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Game Review: Hogwarts Legacy 10 hours in — wizard fulfilment

Game Review: Hogwarts Legacy 10 hours in — wizard fulfilment
A troll in the game 'Hogwarts Legacy'. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

The most talked-about game of the moment released on 10 February 2023. Here are our first thoughts on Hogwarts Legacy, based on an initial 10 hours playing the open-world action RPG set in the Harry Potter/Wizarding World universe.

Soaring over Hogwarts castle on the back of a thestral; earning points for your house with an impressive bit of spellcasting; putting poltergeist Peeves in his place; actually wielding the wand you were assigned after doing ye olde Pottermore website quiz; downing a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade…

If you’ve ever dreamt of attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or, alternatively, if you’ve ever dreamt of playing a next-gen, truly open-world game set in the Harry Potter universe, then you’ll be pleased to know that Hogwarts Legacy ticks all those boxes. 

Avalanche Software (which made the sandboxy Disney Infinity series), Portkey Games and Warner Bros. Games’ new single-player experience is every bit the wizarding wish fulfilment fans of the books and the films could hope for, letting players create and then control the unique witch or wizard they want to be. 

And yet.

It’s a lot

Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t skimp. Even before the addition of extra content, the action role-playing game will keep you busy for days, if not weeks, cramming in hundreds of things to do as players virtually live out their fantasies. 

Focusing on the main quest line alone, you’re looking at a playthrough of 25 to 35 hours, while completionists who strive to check off every side mission and find every collectible, can expect to easily invest over 70 hours in the game; a typical playthrough will therefore sit somewhere in between those figures. Nearly 10 hours in, this writer has yet to get a broomstick, find the Room of Requirement, or access the upgrade system applicable to the spell set.

It can all be a bit daunting, to be honest. When you first open your Field Guide — a repository that collects every quest, the game map, your gear (with an initially confusing double layer of equippable and aesthetic-changing customisation), an inventory of resources, all your Owl post, and more — you may experience an icy chill of anxiety. That’s only before the teachers give you extra assignments, and that “back at school” feeling may be triggering for people long free of formal studies. 

There’s just so much to do: outside of the primary quest line, this isn’t a constrained, linear game at all. Fortunately, the sensation of being overwhelmed does lessen with time, although very young players (Hogwarts Legacy is a teen-rated game, for the record) may need some tighter direction aside from the magical compass that leads you to every waypoint and objective. 

Wielding a wand in the game 'Hogwarts Legacy'. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Wielding a wand in the game ‘Hogwarts Legacy’. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Potion making in the game 'Hogwarts Legacy'. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Potion making in the game ‘Hogwarts Legacy’. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Attending school at Hogwarts. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Attending school at Hogwarts. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Expect to play nice and safe

To be fair, Hogwarts Legacy plays it fairly safe, in terms of both story and gameplay, choosing the crowd-pleasing route at nearly every turn. Set in the 1890s, nearly a century before Harry Potter and his classmates were born, your character is even more of an obnoxious “Chosen One” archetype. 

Unusually, you arrive at Hogwarts at 15, joining the other Fifth Years, and immediately prove yourself to be competent to brilliant at everything you do. That may have something to do with your connection to an ancient magic, which puts you on a collision course with power-hungry goblin Ranrok, who has chosen violence to combat wizard oppression of his kind.

Though they are very different universes, there’s something reminiscent of Fable, tonally, in Hogwarts Legacy. That said, you can’t have romantic relationships. You also can’t be evil, even if you choose Slytherin as your house. Everyone is quite nice, and this is a blunted RPG without hard choices. 

Your actions and dialogue can affect relationships with Hogwarts staff and students, however. In this regard, fans can expect to enact the pointing Leo DiCaprio meme continually as they encounter characters with very familiar surnames. The game is called Hogwarts Legacy for several reasons, one of which is that you’ll meet ancestors of key wizarding families, with star voice clout provided by Simon Pegg and Downton Abbey’s Lesley Nicol.

