Roughly 30 hours into “Hogwarts Legacy,” I found myself walking around the Slytherin dormitory, trying on different outfits and talking to various classmates. My owl was rustling in its cage, probably wanting me to catch up on some unread letters. A magical piano was doing its thing, as was a nagging, perpetually goofy ghost named Peeves.
In terms of quests, I had a few lingering options: head south of the castle to investigate a camp raided by goblins; go to a potions class; or participate in the final round of a secretive dueling tournament with other students.
Instead, I took a long — and I mean long — walk through the castle to see if I could find any of the bewitched keys I needed to collect. I got sidetracked and went to check on my Dittany leaves growing in the herbology classroom, then talked with a Gryffindor student who asked me for something, like, four days ago. But I paid more attention to the people moving around in the paintings behind her.
Eventually, I went for one of many exits, hopped on my broomstick and flew over to Hogsmeade Village, because I wanted to pay Ollivanders a visit. My current wand no longer was doing the trick, and I needed an upgrade. Afterward, I went to The Three Broomsticks, ordered a butterbeer and soaked in the atmosphere.
That camp still hasn’t been investigated. Prof. Sharp, my potions instructor, still is waiting for me to show up to class. I’ll get around to smoking my classmates in the dueling finals at some point.
This is the beauty of “Hogwarts Legacy”, Portkey Games’ sprawling, open-world RPG that currently has millions — but certainly not all — of Harry Potter fans under its spell.
The game’s story, which takes place about 100 years before the events of the Harry Potter films and books, is fine but forgettable. The characters (more on them in a bit) mostly are interesting. The combat mechanics are excellent, as is the gear customization system. A majority of the quests, be they side quests or part of the main storyline, are more satisfying than other grind-and-collect tasks you’ll encounter in other RPGs.
But, for me, the most rewarding aspect of developer Avalance Software’s biggest game yet is the ability to explore Hogwarts Castle and the areas that surround it with near-total freedom. In many ways, “Hogwarts Legacy” is a better companion to J.K. Rowling’s iconic book series than the eight-part film series, despite featuring virtually none of the characters whom fans have fallen in love with over the last 20-plus years.
Reading fantasy books, especially when you’re young, makes the imagination run wild. Before, during and after a Harry Potter reading session, I would think about what my friends and I would do if we lived in that world. You know, basic daydreaming. What would killing time in the dorm be like? What would the place sound like without a backing soundtrack? What would the energy be like on a normal afternoon? What kind of mischief would I cause if I was a wizard living and going to school in a giant, magical castle? The hypotheticals go on and on.
Well, “Hogwarts Legacy” gets you closer to realizing those fantasies than ever before, unless you plan on making frequent trips to Universal Studios Orlando. And even then, sweaty tourists and 10-hour lines can break the immersion pretty quickly.
If nothing else, Avalanche needed to nail the tone and atmosphere of Hogwarts, and it pulled it off. The game’s castle is teeming with life, as sounds, magic, characters and the franchise’s trademark quirkiness and charm assault you from all angles. There is never a dull moment while roaming Hogwarts and its grounds; even the quieter moments provide much to enjoy. You could spend hours neglecting any questlines in favor of just walking around doing random stuff.
This is a game bursting with the personality that fans were hoping for.
While it can take some time to find your bearings, especially if you’re new to games of this scale, the payoff for the drawn-out intro and tutorials is more than worth it. Once the world opens up and you’re free to explore the castle, Hogsmeade Village and the surrounding world, you’ll never run out of things to do or look at — and your curiosity almost always is rewarded.
Of course, this isn’t just some technical show-off or glorified guided tour. There’s an actual (and very large) game to be played.
And it’s a great one. It’s not perfect, and there are some squandered opportunities that are impossible to ignore, but on the whole, “Hogwarts Legacy” is a beautiful, exciting game with a ton of depth and replay value.
The game looks great. The castle is the standout, but the rolling fields, dense forests and small villages that surround it are just as good. “Hogwarts Legacy” especially shines in moments that allow its colors and textures to stand out, and its human characters generally look very realistic.
That’s not to say there aren’t issues. The lighting is inconsistent, particularly when transitioning between bright and dark areas, and characters’ mouths often are totally out of sync with their dialogue. The game also has its fair share of glitches, from graphical pop-ins to random colors and artifacts showing up on the screen. I also suffered multiple system crashes and my character fell through the ground at least a few times.
