The thing that is magical about the Wizarding World isn’t the magic – it’s the sense of wonder. It’s discovery of the completely fantastic – a world of possibilities just under the surface of our mundane Muggle world. We grew up with Harry Potter, learning about this Wizarding World right alongside him, on the edge of our seats as he battled monsters, hardly learned any spells, and made new friends. How in the world do you bottle that magic when the last three Fantastic Beasts movies have failed to do exactly that? You take it back to the source.
Hogwarts Legacy takes place in the late 1800s, over 100 years before the events of any of the Harry Potter books. Your character is a new student, remarkably starting at Hogwarts in their fifth year. Professor Fig is to pick you up and transport you to the magical school when disaster strikes. A massive dragon chomps the carriage in half. Narrowly escaping with their lives, Professor Fig and your character take a side-junt where they learn that you are in possession of some rare and powerful ancient magic. This discovery makes you the target of a worldwide hunt by dark forces, but it’s up to you to find out why. Oh, and you’ll need to learn spells, study potions, learn how to fly a broom, and much, much more to just survive long enough to do exactly that. Welcome to Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but just know that you aren’t ready for what lies ahead.
The best parts of the Harry Potter books and movies are the sense of discovery. As such, beyond the paragraph above that covers the first 15 minutes of the game (and the video above), I’ll be very careful to not reveal any important details of the game whenever possible. Let’s set the stage.
The first thing you’ll be doing is customizing your character. There’s an extensive list of pre-built faces, hair styles, two voices to choose from, and more to make the character you will be spending the next 50+ hours with. Your new witch or wizard is a brand new student to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and more rare than that invitation, you are joining in your fifth year. As someone new to the Wizarding World, you don’t know much magic, but you’re about to get a crash course. Professor Fig, one of the teachers at the venerable school, has come to pick you up and bring you to the school when tragedy strikes. You can see those first 40 minutes of gameplay below:
Your teachers, understanding your unique requirements, have set about ensuring you have everything you need to be successful at Hogwarts. Unfortunately your supplies, wand, and everything else was lost in the opening moments of the game, so you’ll be playing catch up from the moment you arrive. Thankfully, your professors understand that you’ll need a bit more care and attention, so in addition to your usual classes, you’ll also be given special requests and training outside of the normal curriculum. These come courtesy of a magical “Field Guide” book that contains challenges, quests, any knowledge you find, and much more. Wand at the ready, it’s time to explore.
As you wander the grounds, and eventually the areas surrounding Hogwarts, you’ll find invisible papers, revealed by…well, the Revelio charm, of course. Challenges like these informational scrolls are listed as challenges, and they are the most frequent way you’ll earn XP, though you’ll also gain experience by completing the main storyline quests. Just don’t expect to grind for XP – combat doesn’t earn experience, except in service of solving more challenges.
Learning new spells is a surprisingly tactile event. Just like in the books and movies, your wizard or witch will need your help to draw the symbol in the air, pressing the buttons indicated at the right time, and with the right tempo, to learn it. Once learned, it can be mapped to the D-pad and cast at will. Time to talk about casting magic!
Casting your basic spell unleashes magical bolts against your foes. Tapping the right trigger accomplishes that. The three additional spells you have mapped you’ll access by holding the trigger and then pressing the indicated face button. It’s surprisingly simple, but opens a whole host of spell combinations. In fact there are a total of 23 spells, and many of them have surprising effects when combined. It does no good to be offense-only, however, so you’ll need to defend yourself. Tapping the Y button brings up your basic Protego spell, deflecting incoming fire. Holding Y and deflecting it at the right moment will cause you to divert the incoming attack, and then counter with a Stupefy spell. Combined with a Leviosa spell, you can block an incoming missile, counter with a stun, lift a foe in the air, and then finish them with a series of basic attacks. It’s delightfully easy to pick up without making the game’s combat trivial, providing an excellent framework in which to build. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be deflecting spells, hurling fire, levitating, and otherwise slinging spells with the best of them, which is good because you’ll be facing off against all sorts of beasts and baddies.
