Covering ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ brings up unavoidable issues and controversy. This review will purely focus on the game itself and critique the work of the developers. This isn’t a stance on the politics around the game but a review of the art itself.
‘Hogwarts Legacy’ sees you as a witch or wizard enrol into the prestigious high school as a fifth year. The reason why the school would allow for such a late bloomer, is due to your innate ability to see and harness ancient and long forgotten magic. A professor named Fig takes you on an excursion to test your abilities and find evidence on the wrongdoings of an evil goblin named Ranrok and his accomplice, the dark wizard Rookwood. While you piece together evidence with Professor Fig, you are tasked with completing lessons and learning useful spells. As you spend time in the school, you make friends with a group of eclectic characters, whose lives may intertwine with Ranrok and Rookwood in surprising ways.
Unfortunately, social media had ruined the entire plot before I had chance to install the game. Trying to be objective as possible, the main plot-line itself was never really compelling and Ranrok and Rookwood are adversaries you encounter so infrequently, they become forgettable. It’s a shame because the core cast of the main quest are quite interesting, Professor Fig and the ghostly paintings of teachers long dead offer interesting stories, but in context with what’s actually happening, it’s kinda dull.
Thankfully, the classmates you encounter are far more interesting and whether it’s Poppy’s fight against poachers, Sebastian’s descent into dark magic to save his dying sister, or Natty playing Sherlock Holmes trying to solve a murder, it’s all great stuff. One of the biggest strengths of ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ is that the game manages to make your character feel like they belong in the world. Open world games with player created characters often run into the issue of making your character feel like an empty doll, this game does a great job grounding your character and the friendship quest-lines are given far more gravitas than expected.
As an open world RPG, ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ has a few areas it needs to nail to be memorable. First up is exploration. You’ll begin the game in Hogwarts and this is where you realise that this game is massive. Hogwarts itself is gigantic, intricately designed with more secrets than you can imagine, even three laps of the school won’t cut it. It’s a different design to the movies or books and it begs you to explore every nook and cranny. Within an hour or two of game time, the map is open for exploration and the first section of this map is staggeringly big, you start off with on foot travel and it feels very much like The Witcher 3. Once you get a broom, or flying mount, the game really opens up. There’s no better feeling than zipping through the tree lines at a blistering pace on your broom. There’s fast travel to speed things up and another large map that opens up later. Biomes are limited given the setting but the exploration is outstanding from start to finish.
Magic combat is a tricky beast to get right and the developers have done an awesome job here. There are over 20 spells to learn, and they all have a multitude of uses whether it’s for damage, crowd control, defence or pure evil with dark magic. Combat is simple, the game highlights a character you’re looking at and you auto target that person, you can lock on to a target for more accuracy but the combat works effectively. Enemies are varied and will throw almost all of the 20 spells back at you, so you need to have the right counter spells ready. To even the odds you can use potions and even plants to get the upper hand. Not enough? Employ some ancient magic for a brutal finisher. It’s not revolutionary, but it all works really well.
There’s plenty of stuff to do, since you’re five years behind the other students, you are given a field guide to track your progress and offer challenges. Collection challenges, many for combat, tons for the Merlin trial puzzles are just a few of the elements needed to complete the gargantuan Field Guide. There is a shocking amount of content in the game and there is an element of ‘Ubisoft Open World’ that haunts the game, if multiple map markers get on your nerves, this might not be the one for you. The surprises don’t end there because the game gives you access to the Room of Requirement, this is your own private space away from prying eyes where you can craft potions and upgrade your gear (handily, the game gives you the option to have any item of clothing appear as a previously unlocked one) and no, that’s not all. The Room has its own petting zoo (multiple, in-fact) that allow you to rescue a moderate size roster of magical creatures. ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ will keep you busy for a long time.
Using Unreal Engine 4 to great effect, the game looks great. Characters models are generally good, the world is very well textured and the lighting is excellent. That means nothing if the art department didn’t put the effort in and wow did they. This has to be one of the greatest designed open worlds in years, everything from buildings, clothing, paintings, tapestries, cliff faces, you name it, it looks amazing. Voice work is pretty decent across the board, and the score is a blend of the excellent movie soundtracks and original pieces. Performance was generally good across the board, a few expected open world bugs, but nothing too nasty.
As a fan of the franchise, I was going to eat up whatever I was given, but I have to say, I’m really impressed with what Portkey Games has done. ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ is a really strong product, there might be a few little wobbles here and there, mostly the result of the limits of an open world and the repetitiveness it brings, and slightly underwhelming main plot-line. Overall, the game is great and accessible enough for people new to the franchise or those who never cared for it before.
Hogwarts Legacy was reviewed using a copy purchased by the reviewer.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games / Portkey Games Developer: Avalanche Software Release Date: 10th February 2023 Reviewed On: Xbox Series X