As the Harry Potter franchise conclusion its main story as the film series ended in the early 2010s, the Potterverse has continued to grow. Since then, the Fantastic Beasts film series has begun and a new stage play/novel, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was released. However, one demand remained years after new additions to the universe: a new game.
After years of teasers, announcements, delays and controversies, Hogwarts: Legacy has finally arrives as one of the first major AAA releases of 2023, the first open-world experience in the Potterverse and the franchise's first game in nearly a decade.
Though Hogwarts: Legacy doesn’t completely recapture the same magic of the films and books, new ways to use magic, environment, overall tone and combat within this free-roaming experience around Hogwarts is nostalgic and offers fans a fun experience in the ubiquitous wizarding world.
Like most would expect in a sprawling game built with open-world dynamics, immersion in world design is always a key part of connecting with games' spaces and stories. Spaces that feel complete, detailed, vivid and alive are key signifiers of a proper space in an open-world game, and I feel that Hogwarts: Legacy absolutely checks this box. The environment of Hogwarts, its massive castle, the Forbidden Forest and its surrounding Hogsmeade village all feel very alive and incredibly detailed. Exploring these areas were among my favorite parts of the game, as it allowed for exploration and nuance beyond that of any other Harry Potter experience. Moreover, exploration around the castle and elsewhere contains fun puzzles that make it feel rewarding to reach your destinations. This exploration, combined with surrounding student chatter and a familiar-feeling score from Alexander Horowitz that mirrored that of John Williams and Alexandre Desplat from the films, sparked my memories of the films from when I was young. The moments of hearing the score swell while I explored the many corridors to find a classroom were the high points of my Hogwarts: Legacy experience.
One crucial element that I enjoyed for much of the game was the emphasis on learning spells and taking classes at Hogwarts for progression. Though some means of progression and reaching level requirements can feel a bit tedious towards the end, taking classes feels fun and reminiscent of the novels and films when learning how to cast spells and make potions. Within the context of the universe, your main character being a Fifth Year student has you equipped with a series of spells and opens the opportunity for more advanced and famous spells in the universe. This provides a good entry point for both new and longtime fans alike and offers a thorough experience into student life.
Much of the game’s combat is interesting in its concept and early stages. The myriad of spells at your disposal and design of the fights is visually interesting and fun to learn how different combos work. Despite combat feeling a bit repetitive as the game progresses, especially with boss battles, the inclusion of wands and magic added onto a well-structured loot-based combat system adds enough to maintain interest at all parts of the game.
However, with combat on a greater scale, the level progression tree does not add as much to the game in terms of stronger gameplay. Though some progress early on can change this, enemies seem to remain largely the same, and unlocking new spells and upgrades didn't add as much as I hoped. With how spell usage is designed, players are given 4 open slots to put their selection of spells, along with a basic attack and hotbars to add more. With small deviations, players can stick with a handful of spells all game, which can take away from trying new spells. Despite this, I like the amount of spells this game provides with the choice of trying out 34 unlockable spells and would highly recommend trying as many out as you learn.
One small wrinkle of combat in a greater scheme that I disliked was the way Unforgivable Curses were handled. These curses, Crucio (torturing opponents), Imperio (controlling opponents) and Avada Kedavra (killing opponents), are forbidden spells in the context of the universe and typically used for evil, as they are punishable by law. However, in the actual game, there are no consequences for using these curses. Though I understand parameters in an open-world experience might make normal canon for such spells different and I appreciate the option for their use, I feel this can hurt the immersion factor. With some boss battles or fights against tougher enemies, I found myself trying out Avada Kedavra to just get battles over quickly with a few hits, as my character would still be seen as a hero all the same. Once unlocked, there can be less incentive in deferring to other spells in combat. Considering this, I would’ve enjoyed seeing a type of morality system in place (similar to that of Red Dead Redemption 2) where using a forbidden spell or harming others would create consequences for players' good or evil actions. Still, if you enjoy taking a more evil path, you certainly have a chance to do so.
Perhaps my least favorite part of Hogwarts: Legacy was the overall story. Though a few beats and early parts feel enjoyably reminiscent of the films and books, the story can feel a little empty with its side and main storylines fizzling out or never coming to fruition. With how quests are structured and have little to do with one another at times, doing unrelated side quests to reach the main quest feels empty. While some of the story beats and mystery elements to this goblin rebellion storyline feel close to that of the novels/films it's inspired by, the good vs. evil story and character arcs ultimately felt lacking and too familiar to other Harry Potter stories by its final act.
Ultimately, even with a couple bumps in the road, Hogwarts: Legacy offers a truly interesting journey through the Potterverse full of some incredible world design, puzzles and fun combat. The game truly shines when it offers an intimate look at a dense, magic-based world full of breathtaking locations that it’s well-equipped for. Given that, I feel it's absolutely worth the time of any Potterverse fan.