Hogwarts Legacy (PC) review: A vast, magical world to explore
Hogwarts Legacy (PC) review: A vast, magical world to explore
Note: This review was first published on 23 February 2023.
Any talk of Hogwarts Legacy tends to go either one of two ways. Players who laud the title as the Harry Potter game they've been waiting for, and those who argue that it is impossible to separate the problematic views of creator J.K. Rowling from her work.
That said, Rowling was not involved in the development or writing of Hogwarts Legacy, and the game arguably goes out of its way to distance itself from her comments. Right from the outset, your character's appearance is divorced from whether or not they identify as a witch or wizard – you can create a female-presenting character and still choose to be a wizard. There are various pitches of voices to choose from as well, allowing for more flexible representation.
The game also introduces Sirona Ryan, the first-ever trans character in the wizarding world, and proprietress of the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.
Hogwarts Legacy's myriad side characters are also more varied than before, breaking from the traditional House tropes that defined the books and series. For instance, not all Slytherins are purposefully malicious and enamoured with dark magic. Most notably, Ominis Gaunt despises his family's obsession with blood purity, and remains firmly against all use of dark magic. Similarly, Solomon Sallow considers all use of dark magic abhorrent.
Ominis's principles are particularly noteworthy. After all, the Gaunts are direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin, and are known for inbreeding to keep their bloodline pure. Marvolo Gaunt is also the grandfather of none other than Lord Voldemort – so the game's deliberate avoidance of painting them all with the same brush stroke is in some ways a reminder that we ought to judge people by who they are, not where they come from.
However, it is Hogwarts Legacy's vast, open world that makes the game immensely engrossing. I should point out that Legacy's story in itself is not anything to get excited about. The entire plot revolves around a giant McGuffin – you are the only person in a long while to be able to see and wield "ancient magic," an uninspired name that says nothing about what it can do. In combat, your ancient magic abilities are clearly very potent, but don't look particularly different from what regular magic would be able to conjure.
The game also shares the Harry Potter series' penchant for putting children in the path of danger, while older and presumably wiser adults willfully withhold information. You are presumably a 19th-century version of Harry himself – special for reasons you don't fully understand, and the constant object of focus for teachers and students alike.
The open world is quite a different matter altogether. Expansive and brimming with magic, it is difficult to describe the sense of wonder when you soar above the Forbidden Forest on your broom. The world is also subject to the passing of seasons, going from a golden summer to the cosy hues of autumn and bleak winter. There are a million things to do, from small puzzles to solve, statues to find, field guide pages to gather, and secrets to uncover.
Avalanche Software has clearly pored over the books to bring the world to life, and fans will recognise the painstaking attention to detail, such as the prefects' bathroom that Harry enters on Cedric's instruction in The Goblet of Fire. From the hundred jewel-encrusted golden taps to the diving board at one end of the massive pool and the golden-framed painting of the blonde mermaid, the bathroom was plucked straight from the pages of the book.
Easter eggs also abound, such as the tiny snake scratched into the tap in the girl's bathroom, marking the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. Unfortunately, players will not be able to enter the chamber. That said, you'll also discover additional references to the chamber in the form of Salazar Slytherin's note referencing the monster he has concealed within the school, which can only be awoken by his heir.
Hogwarts castle itself is a delight to explore, and it is nearly impossible to tire of checking out the intricate detail that has gone into it.
Even more than 30 hours in, I still felt like there remained so much to discover and do. The side quests keep coming, taking you to new, undiscovered areas and showing you just that little bit more of this magical world. There is also a nice variety to them – each one feels rich and unique and you are not merely someone's errand boy sent to gather supplies or the like.
The game's combat system also turned out to be much better than I expected. Spellcasting feels smooth and fluid, with clear indicators of when to time your dodges and shields. Your character feels plenty powerful, and once you learn the Unforgivable Curses, you'll be nearly unstoppable. You should probably spend talent points on extra spell sets as soon as you can, which will give you access to a total of 16 spells on-the-fly.
Enemy variety is a little lacking, unfortunately, and you will encounter the same mix of poachers, goblins, spiders, and trolls over and over again.
The open world is also lacking in depth in some areas. Your companions never react to your use of the Unforgivable Curses, and the game is lacking in any sort of morality system. Few of your choices or dialogue options truly matter – a missed opportunity to add more depth to the game and have the player truly chart their own path. You can also explore the world with hilarious impunity, unlocking people's homes with the Alohomora charm and helping yourself to chests and galleons in their bedrooms.
It's your world and they're simply living in it. Your character is ridiculously powerful in the late game with the Unforgivable Curses equipped, routinely going on escapades and racking up a massive body count. You may only be a fifth-year student, but you may just as well be a full-fledged dark wizard.
Legacy is not perfect, but it is every Potter fan's dream come true. If you can get past its shallow story and problematic representations of goblins, this is an open world that just keeps giving, particularly if you know the books inside and out.