Outside of combat, you have quite a few utility spells that you’ll be using often. Revelio reveals hidden objects in the environment, as I mentioned. This can be an invisible thing, or simply something hidden from your view, such as a box tucked behind a locked door. Reparo, the mending charm, allows you to repair or reassemble broken objects. Lumos casts light for you to be able to more clearly see. Accio pulls objects towards you, including creatures you might be fighting. When you get lost in the castle you have a Charmed Compass that will draw a magical glowing line between you and the point you’ve highlighted in the map. Each spell feels like an achievement, and I hope you feel the same excitement and anticipation I do every time I see a new spell on the horizon.
Some challenges or puzzles are locked behind levels or spell requirements, so you might need to attend a class or two to pick those up. You’ll find some of these outside the world of academia, but let’s focus on Professor’s Assignments. As you are a fifth year student, but new to Hogwarts, your professors will want to help you catch up to your peers. They’ll do this with some assignments outside of your normal classes. Naturally, they’ll also want you to clear some mundane task while you are at it, but such is the price of power these days. These can be as simple as catching some errant book pages that are flitting about on the breeze nearby, or as complex as…well…I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you, now would I? Suffice it to say, when you have accomplished their task, they’ll provide you with instruction on a new spell. I’m very much reminded of the excellent Mordor games when I see that the section I’m in has 35 collection chests, 150 Field Guide Pages, 10 Demiguise Statues, and an Astronomy Table to uncover. And just like that game, that’s just one small section of the map – there’s an entire world to discover.
Your character needs to look the part at school, and wow is there a lot of gear to do precisely that. Handwear, facewear, headware, neckwear, uniforms, and cloaks and robes help you look your very best, while also adding points to offense, defense, and your overall health. Your equipment can also have slots for Traits. Traits can add bonuses to specific spells, improve your skills, or make your herbology more potent, just to name a few. You can also earn Talents in the game to augment your powers. I won’t reveal how you get talents, but you’ll earn one new talent per Wizarding level. These are categorized under Spells, Dark Arts, Core, Stealth, and Room of Requirement – and that’s all you are getting out of me. This is for you to discover!
Speaking of looking the part, this game is absolutely magnificent to look at. Every character face is extraordinarily detailed, as is every square inch of the entire world. Clothing ripples and moves realistically, there’s a metric ton of monster varieties, and there is very little repetition in the world. I’ve seen a handful of cave layouts re-used several times over the course of the game, but these are thankfully few and far between. Hogwarts Legacy has set the bar for world design impossibly high.
While you are at school, you’ll find a handful of minigames to play. For example, at Hogwarts you’ll play Summoner’s Court. This game has you casting Accio on balls, pulling them towards you as you try to stop them in exactly the right band for maximum points – think reverse Skeeball. You can also join a Dueling Club to square off against your fellow students in a bid to find out who is the very best at Hogwarts. These serve as training for when you get out in the world and have to solve puzzles using the same skills you earned playing with your friends.
Once you leave the confines of Hogwarts, and by extension, Hogsmeade, you’ll start running into puzzles and bad guys. Whether it’s a spitting spider, grumbling goblins, devious dark wizards, or worse, you’ll be using everything you’ve learned thus far to simply stay alive. Combat consists of using your spells as I described above, but eventually you’ll start facing casters. These wizards can surround themselves with magical shields of yellow, red, or purple color. These correspond to the spells you have that are also categorized by color. For example you’ll break a yellow shield with a levitation spell, and you’ll knock down a red one with an Incendio. Dodging, blocking, breaking spells, throwing debris, and unleashing your special ancient magic (Nope! Not telling you anything about that) is the key to surviving combat, but it’s hardly the only way. Time to head to the Room of Requirement.
Once you reach a certain point in the story, your fledgling student will find that they need a quiet place to study. The Room of Requirement can provide exactly this, and more. Rather than growing components or brewing potions in a classroom, you can now build out several rooms of Herbology and Potion Making capabilities.
