Regardless of the mixed feelings toward creator J.K Rowling, it would be hard for anyone to deny the boundless popularity of the Harry Potter franchise.
Since the first book released in 1998 the Potter juggernaut has become an untameable commercial monster. Spawning a wildly successful film franchise, a slightly less successful spin-off film franchise, a stage play, a theme park, a boat-load of board games, and just about every kind of merchandise you can imagine… there aren’t many stones the Wizarding World has left unturned.
Of course, that also includes video games. There are 17 officially licensed Harry Potter video games dating back to 2001. They range from the excellent Lego instalments to the gimmickier titles like Scene-It and Harry Potter Kinect. The majority were well received at the time, and I’ll admit to having rose-tinted nostalgic love for a lot of them. But none gave me that definitive ‘Hogwarts’ escapism I craved.
Ever since I read The Philosophers Stone I dreamed of a game in a similar vein to the Grand Theft Auto series… But it never came. A few did give us SOME freedom to roam the castle and surrounding areas, but it just wasn’t enough.
Now, some 22 years later Hogwarts Legacy has apparated onto consoles and PC. But does it ‘Alohamora’ the true Sandbox Hogwarts experience, and live up to the massive hype that has surrounded its development? Let’s find out!
Wizard Whipper Upper
When first booting up Hogwarts Legacy players are greeted with a rather lacklustre creation suite with which to craft their wizard or witch.
There are a relatively small selection of different faces and hairstyles, two voices (one male and one female, with the option to adjust pitch) and a couple of pairs of glasses to choose from. I wasn’t able to create anything close to how I actually look, partly due to there being no option for beards, which for someone with a beard akin to that of Hagrid’s, was a huge disappointment. Now, I know the player-character is meant to be 15 or 16, but I definitely had the makings of a strong beard at that age, and surely wizards can use some sort of spell to grow one. In the end I went with a close approximation, and then equipped a mask as soon as I was able to.
This, I’m overjoyed to tell you, is where any disappointment I experienced with Hogwarts Legacy ended.
Within minutes of starting players are treated to some absolutely stunning Scottish scenery and a tour through Gringotts bank during the baked-in tutorial. Both look fantastic, and arriving at Hogwarts that trend continues, with the castle looking beautiful both inside and out.
Every corridor and doorway, every fixture and fitting, from the moving paintings to the animated suits of armour, make you feel like you’re in one of the films.
Leave the castle and you’ll find a sprawling landscape to explore, including familiar locations like Hogsmede and The Forbidden Forest. These aren’t just barren swathes of land either, a criticism that has been levelled at other open world games such as CyberPunk or Saints Row recently. They are all fleshed out and packed with things to do. No matter where you go on the map you’ll never be far away from a stunning structure or ominous cave to investigate.
Dress To Impress
It’s not just the environs that look great though. Despite the limited options when creating your wizard or witch, there are loads of things to collect to spruce up their look. Gloves, hats, masks, glasses, cloaks, scarves and a whole host of other items can be found in chests scattered throughout the land. They improve how your character dresses, and in many cases come with stat boosts and enchanting slots too.
But what if you find a piece of clothing that has awesome stats but doesn’t go with your ensemble, or is just plain ugly? Hogwarts Legacy has you covered with a neat little transmogrification feature. This allows you to ‘skin’ any item of clothing with any style you have previously owned, while keeping its stat boosts intact.
Blast From The Past
Hogwarts Legacy is set WAY in the past, meaning players won’t run into familiar faces such like Hagrid, Dumbledore or Argus Filch. They will recognise some of the names though, with ancestors of the Weasleys and Sirius Black working at Hogwarts when the player arrives.
Fans of the books in particular will be pleased to hear that Peeves can often be found causing mischief around the castle’s corridors. His inclusion may seem welcome at first, but it won’t take long to realise that cutting him from the films probably wasn’t such a bad decision after all (even if Rik Mayall would have done a fantastic job bringing him to life… or should that be to afterlife?)
