‘Hogwarts Legacy’ review: A massive game, alive with magic

Hogwarts Legacy is the Harry Potter game I’ve been dreaming of since I was a teenager. I grew up alongside the Harry Potter novels and devoured them all, and I spent the time between book releases reading and writing fanfiction set in the Wizarding World. I would’ve traded my little emo soul for a sprawling role-playing game that allowed me to be a student at Hogwarts, and 16 years later, that exact wish has been fulfilled. (And now I know what happened to my soul.)

Hogwarts Legacy is alive with magic. It’s a massive and gorgeous open-world RPG that extends far beyond the walls of the wizarding school, with mysteries, danger and cute creatures packed into every corner. Casting spells quickly becomes second nature in this environment and when it comes to puzzles, my magical instincts are often correct and richly rewarded. Combat involves intricate spellwork and lightning-quick responses, and this combination consistently results in a seamless, satisfying flow. I feel powerful while playing Hogwarts Legacy. I feel like a witch — and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.

Warner Bros. Games

I’m not done with Hogwarts Legacy, but we weren’t given much lead time for the review and I feel I’ve played enough to form lasting opinions about the game. I’m about 22 hours in on PlayStation 5 and I’m one skill away from completing my witch’s ability set. Her name is Chenault, she’s a Slytherin, and her wand is 13 inches with a dragon heartstring core. Her favorite spell is incendio.

Combat in Hogwarts Legacy plays out across a variety of environments and against multiple enemy types, and it’s consistently delicious. Players eventually step into battle with 16 spells ready to fire, a wheel full of potions and plants, a meter that generates extra-powerful magic moves, and some basic defenses — and all of these actions culminate in explosive, frictionless duels. Spells, healing potions and protego bubbles respond even at the last possible moment, and my witch’s moves chain together in a way that feels volatile and magical. There’s strategy and challenge in each new battleground, and I look forward to testing my abilities and various clothing upgrades every time.

Combat may be where the action lies, but customization and exploration are core aspects of the game. Hogwarts is packed with students to assist (or not) and the school is overflowing with secrets, each one unlockable with the proper combination of curiosity and spellwork. I’ve spent a significant amount of time simply running through the halls and across the grounds of the school, happy to explore while passively gathering XP and watching the mysteries unravel around me.

Flying only makes this process more enjoyable. Whether on a broomstick or the back of a thestral, flight in Hogwarts Legacy feels exactly how I wanted it to — smooth, swift and stylish, and always with gorgeous views.

As the map expands beyond Hogwarts, past the streets of Hogsmeade and the boundaries of the Forbidden Forest, players encounter sidequests, challenges, secrets, puzzles and obstacle courses at a persistent pace. The world is large, but purposeful and truly beautiful; it’s clearly the result of intentional design, rather than procedural generation. There’s always something to find, a fresh riddle to solve or skill to learn, and my Quests tab is constantly growing. What’s more, I’m actually stoked to complete the activities I encounter, whenever I want to grind or take a breather from the main storyline.

The list of things to do in Hogwarts Legacy feels never-ending. For instance, about 10 hours in, the game introduces interior design mechanics in the Room of Requirement, allowing players to decorate a cavernous space from the architectural touches, to the placement and color of individual tables, chairs, paintings, rugs and tchotchkes. It’s a useful room, too; this is where players keep their clothing-upgrade loom, potions tables, herbology boxes and captured beasts. I’ve spent far too much time tweaking the appearance of my own Room of Requirement — like, hours — but I’m in love with the results and I’ve enjoyed the process immensely.

Warner Bros. Games

I see potential for the glut of stuff in Hogwarts Legacy to become tedious, but this hasn’t happened in my playthrough yet. More than 20 hours in, and the magic is still alive for me.

Before actually playing the game, I was especially excited to brew potions because this was my favorite activity in Pottermore, the browser-based Hogwarts-student simulator that disintegrated into gibberish in the mid 2010s. In Pottermore, brewing potions involved reading recipes and physically manipulating ingredients at the proper moments, and I found the process to be incredibly peaceful. However, potion-making isn’t an overly complicated affair in Hogwarts Legacy. You simply get the ingredients and then leave them on the table for a while, just like growing plants. The mechanics fit the game — in a world this busy and vast, gathering ingredients is the challenge, not the minutiae of chopping, stirring, grinding, measuring and timing — but it’s a missed opportunity.

Even just writing that, I’m itching to spend some quality time at a potions bench doing all of these things. Maybe this would make for a solid piece of DLC down the line, Advanced Potion-Making? Just a thought, Avalanche.

Right, back to the actual game.

Warner Bros. Games

The main storylines in Hogwarts Legacy are generic fantasy platforms. Two main arcs collide: one pits players against goblin revolutionaries planning to destroy wizardkind, and the other is an extensive investigation of an ancient and powerful magic — the same magic that you, the main character, can uniquely wield. The latter arc will be painfully familiar to Harry Potter fans, as it involves a bunch of old farts repeatedly throwing a child into deadly situations while withholding crucial information and stroking their long white beards. I guess we know where Dumbledore got it from.

Personally, I don’t love the focus on the Goblin Rebellions. It’s functional as a basic fantasy premise, but it’s an obvious choice for a Harry Potter prequel and the game hasn’t yet demonstrated that it was a particularly thoughtful decision. The conceit so far is, “goblins are bad, wizardkind is good,” and there hasn’t been an intricate discussion about class, power and revolution within this framework, though these opportunities are prevalent. Regardless of how this storyline concludes, I would’ve appreciated a more nuanced approach or an original enemy.

There are valid questions about whether the depiction of goblins in Harry Potter is inherently antisemitic, or the result of centuries of European fiction that coded vampires, dwarves and other creatures with its authors’ antisemitism. What you need to know is that goblins in Hogwarts Legacy are not meaningfully different to those in the novels, so your stance on the issue is unlikely to shift with this presentation.

Warner Bros. Games

The conversation around goblins and antisemitism would likely be top of mind in reviews and tweets about the game, but the author of the Harry Potter novels has made it publicly known that she’s transphobic, and this has understandably dominated the discourse. It’s led some people to call for a boycott of Hogwarts Legacy, and a portion of these folks are rebuking anyone who reviews, streams or talks about playing it. This controversy has consumed any broader criticism about the game itself. I addressed my personal decision to review this game for Engadget in an editorial at the start of the week, which is available to read here.

For anyone concerned about encountering transphobic or bigoted content in Hogwarts Legacy: The author of the Harry Potter novels was not involved in the game’s writing or creation, and in fact, its world is more inclusive than the series has ever been. Crucially, the Hogwarts Legacy character builder allows for an array of gender, voice and appearance configurations, and lets players choose their own names. In fanfiction terms, it’s basically a Mary Sue machine. This is ideal for an interactive role-playing medium — the customization options allow players to project their own identities onto the main character, who is an extra-special, super-powered student sorcerer surrounded by basic magic users. It’s a familiar premise for fantasy RPG players.

What makes this game stand out among open-world RPGs is its density of activities, mysteries and awe-inspiring moments, and its expertly tuned combat mechanics. Hogwarts Legacy is thrumming with magic, and it expands not only the landscape around Hogwarts, but also the boundaries of representation in an incredibly popular fantasy universe. It’s the coolest work of Harry Potter fanfiction I’ve come across in years, and I’m excited to keep playing. Especially if there’s an Advanced Potion-Making DLC down the line.


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