Hogwarts Legacy is a massive, open-world game from Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. Games. As someone who looks at open-world games while relishing the idea of exploration and collection, I knew it was right up my alley. Moreover, I had read the Harry Potter novels and watched the films ages ago, and was eager to see how Avalanche could bring the lore and themes to life. I should mention that our Hogwarts Legacy review is only being published now since our code came in just as the Deluxe Edition’s early access phase went live. Given the timing, I opted to focus primarily on guides which, coincidentally, enriched the experience. It would’ve been a different story had I solely focused on the main campaign just to push out a review as soon as I could.
Disclaimer: Please note that this Hogwarts Legacy review focuses solely on the game’s merits, even though there are controversies surrounding it. If you would like to learn more about these issues, you can read an article from our friends at Escapist Mag.
Rebellions and magics of the ancients
Set in the 1800s, well before the adventures of Harry Potter and co., or the rise of Grindelwald and Voldemort, Hogwarts Legacy lets you play as a witch or wizard with the ability to detect Ancient Magic. Before you even start playing, you can personalize some choices, such as your House or wand via a Wizarding World quiz.
From there, you get sorted into your House, and the campaign plays almost similarly regardless of what you select. There might be minor differences with the uniforms, Common Rooms, and a few exclusive quests, but that’s about it. Along the way, you learn about a brewing goblin rebellion led by Ranrok, whose machinations you find yourself deeply intwined.
The narrative is par for the course when it comes to most fantasy games. There are a few interesting tidbits here and there, including a memory designed akin to a sketchbook, though I was more interested in some side quests, such as narrative arcs involving other students.
References and callbacks galore
If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter novels and films, then Hogwarts Legacy is like stepping into a dreamscape where those forms of media are captured in vivid video game glory. The very start of the campaign alone shows you what you’re in for. Your character and their professor are on a carriage being pulled by invisible things. Your character’s first outing into the fantasy world doesn’t quite go as idyllic as Potter’s, however. And soon you interact with magical beasts, danger, and a perplexing mystery before you even get to the sorting hat.
Throughout the campaign, there are references and callbacks that are sure to get a laugh or a grin, from pulling out a Mandrake and levitating a feather to commanding a broom to go up. There are those you’d stumble upon, i.e., a suit of armor destroying the one beside it, to sleeping portraits of headmasters that shoosh you if you’re too loud. You might even see a snake symbol etched in the girls’ bathroom that serves as the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.
The castle in Hogwarts Legacy
Without a doubt: the castle in Hogwarts Legacy might be the most impressive building I have ever explored in any video game. There’s a sense of grandness to it, where the castle itself feels like its own character.
You could walk up the Grand Staircase and see how new steps materialize in front of you, or find how interconnected each room or wing is. You might have read a few lines from the books telling you that Room A leads to Corridor B, or you probably glimpsed it on the Marauder’s Map in the films. But here you are, walking and running around these halls, pinging the map with Revelio every two seconds because an item or a secret might be nearby. And, once the season changes, you’d see the castle and the surrounding environment change along with it. A good example is how the Great Hall looks once it’s wintertime and the holiday season has arrived (as seen on the featured image).
Perhaps the only downside here is that you feel like an adventurer or explorer, and not a Hogwarts student. Yes, you attend classes and you meet other pals. Sadly, the classes themselves take a backseat to story-advancing quests and free-roam exploration. Those are still positive ideas, mind you, though I wanted a bit more immersion (the main character starts as a fifth-year student after all).
Puzzles and pets
Moreover, Hogwarts Legacy is filled to the brim with puzzles. There are Symbol Doors with animals that correspond to a number, and you’d have to do the math to find the solution. Likewise, some require you to cast spells, whether it’s pushing and pulling blocks, freezing a clock tower’s swinging pendulum, learning Alohomora so you can unlock chests, or gathering moths with Lumos.
Not only that, but a memorable area, the Room of Requirement, is also in the game. In it, you can enchant gear pieces, add decorations, and change color schemes to truly make it your own. Additionally, you may plop down devices that generate currency, brew potions, and grow carnivorous plants.
If that’s not enough, you’re also given Vivariums (remember Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?). These act as animal sanctuaries where you could bring the magical creatures that you caught so you could tame and pet them. These include Unicorns, Thestrals, Hippogriffs, Graphorns, and more. Of course, my favorites are the Kneazles, because cats are awesome. And, yes, just like Pokémon, there are Shiny variants, though these mostly just have a different color.
For the first few hours in Hogwarts Legacy, you’ll attend classes that mostly provide easy-to-do tasks, learning spells as you go along. You’ll visit Hogsmeade, grab clothes with transmogrification options, trek through the Forbidden Forest, and just run around at your leisure. Then, you get a broom, and everything changes. The moment you hop on and fly, there’s no feeling like it. I’ve played other games where your character could take to the skies (be it on a plane, helicopter, glider, wind current, or superpowers). However, just riding a broom while looking at the majestic mountaintops and towering castle seems almost too picturesque to put into words.
