of the events in the Fantastic Beasts films. It really feels like we are taking part in a Harry Potter movie – there are even a couple of Weasleys to meet. Hogwarts Legacy definitely provides that feeling of solving a mystery by unlocking new secrets piece-by-piece, even if the later parts of the story are somewhat predictable by the end of the game.
This isn’t ominous at all…
Hogwarts Legacy Review – Gameplay
I hope you like open world games, because Hogwarts Legacy has taken a page straight out of Ubisoft’s playbook. The full description of this title would be ‘third-person over-the-shoulder action-RPG’, which is a bit of a mouthful. Fortunately, the game does a great job of drip-feeding new mechanics to the player – often through classes at the eponymous school itself. However, it is Professor Fig’s helpful tutoring sessions at the start of the game that kick things off. Learning spells for the first time reminds me of Okami, though once learned the spells are simply bound to a combination of R2 + a face button of your choice.
After the brief introduction with Professor Fig, other spells are learned directly from Professors either during their classes, or as rewards for completing extra-curricular activities outside of school hours. The more spells learned the better, as they are used constantly throughout the game either in battles or as part of solving the literally hundreds of puzzles strewn around the map. Initially there are only four slots available, though eventually a total of 16 can be bound to four ‘sets’ of spells that can be accessed without needing to re-enter the menu.
I’m dying to learn that delightfully quaint spell.
Whilst it is possible to play through the game interacting with NPCs in a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ manner, I was a bit disappointed to find that there was no consequence to this. You can play as a ‘good’ witch and still learn (and use) the unforgivable curses. Or you can play as an evil wizard the likes of big Voldemort himself and still get the ‘good’ ending at the end of the game depending on one final choice made at that time. As such, it is obviously more fun to play through as an evil bastard, as the character interactions are damn hilarious:
Being an RPG there are experience points to be earned for winning spell-slinging battles, solving puzzles and otherwise completing quests throughout the game. ‘Talent Points’ earned at level-up can then be spent to enhance skills across five sets of talents. The game does warn you that there aren’t enough talent points to be earned to unlock everything, however there is enough to learn the important stuff – with my recommendation being to completely ignore the ‘Room of Requirement‘ section of talents.
Room of Requirement? More like Room of Uselessness.
Strewn throughout the open world are your run of the mill activities, but with a wizarding twist. There are over 100 ‘Merlin Trials‘ that require the use of a specific spell (sometimes more than one) to solve some type of physics based puzzle like getting a ball into a hole, blowing up a bunch of monuments with a fire spell, or returning some moths to their home with tricky use of the Lumos light spell. In Hogwarts itself are also some Lumos based puzzles, requiring you to find a hidden moth based on only a picture clue:
There are also a bunch of Dark Wizard camps (small battle challenges), Arena challenges (more complex wave based battle challenges) and ‘hidden caves’ to discover. The map is absolutely littered with these icons proving hours and hours of things to do, and the map is likely larger than you would be expecting (I’ll leave you to discover this yourself). Some of these activities are fun… at first, but after a few dozen times they become a chore. The worst part about them is that after the first few challenges of each type are completed, the ongoing rewards earned after that initial burst just aren’t worth the time spent on the tasks.
I know little buddy, I’m sick of map markers too.
It’s easy to make your way around the map once you have attended the most important class at Hogwarts – flying class. One of the best things to do in this game is just zip around on your broom, particularly around the Hogwarts castle itself. It is an exhilarating experience, even if they did try to resurrect the long forgotten ‘Superman 64‘ style ring challenges.
Let’s spend a moment to talk about one of the most important elements of the game – the combat. We are armed with a huge arsenal of skills and spells that are all easily accessed during battle. R2 is going to do some work – tapping the button casts the basic damaging spell (that doesn’t really have a name) that does a 4 hit combination. Holding R2 and pressing one of the face buttons will use the allotted spell, while holding R2 and pressing a directional button will cycle through ‘sets’ of available spells (once these have been unlocked). Circle is your action-game-standard dodge roll which is extremely effective, whilst pressing Triangle will cast a short burst of ‘Protego’ the shielding spell – timing this right will automatically set off a counterattack ‘Stupefy’ spell as well.
There are three different ‘types’ of spell (red, blue and green) and occasionally enemies will have a specific colour shield that can only be broken by the corresponding type of spell – or by one of the unforgivable curses that can break any type of spell barrier. Our protagonist can also charge up a special meter and unleash the powers of Ancient Magic by pressing R1+L1 that does devastating damage (this also breaks spell shields – if the enemy has any health left after the attack hits anyway).
Yes, yes I believe I’ll take that one thanks.
I did also want to call out the PlayStation specific side quest that has an absolutely insane boss battle, which you can see some of below. It isn’t enough to make you go out and buy a PS5, but if you have the choice, I’d say to go for this version for an excellent bonus quest and boss fight.
