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Hogwarts Legacy Review

I’m a what?

Making games that take place in an established world can be a nightmare. There is a level of expectation that can seem insurmountable, and disappointment has to be meted out to a level that can be deemed ‘acceptable’ but not ‘unforgivable.’ Therefore I find it fitting to say that Hogwarts Legacy must have utilised some kind of sorcery, because it seems to not only meet expectations of wizarding, but positively crushes them.

Set in the late 1800s, Hogwarts Legacy serves as a historical prelude to the Harry Potter universe as we know it today – carefully eschewing a great many of the more ‘sticky’ elements that are difficult to work with, and instead settling into a more familiar rhythm of locale and legend. While it may not be precisely the wizarding world you’ve gleaned from books and film, you’ll still absolutely find yourself pointing at the screen like Leonardo DiCaprio every few minutes. You’ll arrive at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, get sorted by a talking hat and enjoy a wonderful school year full of classes, attempts on your life and mysteries that have gone long unsolved…until you came along.

What follows is an open world adventure that is every bit as competent as it is overwhelmingly interesting – do as you wish, when you wish to do it. You’ll balance the overarching narrative of an ancient power being discovered and dark forces that wish to claim it alongside meeting new schoolmates that each have their own quirks and needs, while somehow trying to have a productive school year. And I mean that, you gotta attend classes and turn in assignments to progress the game at times – so make sure you do your homework.

Time to swish and flick this mother

My initial impressions was that the scope set before me was too broad, fostering a deep concern that trying to tell a dramatic story alongside the balance of schoolwork and helping random friends would end up a hodgepodge of tonal dissonance – but I quickly came to realise that the strength of the game is not just in its storytelling, but the unique and interesting characters that exist within its world. As I was drip fed motivations for each of my newfound chums, I realised that they all had a compelling story to tell that would neatly fit in alongside my own narrative path. I had conjured visions of a Grand Theft Auto IV-esque cousin inviting me to nights of bowling via Owl-mail – but instead I had a standing invitation to go and see dragons, or investigate why a curse was leaving a sibling wracked with unending pain. I gladly donated hours of my life to see where these plot threads reached their end, and find myself struggling to consider them ‘optional side content.’

This isn’t to say that the main story of the title is not interesting or engaging – quite the opposite. I traversed the main tale of Hogwarts over 20-ish hours, noting that its slow-burn approach did a lot to foster interest in themes of destiny, intolerance and squandered potential. The shining jewel of Legacy is how openly (and expertly) it works to avoid some of the less enjoyable factors found in more traditional Harry Potter stories – giving characters and concepts depth and intrigue away from their usual single-sentence explanation. Familiar parties are expanded upon and given complexities that help add dimension to the conflicts and resolutions that define their existence, rather than serving as a prop that best serves a singular purpose.

It may not carry the gravitas of a Boy Who Lived, but for a nameless protagonist you sure get a surprising amount of agency in how you interact with others – and this is a critically worthwhile credit to the writing team. I felt the crushing lows of lying to a companion out of necessity, only to be given a real opportunity to explain the reason for doing so later, with the game inspiring me to replay it at my leisure and see what trouble a more loose tongue might get me into. It could be read as a very rote morality system, with the classic “I want to help” versus “Fuck you and your problems” options being the main flavours, but the binary nature actually felt both classic and freeing.

In the winter, Hogwarts can get a bit drafty under its Dumble-doors

Combat is best described as a playground where you could easily be spoilt for choice, but the reality is that every piece of equipment is yours to explore at your leisure. Initially I found myself disabling foes and pummelling them with a basic spellcast and comboing into a heavier hit – occasionally doing the odd defensive parry and stunning an enemy in retaliation. However as I expanded my spell arsenal, I’d gleefully impart punishment on enemies in new and creative ways – leaping between all manner of disabling and destructive spellcasts. Spells have unique schools that communicate their purpose, and it would have been so incredibly simple for the developers to share cooldowns between like-minded attacks, streamlining combat into an array of push versus pull, attack and defend – but they understand that a wizarding fantasy means casting ALL THE THINGS, and really the beauty of it all coming together defines expressive freedom.

In the later stages of the game I felt like a conductor of chaos. Do I abduct an enemy cleanly out of his cadre of mates, his terrified face meeting mine as I transfigure him into an explosive barrel and launch him like a missile back into his friends? Perhaps I could opt to levitate a number of them and forcefully push them with Depulso into a convenient pit or hazard. Why not use a disillusionment charm and evade the enemies gaze, almost invisible, and take each enemy out with a precise petrification charm? This is the accepted cadence of encounters, weaving devastating toys and tools together while carefully negating incoming damage. Add in some unique enemy defences to play around, and you have a recipe for clear success.

