For rabid fans of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s expanded wizarding universe, Hogwarts Legacy (Warner Bros. Games and Avalanche Software, Rated Teen, reviewed with Xbox Series S and PlayStation 5, $69.99) offers a satisfying experience that pulls players into virtual magical realms in a true open world packed with puzzles to solve and secrets to reveal.
The third-person action takes place in 1800s England, as a new character enters Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a fifth-year student.
Of course, first and very importantly, a player has the opportunity to customize that student. Unfortunately, the customization was a bit lacking, as the options felt more akin to The Sims 2 than to the details included in recent games, such as Fallout 4.
There are several different diverse hairstyles to choose from, but options lack many facial specifics. However, costuming and accessories become more abundant as the game progresses.
The narrative kicks off when the created student meets a mentor, Professor Fig, a kind and knowledgeable Hogwarts professor who helps with spell casting and wand work before the new school term.
A prologue takes the student, Fig and Ministry of Magic employee George Osric on an enchanted carriage ride replete with an encounter with a dragon, the discovery of a mysterious key and a visit to Gringott’s Wizarding Bank.
The sequence also introduces the main story and thrusts the player in the middle of a goblin-wizard conspiracy revealing that the student has the ability to see (and use) a form of ancient magic. This power makes him a main target of Ranrok, the leader of a dark group of goblins with unknown powers and ambitions.
Throughout the roughly 50-hour-long epic, the player will go on main story quests and a variety of side quests, typically involving several different members of the Hogwarts staff and classmates.
For example, Sebastian Sallow, a daring and impulsive Slytherin fifth-year, and Natsai Onai, an intelligent and warmhearted Gryffindor, are often the main companions.
Fans of the franchise will love the attention to the Potter mythos throughout the game. For example, the carriage was pulled by Thestrals, magical skeletal horses visible to those who have seen death.
While studying at Hogwarts, the player meets the pompous headmaster, Phineas Nigellus Black, who will be recognized as a relative of Sirius Black by fans of the series.
And, of course, a player gets to wear the Sorting Hat and is granted his house. While the game offers two simple questions to try to determine what house to belong in, in the end, the player selects the house.
Initially, it seemed that there would be negligible differences between the different houses. However, each house comes with several specific quests and opportunities.
The most obvious difference between the houses is the common rooms. I chose Ravenclaw, and the common room is at the top of a high tower, with beautiful bay windows and lots and lots of books reflecting the curious knowledge of the house.
A player eventually also gets a wand (with a visit to the town of Hogsmeade), and the game’s combat system gets introduced relatively quickly in the story. Specifically, the first day of classes includes a Defense Against the Dark Arts session, where a player duels another student.
Additionally, a student can join the Crossed Wands dueling club, which acts as a tutorial and practice for combat. For spells, players automatically have a simple, low-damage spell cast. Players begin the game pulling up one “spell wheel” displaying four different spells.
Opponents are protected by three different protection bubbles, which require different kinds of spells to break them. This is a bit difficult at first because players only have one spell wheel.
Fortunately, players are soon able to unlock Talents that give the player extra abilities in combat as well as extra spell wheels (books) that can be flipped through during combat or exploration scenarios.
Throughout the game, completing side quests and extra assignments are critical to learning a variety of spells, so players have a pick when it comes to a spell load out.
In terms of mechanics, expect a bit of a learning curve involved in the combat system. Automatic targeting is available, but when confronted with multiple enemies at once, the targeting system seems to lock onto certain enemies randomly.
However, once players are comfortable with casting, it’s fun and rewarding. Owing to the player’s ability to use ancient magic, spell combos help fill up your ancient magic bar, which allows the player to use a variety of finishing moves that give a satisfying visual upper hand in combat scenarios.
One of the more exciting actions of the game for fans is the ability to use the three Unforgivable Curses: Imperio (control a victim’s actions), Crucio (deliver terrible pain) and, of course, Avada Kedavra (kill the victim).
Surprisingly, learning these curses is not part of the main storyline, but comes with completing steps of Sebastian Sallow’s side quest. Crucio is the first Unforgivable Curse learned, and it’s a bit odd when I used it on an enemy in front of Professor Fig and he doesn’t seem to bat an eye, despite the fact that the spell is illegal.
When focused on exploration, Hogwarts Legacy is absolutely beautiful and expansive. Following the lead of many recent open-world titles, everything seen can be visited.
Initially, a player is restricted to just the halls of Hogwarts, which could act as a world of its own with its winding and numerous hallways, and the numerous mini-puzzles and countless secrets found throughout the castle. However, soon enough, students can travel to Hogsmeade, which houses many important shops and side quests.
The world outside of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts is also accessible, though it is more difficult to explore on foot. Several small hamlets, abandoned castles and the Forbidden Forest all wait to be discovered outside the walls of Hogwarts.
Exploring is also vital as upon the player’s first visit to Hogsmeade, he is given that precious and all-important wand, customizable down to the core, the wood and the length.
Traveling in the open-world environment becomes much easier once the player is given a broom to ride. That’s right, after a quick flying class at the castle, one can visit Hogsmeade and pick a new broom to then use in permitted areas and traverse the various valleys and hamlets outside of Hogwarts.
Another welcomed feature of the game is the inclusion of the Room of Requirement.
Fans of the series will be familiar with this location following its first introduction in the fifth novel. Deputy Headmistress Matilda Weasley (yeah, the famous Weasley lineage) offers the player access to a special section of the Room of Requirement to spell crafts to decorate the room and conjure items that can be used to grow ingredients for health and defense potions, such as herbology tables.
Ironically, the Room of Requirement is more customizable than the character, as you are able to customize everything from the wallpaper to the “vibe” of the room.
Also worth noting, a constant background theme in the game is the presence of poachers in the countryside around the castle, who are threatening the myriad of magical creatures.
Eventually, players are given the ability to capture and care for many of these creatures in a vivarium within the Room of Requirement.
In addition to their pure cuteness factor, these pets offer materials such as feathers and furs that allow players to upgrade their gear in a magical loom.
Fans will be genuinely impressed by the creativity involved in this upgrade system, as it encourages players to capture specific creatures and take good care of them to get upgraded materials. Players also have the ability to add “traits” to their gear, which offer various kinds of special goodies.
The initial release of the game included PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. So far, the graphical capabilities of the PS5 offer a more colorful and vibrant view of the game. The Xbox version, while still beautiful, is markedly “duller” than the PS5 counterpart. Additionally, PS5 users are given a secret “spooky” mission in Hogsmeade.
It begins when a woman innocently offers the player the chance to buy a shop in Hogsmeade. Upon entering the shop, players open a chest and are thrown into a twisted haunted house created by a poltergeist, Fastidio, who is very reminiscent of Peeves, the mischievous poltergeist floating around Hogwarts.
Like many aspects of Hogwarts Legacy, this quest isn’t explicitly advertised, and a player will need to stumble upon it much later in the game.
Exploration, endearing characters, devotion to canon and an exhilarating wizarding experience, Hogwarts Legacy shines throughout and embraces any gamer with a childhood dream of playing in the enchanting world of Harry Potter.