Overall combat is fast and generally enjoyable. My only quibbles are a small lack in enemy variation does creep in by the end of the game, and I did feel that the battles were a little light on the challenge factor at least on ‘Normal’ difficulty settings. Maybe this is just because I was completing every available side quest and was ‘over-levelled’ at most stages…
One thing that may disappoint a lot of people is there is NO Quidditch available to play at any stage in the game. The developers were unable to fit in a fully playable version of Quidditch, and Headmaster Black is quick to remind you of this at the start of the school year. Avalanche Software were able to put in plenty of Quidditch reminders though… rude.
Look at that beautiful field over there, unused and going to waste.
Hogwarts Legacy Review – Presentation
If you have been looking at the pictures and videos throughout this review so far, you may have already come to the same conclusion as me in relation to Hogwarts Legacy’s presentation. But let’s dive in a bit deeper though because there a couple of important points to make.
Firstly, this game was clearly developed with ‘cross-gen’ performance in mind. Character models look pretty good… until they talk or move. There is a lot of ‘uncanny valley’ going on here where things just don’t look quite right. During battle these movements are fast enough (and your attention is honestly elsewhere) that it is hard to notice. But there are hours of in-engine cut-scenes where I was always just a little distracted by characters’ facial movements (or lack thereof). That being said, not every game can look as good as Horizon Forbidden West or Death Stranding, but that quality of facial capture/animation would have really taken Hogwarts Legacy to the next level.
5th year? He looks like an adult!
Where Hogwarts absolutely excels though, is in art direction. There is so much attention to detail here that my jaw regularly hit the floor upon entering a new area, or simply walking around Hogwarts itself and remembering moments from the movies simply from the classroom or environment. The development team clearly love Harry Potter and it shows.
Straight out of the movie.
Some of the brand new areas created for the game are just as magical to witness. Avalanche Software absolutely captured the feel of Harry Potter and translated it into this game. Fantastic effort.
Another area where the feel of the movies was captured perfectly is the game’s stellar soundtrack. Hats off to the composers: Peter Murray, J. Scott Rakozy and Chuck Myers. They took the iconic work of John Williams and maintained the feel whilst also adding their own twists. The tunes are 100% ‘Harry Potter’ in feeling, whilst also being new and exciting in their own right. This is definitely one of those soundtracks that would be worth owning separately.
Take a listen to some of the magical sounds of Hogwarts Legacy:
The game’s main theme, “Hogwarts Legacy Overture”.
“Potting Mandrakes” is a delightfully playful track that captures the charm of the films’ scores perfectly.
The voice-over work here is also excellent across the entire cast, with some great guest performances that are worth calling out in particular by Simon Pegg (Headmaster Black) and Lesley Nicol (Professor Weasley). Each character feels unique, particularly the non-human entities we meet throughout the journey.
Playing on the PS5 was a super-smooth experience at almost all times. I did have a couple of very strange occurrences of intense slow-down – though these were relatively short-lived (only 5-10 seconds of slow down), and I was unable to replicate these so I’m unsure what the cause was. I did encounter a few occurrences of NPCs or enemies acting very strangely or becoming stuck in the environment, but no game-breaking bugs, crashes or soft-locks were encountered though the entire experience.
Hogwarts Legacy is a fantastic return to the Wizarding World and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In my 50 hour playthrough of the game I finished all of the major character driven side quests, but left many of the minor open world activities uncompleted. There certainly wasn’t any shortage of things to do in this world and it was an enjoyable experience from start to finish.
Uh, heeeeel… good boy.
It is by no means the perfect game due to some aging visual presentation, but artistically there is just so much to love about what Avalanche Software have been able to create and the soundtrack and voice work is sublime.
Hogwarts Legacy is a stellar game that I will not be surprised to see on some people’s ‘end of year’ lists – though I don’t think it will quite make it for me. That being said, I do recommend this game for anyone with a passing liking for Harry Potter, or a well made open world game with dozens of secrets to uncover.
So, why should you play Hogwarts Legacy?
- You have ever read/watched and enjoyed any Harry Potter related media and want to experience more
- You are looking for an open world experience that has a unique and mysterious setting
But, why shouldn’t you play Hogwarts Legacy?
- You want nothing to do with JK Rowling for reasons mentioned at the start of this review
- Lengthy open world games frustrate and bore you
A review code on PlayStation 5 was kindly provided by Warner Bros and Portkey Games for the purpose of this review. Enjoyed our Hogwarts Legacy review? There is more magic to be found here at Qualbert if you know where to look – check out our review for Magic: The Gathering’s newest set ‘Phyrexia: All Will Be One’ and follow us on Facebook or on our brand new Discord Server to join the discussion!