A genius addition is the inclusion of Duelling Feats that appear as you begin your melee – optional objectives that encourage unique takedowns and combos. Jumped into a fight with a room full of spiders? The onscreen tip might ask you to set one on fire and launch it into its friends – or perhaps use a slam charm to snatch one mid-leap and splat it to the floor. Maybe both. Completing these offers unique in-game rewards, and it does hard yards in making sure you don’t just figure out a set of ‘optimal killing spells’ build and rinse and repeat every battle.

There’s got to be an easier way to harvest troll bogeys

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The vast majority of systems within the game feel like a greatest hits of open-world features from the last decade or so, with many cherry-picked and polished to offer the kind of experience one would expect in the modern era. Fast travel is immediately handed to the player to visit whatever location they have discovered, invisible walls only exist in areas that serve no purpose to gameplay – and outside of missions you are free to do whatever you want. The amount of things to do can feel staggering, but graciously there is very little content-gating to be afraid of. I was thrilled that every task I put myself to was fun and rewarding in its own way – honestly, if you had told me beforehand that stargazing would be a prominent side activity to indulge in during my travels, and that I would LOVE IT, I’d have called you a liar. But I’ll say it: stargazing is fun, do more of it.

All of this is tracked and stored through a generous set of menus that do an admirable job of collecting and presenting the information – represented in game as your Wizarding Field Guide. As its pages swell with information, numerous alerts and notes will try and grab your attention, while also working to not drown you in tasks, accolades and miscellaneous lore. To its credit, the Herculean task is handled remarkably well – but it doesn’t quite stick the mark with some clunky navigation and unintuitive nested menus. Also, it does that hideous thing where it shies away from using the d-pad for generic navigation on button heavy areas, forcing you to instead use your control stick as a gross floaty cursor for selecting things – which is crap so potent I could use it to fertilise my herbology homework.

And those herbology items come in handy, because player power is very systematically doled out to ensure things stay fresh and exciting. Equipment-wise, you’ll leverage your school learning into both potions and magical plants that can assist in combat, with buffs and offensive battlefield minions respectively – while your personal strength will get its bonuses from the myriad collection of wizarding clothing you will come across. Eventually you’ll even end up with the power to upgrade and tweak your wardrobe to focus on the strengths you prefer, all while enjoying a cosmetic system that means you’ll never need to bend a knee to looking like a clown in the pursuit of strength. A great deal of this is managed from your very own base of operations, a personal space that takes place within the lore-accurate Room of Requirement, where you can grow, craft and upgrade at your leisure. And you even get handed an exceptional system to gather the rarer reagents you may need for upgrades, by way of a Pokémon-esque system to catch and care for magical creatures – so that they may gift you materials instead of the game asking you to mindlessly slaughter those same creatures for their loot out in the open world.

When your custom character is in a cutscene

When you finally stray out of your personal Batcave, you are free to navigate the generous landscape of an open-world that has been meticulously put together. Towns and hamlets feel alive with the bustle of NPCs, the amount of buildings you can enter is astounding – and the ones you cannot are just a spell away from letting you in anyway. Off the beaten track are of course perilous forest areas that house many threats, both beastly and humanoid – and you can easily wander into the den of some towering threat that is quite open to caving your skull in. My own player progression felt curated in such a way that I often found myself facing appropriate challenges – to a point where I wondered if the game world was simply scaling alongside me (a long term gripe I have with games that make use of a levelling system). So I mounted my broom, and decided to fly for an age in a random direction and see what kind of trouble I could get myself into. Sure enough I was delighted to be proven wrong, as a colossal troll threw a rock that flattened me – and I could openly see that its level was a great deal higher than mine (I did pay a visit to this doofus much later, for a well deserved rematch).

It’s genuinely difficult to put into words the absurd level of detail that can be found when you stop and just absorb your surroundings. Magical whimsy openly seeps out of every inch of every nook and cranny, to a point where you will just find yourself constantly finding new things occurring around to immerse you deeper into your wizardly world. As I traversed the grounds of Hogwarts, I saw bushes that would topiary themselves into new shapes on occasion – or when visiting a clothing store in Hogsmeade I witnessed a boy walk out of the shop, madly dancing and complaining to his mother that he did not like the enchanted dancing socks she had just purchased him. It’s hard to believe that such craftsmanship can come from anything but the most passionate of artists and developers, people who deeply understand what makes the setting fun to experience – and have poured themselves into realising it as best they can. Even the myriad of dungeon settings are methodically built to remain distinct from each other, when so many developers would be just as happy to recycle ‘Cave Type A’ and call it for an early butterbeer.

