It’s only the end of February already; we have multiple games that are claiming for your attention, and unlike past years they have all been good, and some really good. But now we have arrived at the first big AAA release of the year, Hogwarts Legacy. A game that has been in the works since 2017 and even had a playable build leaked in 2018, and everyone seemed to forget about it until two years later when it showed back up at the PS5 reveal event. The game marketed itself as the game that Harry Potter fans have been waiting for a very long time, and to say this game had a lot to live up to would be an understatement. But to the shock of many people, including myself, who have been a Harry Potter fan in passing, meaning I skimmed the books in primary school and saw the films. The game was a pleasant surprise and kept me engaged throughout the 30 hours of my time spent in the Wizarding World.
You begin the game with an in-depth character creator to make your personal witch or wizard that has just been accepted to Hogwarts as a fifth year. This was the first aspect of the game that caught me off guard and gave me a hint at how much detail the developers put into this game. Maybe the years of having basic character creators have made me numb to the idea of what they used to be like. But soon after, you are accepted to Hogwarts as a fifth-year student, but soon after your arrival, you find yourself in a race against time. On one side, you have the local collective of dark wizards/witches, and on the other side, you have a group of Goblins who have processed a small pocket of dark magic for themselves. Then there is you, who has the rare ability to see and interact with trances of ancient forgotten magic throughout the Wizarding World. This is where your story starts, and it’s a great introduction for returning and new fans to the source material.
The game has a similar structure to that of a Ubisoft open-world game, click on the map, and you are showered in random icons and side quests. But for some reason, I ended up getting in the groove of things after the first few hours; I think that’s because it doesn’t give you all the hallmarks of the series at the start. In fact, it took me between 3 and 4 hours to unlock the broom and another 10 to unlock the Hippogriff; that was a pre-order bonus. This helped give me a reason to keep on going, even when the story was taking a slow break and lost me for just a second.
Then, you have the combat, which felt simple at first, but near the end, you will be playing memory games with yourself to remember which “loadout” had the spell you need to use at that particular moment. This can lead to some frustrating moments when you try to cast a fire spell, but you forget to switch over, and you’re just spamming the light on and off. Attacking involves selecting a spell and spam-clicking the right trigger on your target. It’s one of the combat systems that it’s easy to break and have your own fun with it, but also, when it starts getting closer to the end, it gets complicated quickly.
Then you have the world itself, which to a passive fan this a beautifully detailed and designed game, but to a fan of the source material. This is something that they could only dream of one day exploring within a game world to this level of detail. The game also has tons of moments that were mentioned in the books but didn’t appear in the films; I know this because some of my friends, who are massive fans, have pointed them out to me. The main location on display in the game is, of course, Hogwarts. This is where the game appears it’s going to try to be a western version of Persona, but it never fully goes in that direction, only for a few moments. I counted at least eight class sessions throughout the game; some of them are optional, but you do get extra spells if you attend. But if you decide to go outside the castle, you can explore the surrounding area, which includes the Forbidden Forest and Hogsmeade, which is treated more like Diagon Alley since you are stuck in the Hogwarts Valley for the game.
As for the side stories, there are a ton of them; most of them involve fetching something for someone or brewing a specific potion for them. But everyone now and then, you come across a multi-part quest, and some of these have stronger story elements than the main story at hand. At least one of the side stories did make me tear up a little, so that is a huge positive to the writers of this game.
In the end, this game surprised me in many ways. Mainly because I went in with low expectations because I could see this game going south in several ways, but despite all the odds, both in development and outside forces out of this game’s control that had a large impact on the public perception of it, this was a good game based on a beloved fantasy series. It still falls in the trappings of games of a similar design, the side quest needing to be more varied, and I did have some tech issues but nothing game-breaker. I will admit that near the end, when it started to turn into a nonstop action set piece, the frame rate started to drop like crazy. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, so I can recommend this game to anyone who wants to lose themselves in this fantasy world that has engraved itself into our modern-day popular culture.
Score: 8 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5