Planted seeds have a growth time, and there’s little you can do to speed it up beyond fertilizer. Each also has a requisite pot size, and a corresponding yield. You’ll need to buy seeds, and you’ll want to get more pots and larger potting surfaces to really kick your horticultural pursuits into high gear. Naturally you can use them to brew up powerful healing draughts, but there are a few that you can use in combat, such as the Chomping Cabbages and the like that can attack or stun your foes directly. A venomous tentacled plant that chomps everyone nearby can be precisely what you need to take the heat off you during a particularly tough fight, so don’t ignore herbology.
Beyond growing your own plants, you can also brew your own potions. A simple healing draught comes from easily obtained plants and only about 30 seconds of stirring to prepare. More complex potions take longer. Given that, for example, the Thunderbrew Potion can literally unleash lightning bolts against your foes, it’s worth stopping and picking a few herbs and plants, isn’t it?
The Room of Requirement is happy to expand for whatever needs you may have, and at some point you’ll need a lush and verdant place to raise your beasts. Fwoopers, Puffskeins, Mooncalfs, Nifflers and more can be captured and cared for in a little pocket dimension not unlike in the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Brushing them, feeding them, giving them toys, and taking care of them will give you critter byproducts like feathers, hair, and more that you can then use to enhance your gear in a magical loom. Around every corner, another magical world to discover.
I’m very pleased to see a solid bit of representation in the game. A girl from Uganda squares off against you in Summoner’s Court for fun – she’s from Uagadou, the largest Wizarding School of Magic in the world. A blind kid hangs out in the Slytherin common room. A trans proprietor runs the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. One of your professors is a very excitable man from India, and your flying coach is from Japan. Representation is important, and there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of it here.
I was also pleased to see such a wide variety of clever puzzles in the game. One puzzle has you doing a little bit of mathematical deduction to open doors. Another has you dragging magical cannon balls into place to unveil the secrets of Merlin. Even when you’ve solved a puzzle one way, you may find that same puzzle but with a twist elsewhere. Better still, that doesn’t stop. There are many ways to tackle the puzzles in the magical world, and it’s clear that the team spent a great deal of care and attention to building the mystery that permeates every corner of the game.
Speaking of care and attention, that’s the real allure of Hogwarts Legacy. Put simply, worldbuilding is never done this well, especially in a licensed property. I feel like I’m a student at Hogwarts, and I’m heavily invested in the world Avalanche has created here. Put simply, this might be the best worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. Sure, the team had a wealth of source material to draw on, but so did previous developers who didn’t do it half as well. While it’s far from required, there are easily over 100 quests to tackle and a massive amount of hidden goodies and lore to find, and that’s in addition to the primary story thread. That primary story will take you roughly 35-40 hours to complete, but doing absolutely everything is easily a 100 hour affair.
There is a patch that addresses a handful of infrequent cosmetic bugs. Occasionally I saw pop-in, lighting flickering, or students might appear out of thin air as the game streams in objects. The game is filled to overflowing with detail, so it’s not a huge surprise – this game is going to push your system hard. While other games have failed to capitalize on any time earned in a delay, it’s very clear the Avalanche team spent theirs wisely. Hogwarts Legacy is very much worth the wait, and hopefully by the time you get your acceptance letter, that launch patch addresses the few issues that remain.
It’s rare that a game hooks me as much as Hogwarts Legacy. I will find every single object in this entire game, and I don’t care how much time it takes to do that. In fact, I’m looking forward to whatever DLC, Season Pass, or with any luck, a sequel could bring. It’s not that it’s a fantastic Harry Potter game, it’s that it’s a fantastic game….period. As it stands, it’s easily a contender for Game of the Year. It’s rare to see a licensed product this good – this one sets a brand new standard. Good luck to everyone coming after Hogwarts Legacy – you have a near impossible task. The game is just that good.
Full to bursting with unparalleled world building and lore, Hogwarts Legacy shows a level of care rarely seen. I’m stupefied with how amazing it is from top to bottom, and I have a feeling you’ll be hooked the moment you put on the Sorting Hat.
- Graphically stunning
- Seemingly endless interconnected systems that are somehow all fun
- Voice acting is top notch
- A Mokeskin pouch full of quests
- I can’t stop smiling!
- Occasional lighting issues
- Some cave / dungeon layout repetition
- A handful of technical hitches