It’s Levio-SAH, Not Levio-SAAAAAA!

While the game is beautiful by most metrics, there are still a handful of oddities that I can only attribute to a dedicated release on last-gen consoles. Muddy textures appear at times, and the mini-map geography can be pixelated to an ugly degree – and not in a cute, deliberately aesthetic way. I am talking utter dog mud, like a jpeg stretched to be slightly too big. I also witnessed the odd case of egregious pop-in on some 3D models as they shifted their level of detail – often on things that I questioned why they had been sat in such a focal spot. There is also a noticeable case of Fallout-itis, where characters in extended conversations can start to look like robot mannequins as they rotate through a pipeline of canned animations that try to ape natural gestures. While this is more than acceptable by any standard, really it only stood out to me due to the remarkable quality of the more baroque animations that appear in cinematic scenes.

This is also perhaps the first game I have played where I openly and enthusiastically went looking for a FOV (Field of View) slider. Navigating the many hallways and stairwells of Hogwarts immediately had me looking to pull the camera back and perhaps feel a little less claustrophobic – but amongst the very standard array of visual options, such a thing just didn’t exist. This became a cause for further frustration when I found myself in combat within a crowded space, as once more I’d be whipping my viewport around to just grasp the entirety of my situation.

From an auditory standpoint, the game is suitably scored to inspire the magical prowess you seek to wield. The orchestra swells and dips to punctuate massive moments, but even the ambient music that accompanies many areas is perfectly distinctive and characterful. The musical leitmotifs that one would expect from wizardry are carefully sprinkled amongst your adventures, ensuring the jollification of your journey is never far. This is beautifully coupled with both an ambient and impactful set of foley work, with the spark and sizzle of spells sounding otherworldly and…well… magic. The first time I cast the exploding charm Bombardo, my daughter jumped a little in her chair – I don’t think she was quite ready for the earthy thump that accompanies its explosive power. This is only marginally marred by a recurring bug that occurred on player character dialogue, where it appears as though the dialogue would double up and delay causing a tiny bit of reverb – like a child talking through a long tube.

Everyone gangsta until the mandrakes come out

Final Thoughts

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The wizarding world that surrounds the Harry Potter franchise is furiously documented and expanded upon – you’d be just as likely to hear a coffee shop argument about the correct ingredients of a PolyJuice potion as you would the socioeconomic hardships of Jakarta’s textile industry, with the outcome being that a Google search for the former would likely yield more deftly detailed answers than the latter. People know this stuff, so the task set before Avalanche Software was nothing short of incredible – and somehow, they have nailed it.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Hogwarts Legacy Review
I’m not done pottering about
Hogwarts Legacy is the most definitively accurate and exciting wizarding world adventure people could hope to experience, short of getting a real-life invitation to Hogwarts. With hours of content and a wealth of wizarding wonderment, you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy yourself to an impressive capacity.
The Good
A masterfully crafted look at the world of magic
Open world is precisely as big as it needs to be, and feels genuinely alive
Side stories are exceptional pieces of optional content
Player fantasy is rock solid – be the wizard or witch you always dreamed of being
Can’t name a single task or objective that feels tedious or un-fun
No limits, no problem
The Bad
Clunky menu navigation takes some learning
Needs an FOV slider
Odd audio bugs for player dialogue
9
BLOODY RIPPER
  • Avalanche Software
  • Warner Bros. Games
  • PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
  • February 10, 2023

Hogwarts Legacy Review
I’m not done pottering about
Hogwarts Legacy is the most definitively accurate and exciting wizarding world adventure people could hope to experience, short of getting a real-life invitation to Hogwarts. With hours of content and a wealth of wizarding wonderment, you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy yourself to an impressive capacity.
The Good
A masterfully crafted look at the world of magic
Open world is precisely as big as it needs to be, and feels genuinely alive
Side stories are exceptional pieces of optional content
Player fantasy is rock solid – be the wizard or witch you always dreamed of being
Can’t name a single task or objective that feels tedious or un-fun
No limits, no problem
The Bad
Clunky menu navigation takes some learning
Needs an FOV slider
Odd audio bugs for player dialogue
9
BLOODY RIPPER
Written By Ash Wayling

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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