A bit later, you end up helping a Hippogriff. Guess what? Now you’re flying on a Hippogriff (or a Thestral, too, if you own the Dark Arts Pack). From there, you’d soar in the air, going from one location to the next, with the lapping waters of the lake below, and the strong breeze around you as you gain a burst of speed. Also, you realize that you’ve been roaming around the northern part of the map, and there’s an entire southern region just waiting for you.
That being said, my main gripe about exploration in Hogwarts Legacy is that most overworld locations, barring a few, feel very much the same. There’s a village to the north with a vendor, a sidequest, and some collectibles, but you’d also see the same things in another village to the south, southeast, and so on.
What I would have liked to have seen is each region showcasing its own identity to make it stand out. Ideally, I’d think of The Witcher 3 or Genshin Impact, and not merely a collectible-a-thon for the sake of. Even Forza Horizon 5 has more varied environments, and that’s a driving game, not a wizarding fantasy adventure where you’re limited only by your imagination.
Then again, the game is set in the English countryside. With my limited knowledge of England, I don’t really know if there’s a lot of variety in terms of environments.
I haven’t talked about combat in Hogwarts Legacy until now, and with good reason: I enjoyed exploring and puzzle solving so much that it’s almost as though fighting enemies became an afterthought. Here’s the thing, though, had I solely focused on campaign completion for the review, I’d have felt negatively about combat. The campaign eases you in, teaching you some offensive spells that you trace via a pattern. Then, you battle hostile mobs, usually trying to come up with a combo or casting a matching spell to break their shields. For example, you can lift someone off the ground using Levioso, do a couple of normal hits, then pull them toward you with Accio. You’ve also got a block and counter mechanic (i.e., Protego and Stupefy), as well as a stealth kill (i.e., Petrificus Totalus). You could just lather, rinse, and repeat those mechanics, and you’d be bored out of your wits.
That’s where experimentation comes in. For instance, Glacius will freeze a target, and you could follow that with Confringo, a fire spell, to shatter and melt them. Next, you’ve got some ideal talent picks, some of which greatly boost a spell’s capabilities, like Incendio creating a “flame shockwave.” Ancient Magic can also be used to bolster your arsenal while you rack up your combo counter. Some animations are also unique, such as causing a troll to smash itself in the face, shrinking a giant spider then stepping on it, or polymorphing a dark wizard into a chicken.
And then you’ve got the Unforgivable Curses: Crucio, Imperio, and Avada Kedavra. It’s up to you if you want to learn them, but they are going to change the way you play the game. This is due to the Curse mechanic, where Crucio, Imperio, and some other spells afflict opponents with a debuff. If you have the Avada Kedavra Mastery talent, the moment you cast it, every cursed opponent dies. And, yes, it will kill almost any opponent in the game regardless of their level or elite/miniboss classification. The only ones immune to it are Inferi since they’re basically zombies.
In a way, I’d consider combat in Hogwarts Legacy as a fluid and exciting, but ultimately an arcadey affair. It’s fun to complete encounters by maximizing your combo count without taking a hit, but there’s almost no repercussion to actually hurting opponents. You could practically fling the Killing Curse over and over, and it’s not like you’d make a thousand horcruxes afterward. Given the dilemmas concerning morality in the novels/films, and Harry being lured to the “Dark Side,” if you will, combat in this game will break your immersion (unless you really want to be a baddie).
A few issues with Hogwarts Legacy
The remaining issues I have with Hogwarts Legacy, firstly, is with PC performance. I’ve outlined this in detail in our technical/performance article, as well as our best settings guide. It could use a few optimization tweaks. Granted, I’ve got an Nvidia RTX 3070, an Intel i9-10900K, and 32GB of RAM, but I’ve still noticed texture rendering problems and slight framerate dips. They’re not so egregious to the point that the whole thing turned into a slideshow or objects simply failed to load completely, but some hiccups were noticeable. These might occur a few times when I’m opening doors to another wing, or if I’ve just opened/exited the menu.
In spite of some fps dips, this is still a gorgeous game with moments that will make you marvel, which brings me to the next obvious flaw: the lack of a Photo Mode feature. The fact that it’s a single-player title, and you can’t pause to take a clean screenshot of your surroundings is, in my book, a glaring omission. Truth be told, it was a hassle to toggle HUD settings repeatedly just so I could come up with clear images for the 100 or so guides I’ve written.
Outside of these qualms, Hogwarts Legacy, as a video game, offers an unparalleled look into the Wizarding World, one that long-time fans will enjoy, and newcomers will be pleased with. There’s magic not just at the tip of your wand, but in the magnificent castle that you explore, the mechanics that are lovingly crafted and thematic, and the massive world filled with secrets, puzzles, and creatures. In short: it will leave you spellbound.