Some die hard Potter fans are sure to be disappointed by the lack of recognisable characters. But despite the game being set over 100 years before Harry, Hermione and Ron ever set foot on Platform 9 and 3/4, a lot of the locations still feel really familiar.
The devs have done a superb job of recreating things we’ve seen on the big screen (and imagined when reading the books) while making them fully explorable and bursting with charm.
Keeping things distanced from the era we already know so much about allows the unique storyline the distinction needed to shine too, without it being the same old Harry/Voldemort bit we’re so familiar with.
Hogwarts Legacy is a game best suited to those with an adventurous spirit, and as soon as the hand-holding portion of the game was out of the way I ventured out into the wilderness to see what I could find.
In retrospect I wouldn’t advise this, as a lot of the spells you learn in the first few mainline missions of the game are invaluable to have at your disposal when out and about. Multiple times I found myself in need of a way to burn through a cobweb or light a fire, and had I just listened to the message of numerous 90’s cartoons and stayed in school, I’d have learned one in minutes.
But despite realising I was woefully under-qualified for a jaunt into the unknown, I still spent around 4 hours wandering aimlessly, taking on spiders, mongrels, poachers and anything else that I could destroy with a mere flick of my wand.
I also found a range of side-quests to play through, with varying levels of difficulty and reward, and even after all that I’d completed less than 3% of the game by the time I headed back to the Gryffindor Common Room.
Controls Without Crucio
The majority of Hogwarts Legacy’s controls are similar to that of a 3rd Person shooter, with an action and a jump command on the face buttons, and the triggers handling combat.
But with the sheer number of spells available to a student in the Wizarding World, getting the nuance of spellcasting right was crucial.
The method WB Games have implemented works well, especially with the PS5’s haptic triggers, if you happen to be playing on that system.
Depressing the trigger completely fires off a standard attack, which will be the foundation of any duel. However, pressing the trigger half way and then hitting one of the face buttons casts the spell allocated to that button.
This allows for quick and easy access to 4 spells, with the ability to swap them in and out as required. 90% of the time you’ll have these slots filled with combat spells, and you can chain them together for devastating combos with a little bit of practice.
But during exploration you may need something like Lumos, or Reparo, and it only takes a couple of clicks to allocate them and start swishing and flicking.
One spell, Revelio is used so frequently it is mapped to its own button on the D-Pad, and this is used to highlight objects of interest or reveal hidden items in the immediate vicinity around you.
With a control scheme as robust as this, you’ll be passing your Charms O.W.L in no time at all!
A Lasting Legacy
I mentioned earlier that after around 5 hours of gameplay I’d barely even scratched the surface, with the game showing just 3% completion. I’m now at around 12 hours and that percentage has barely risen past 10%.
This game is HUGE, and the value for money is off the charts, especially if you’re the type of person who loves scouring every inch of the map.
With branching storylines, dialogue differences for each of the four houses and hints of a morality system, there’s some replayability here too, for those that don’t get their fill the first time around.
Hogwarts Legacy hits all the beats Harry Potter fans have been craving from a game. This includes getting sorted by the sorting hat, picking a wand, mastering spells, brewing potions, flying on brooms, roaming the halls of Hogwarts and getting into mischief in familiar locations, to name but a few.
One glaring omission is the lack of Quiddich, but that might be addressed sooner rather than later…
That’s because there are rumours the developers may cast ‘Capacious Extremis’ at some point down the line, gracing us with DLC expansions to add even more content to a game that is already bursting at the seams with things to do.
Despite it only being February I’m sure this will be my Game of the Year for 2023, and an absolute must for anyone who loves the Harry Potter franchise. I can’t really do justice to how good this game is, but I recommend all Potter fans give it a go.
Swish your imaginary wand, shout ‘Accio Hogwarts Legacy’ and go order a copy today!