Hogwarts Legacy - Spellbinding
For many years, fans of the Harry Potter IP have longed for a video game that was befitting of the book and film franchises. Early adaptations of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as well as its sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets are looked upon fondly by fans, however in an age where we’ve seen Star Wars, Batman, Spider-Man, and other adaptations of established IP all thrive in the video game realm, the Wizarding World has been strangely underrepresented and unloved. Meanwhile there is Avalanche Studios, the team responsible for many an adaptation, from Cars 2/3, to Toy Story 3, and even the trio of toys-to-life Dsiney Infinity games, a team that did a good job in their niche, but had never really set the world on fire in any way – now they have their hands on another of the world’s most beloved and lucrative IP, one with millions of fans crying out for a top tier video game in their beloved universe, and so, as it turns out, Avalanche went and made them a top tier video game.
Set more than a hundred years prior to the events of any of the Harry Potter books and films, Hogwarts Legacy places you in the magical shoes of a fully customisable player-created character, one that can be tweaked in every way you please. You can also create your character a name, one befitting of the world with which the hail from, or something more real-world, but it won’t matter with the game either completely dancing around your name altogether or using they/them language to allude to your presence. Your magicalness is immediately thrust into the action as you embark on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry accompanied by your Charms teacher, Professor Fig, and a member of the Ministry Of Magic when, suddenly, a dragon attacks your vehicle and the mysterious item that you were examining is revealed to be a portkey as yourself, and Fig (the Ministry member was viciously eaten by the dragon) are whisked away on a journey that leads you to a secret access point to the goblin bank Gringotts and a chance encounter with Ranrok, the leader of a Goblin Rebel group whose nefarious deeds you’ve now found yourself entwined in. What the experience also comes to teach you is that you’re in possession of some mysterious ancient powers, powers that very few witches or wizards across all history have ever possessed, but this makes you a powerful asset, and a constant thorn in Ranrok’s side as the journey escalates.
The scale of the plot doesn’t reach the same heights that we’ve seen in a Harry Potter film, perhaps even the Fantastic Beasts films either, but the story that Avalanche have weaved is fascinating nonetheless. Periphery story beats can fluctuate a little in their quality, with some rivalling and even surpassing the driving force of the main plot, especially some of the arcs that centre on some of your characters closest classmates, while others can devolve into little more than prettied up fetch-quests with a wafer-thin story thread to connect some mundane activities.
On the gameplay front, Hogwarts Legacy is far more consistent in its delivery. The game is at its core fairly derivative of other action-RPG in much the same vein as many third-person titles of the current day and age. Movement is largely quite slick, spells can be mapped to one of several different spell wheels, each playing home to four spells and each being accessed through a quick combination of a trigger pull and a face-button selection. Spells range from being combat focussed to geared around environmental manipulation or time-alteration; there are even a few that are specific to the beasts that you can acquire and breed in the back-half of the game. Most of these spells and incantations can be mixed and matched in both combat to great effect, with the player being capable of stringing lenghty combos together by blending the strengths of the likes of Accio, and Levioso along with standard attacks and other more specific, purpose-built spells to bring the heat to your opponents. The Harry Potter IP certainly gets darker as it progresses, however Hogwarts Legacy spends no time at all softening you up before hefty violence is thrust upon the you, from the dragon attack in the opening minutes, to your ancient magic that can brutally pulverise opponents, and even unforgivable curses like Avada Kadavra, and Crucio each being available to the player if you choose to embrace the darkness within. All spells can be pretty easily activated, while defensively the game provides several handy visual prompts to indicate when a spell is heading your way and you need to either defend, parry, or roll away alltogther. While mechanically each of these defensive manouvres work well, though the connective tissue between the game and the prior content certainly takes a beating when you see your character dodge-rolling constantly around the environment, something you’d never see in a Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts film.
The school of Hogwarts, its neighbouring communities and “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” townships are well designed to allow the game to stretch its wings beyond the standard action-RPG third-person shooting fare, with an enormous world to explore, one that even on a Hippogriff/broom you cannot cover in quick time, while the game (for better or worse) is filled with many Ubisoft-inspired collectibles to attain. The gear system feels unnecessary but despite that is well balanced, the world gives you opportunities to uncover magical beasts that you can capture and bring to your room of requirement to save from poachers and then begin a repopulation process, while there are Merlin Trials everywhere you turn that will get the brain buzzing as you attempt to solve them. There is a lot to the Hogwarts Legacy package, meaning that the experience is likely to extend well beyond the 20-hour run-time of the golden path plotline, some of it filler, while other inclusions are riveting.
The most striking element of Hogwarts Legacy is how it looks and sounds. Hogwarts itself is unbelievably well detailed, from the movement of the wall paintings, to the way Peeves and Nearly-Headless Nick drift in and out through the architecture, the common rooms, library, as well as some of the professors’ offices and classrooms all elicit a flood of nostalgic memories for those who are long-time fans of the film adaptations. With Hogwarts castle itself so stuffed to the point of bursting point with homages, and finely detailed recreations of all that we’ve seen in the films, the game can sometimes labour under its own enormous weight, resulting in awkwardly delivered pauses as the game loads up other regions of the castle. This will be noticed more by players who are sprinting from one end of the castle to the other and abandoning the use of the incredibly valuable floo powder fast-travel points around the castle and the broader world. The neighbouring villages, and of course Hogsmeade are also fascinating to explore – Hogsmede, the iconic village that services all of the students extra-curricular wants and needs is an exciting wonderland to explore in ways that the films have never been able to realise, while the other townships are a little simpler and much less exciting in their design. The character customisation, while exhaustive, does still feel like sticking pieces on a Mr/Mrs Potato Head at times with the disparate pieces not really jelling and resulting in a cartoonish look, but each disparate piece is well detailed even if they don’t all perfectly coalesce as well as they should. The core cast around your player character look fantastic however, with only the most bit part of characters looking as though they too came from the character creator as well.
As with the films themselves, a lot of the magic of Hogwarts Legacy can be attributed to the game’s audio. From the sound effects that pierce the ears during combat or as you navigate the world, to the sweeping soundtrack that draws upon the several classics that have been directly lifted from the film adaptations, what emanates from your speakers will carry the gaming experience to heights that only the core eight films have been capable of taking you to previously.
While Hogwarts Legacy has a few, small, rough, edges, they’re all fairly minor. With some extra work given to the character creation toolset, as well as the removal of the ridiculous PC-inspired cursor in the menus, cumbersome broomstick handling, and some added depth to a number of side-quests, Hogwarts Legacy could easily become one of the year’s premiere games. With some easy fixes, a future title has the potential to hit like an erumpent potion.
Hogwarts Legacy was reviewed on a PS5 with a code kindly provided by WB Games and Plaion Australia
Hogwarts Legacy is also at the center of a very important societal conversation. While we are celebrating the incredible accomplishments of the developers responsible for this game, we must not ignore the bigoted views expressed and supported by the creator and person standing most to profit from anything stemming from the Harry Potter IP, JK Rowling, much of which has been directed at the trans community.
If you would like to support the Trans community in any way, through donations or assistance, both Minus18 and ACON are great places to start with a range of information and programs aimed at assisting the Australian LGBTQIA+ community.