The plot of Hogwarts Legacy is compelling, but in true Wizarding World tribute style, the teachers who help progress it are frequently pulled away, grinding progression to a halt. Until it kicks off again, you’re expected to embrace Hogwarts student life, which means attending class, completing assignments, joining secret societies, breaking the rules, and just generally stumbling on secrets, mysteries and Easter eggs as you explore Hogwarts and its surroundings. 

Exploring Hogwarts. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

Exploring Hogwarts. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

A hippogriff in the game 'Hogwarts Legacy'. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

A hippogriff in the game ‘Hogwarts Legacy’. Image: Hogwarts Legacy

The main reason to play

The last point is Hogwarts Legacy’s greatest pleasure: the ability to freely roam locations only read about or watched onscreen. The attention to detail in Hogwarts Legacy’s world creation is staggering, with a special highlight being the prolific animated portraits. The game may suffer from some ugly hair clipping, NPCs who pop into frame, and strange lighting and texture glitches, but that is kind of expected of a next-gen game of this scale. It still nails its objective of providing players with an interactive version of the much-loved Wizarding World fictional universe. It’s your number one reason for playing the game — although exploring too much may result in you outstripping the very staggered tutorials that introduce you to important gameplay elements.

Something else striking about Hogwarts Legacy is the magical combat. The game lacks the artistic flair of Forspoken, last month’s high-profile fantasy world RPG, but it engages in its own ways. It’s definitely one of the most challenging aspects of Hogwarts Legacy, with gloves off from the start. You’re expected to master blocks, counters and combos quickly against multiple enemies. It’s not easy, and it’s a system where you can never stay still. However, once you expand your repertoire with more spells, telekinesis, and strategically placed garden produce that bites back, it becomes a lot more satisfying. The dynamic mix of continually dodging, locking on to different targets, quick-fire casting and flinging around items to overcome your opponents may even remind players of Control

The basilisk in the room

Of course, all pleasure to be had from Hogwarts Legacy is tainted by the basilisk in the room: that Wizarding World creator JK Rowling has gone all-in in recent years with hateful comments towards trans women, and “anti-woke” jeering.

The makers of Hogwarts Legacy have tried to distance themselves from Rowling, and there is evidence of this in the game. Players can give their character hairstyles and voice timbre from across the gender spectrum. You can choose what dorm room you would prefer to sleep in (though this has zero bearing on the plot), and you’re continually referred to as “they” (although that neutrality probably stems from streamlined voice recording needs). There’s even a much-admired character who is heavily implied to be trans, although this is, disappointingly, never outright stated.

Admittedly there are a lot of “buts” here, but the game does feature some healthy representational diversity. A standout is Natsai “Natty” Onai, a student who arrives at Hogwarts by way of Matabeleland and Uganda, having attended Africa’s wizarding school, Uadadou. Like your character, she’s a fish out of water — and arguably the best addition to the Wizarding World outside of the original novel series. 

Meanwhile, though there’s no escaping the problematic choice of a goblin (saturated in anti-Semitic coding) as the game’s primary antagonist, at least Hogwarts Legacy, for the first time in the franchise, depicts the magical beings in a more positive, relatable light. Goblin NPCs are as varied as their human equivalents. Finally, stepping to the other side of the screen, Hogwarts Legacy features an extensive set of accessibility options when you open the game for the first time, catering to the customisation needs of the disabled community.

Hogwarts Legacy is clearly trying to give as many people as possible the Wizarding World experience they’ve always dreamt of. And in that, Avalanche Software has succeeded while not pushing any boundaries — although that’s not very surprising with such a high-value IP. 

While some stick by the argument that you can divorce a toxic creator from their creations, there’s the counter-view that if you buy the game, if you promote it, you’re giving Rowling more power and more of a poisonous platform. Like everything else with Hogwarts Legacy, the choice between these stances rests with you. DM/ML

This story was first published on Pfangirl.com

Hogwarts Legacy launched on 10 February, on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC. The game comes to previous generation consoles PS4 and Xbox One on 4 April, and, finally, Nintendo Switch on 25 July.

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