But those problems weren’t enough to detract from what otherwise is a great-looking game. Just check out this tour of the castle.
This is one of the game’s greatest triumphs. Using your wand to cast various spells and attacks on your enemies feels great and never gets boring.
You’ll start the game with a generic spell cast that does little damage, but by the end, you’ll deploy a vast array of spells that can be upgraded and enhanced in multiple ways. It’s all about combos: Raise an enemy off the ground with Levioso, bring them close with Accio and then set them aflame with Incendio. If you do it right, the opponent never will touch the ground again. And that’s just one of many possibilities.
You’ll also want to put extra practice into the blocking and parrying mechanics. If you face multiple enemies at once, you won’t get very far if you don’t learn how to sync your attacks with your defenses. It also is worthwhile to utilize items like the Chinese Chomping Cabbage, which bites enemies and can be grown in a pot once you have the right ingredients.
“Hogwarts Legacy” is a game that you can button-mash your way through — your “ancient magic” abilities will tip the scales in any fight — but the depth in the combat system is worth exploring and can give you a huge advantage when mastered.
It’s … kinda dumb. Basically, you’re a new student starting at Hogwarts as a fifth-year, which has all the kids talking. But before you get to school, you’re caught up in a plot involving an evil goblin who’s determined to wield the ancient magic that you and few others possess. It eventually devolves into a paint-by-numbers, good-versus-bad story.
And none of it makes sense. You never really find out why you started as a fifth-year, or why you possess this magic. You just know it’s all supposed to be important and stuff, because everyone keeps telling you it is.
Nevertheless, the story you craft for yourself can be rewarding, regardless of what house the Sorting Hat puts you in. (You can pick your own if you don’t like his choice.) Most of your schoolmates — bolstered by impressive voice-acting performances — are legitimately interesting and will involve you in quests that usually give you a good excuse to explore areas of the world you otherwise might not see. I had far more fun interacting with students and teachers than I did with the game’s big villain, a high-powered goblin named Ranrok.
Typically, I’m not big into dialogue trees. I want to play a video game, not spend hours picking and choosing what I’m going to say to people. But I found “Hogwarts Legacy’s” dialogue system more interesting than most, as it allowed me to craft my wizard’s personality in subtle ways — including being a jerk.
My biggest gripe with the story is the lack of consequence.
There’s no morality system to speak of, meaning I can kill and raise hell at will with no repercussions. It can feel jarring to run around Hogwarts and just break everything you see and cast spells on a whim. Sometimes it feels like you’re operating in some parallel universe, as characters act like you aren’t even there unless you choose to interact with them.
As for the story’s connection to the Harry Potter books and films, the game goes out of its way to provide as much connective tissue as possible. There’s a ton of lore to investigate, from creatures and plans to paintings of famous wizards and witches. There’s basically a small Harry Potter encyclopedia within the game that you either can embrace or ignore. There also are some recognizable names, including some Weasleys, among many others.
Obviously, we’re not going to spoil the ending. But just know that some of your decisions — like, for example, choosing to master the Dark Arts and learn the Killing Curse — will impact which ending you get.
One of the game’s biggest weaknesses is villain diversity — or lack thereof.
Despite taking place in a universe that has numerous “Fantastic Beasts” (and books on where to find them), “Hogwarts Legacy” has a thin assortment of villains. You’ll fight a bunch of goblins, guards and spiders, and not much else. It’s a shame, because memorable villains and enemies could’ve turned this game into an all-time classic. Just ask anyone who played “Elden Ring.”
Still, battling groups of villains can be very fun, especially as you learn to enhance your spells and tweak your character’s build. The enemies effectively become a blank, meaningless canvas for you to paint whatever kind of magical chaos you want.
Another thing that “Hogwarts Legacy” does very well.
Aside from a frustrating lack of storage options, the game’s gear and customization system is a total treat. There’s an endless amount of hats, glasses, gloves, wand handles, scarves, robes and shirts for you to choose from, with each boosting either your character’s offense or defense. Some outfits are standard; others are totally ridiculous. You can make your character look however you want.
For me, exploring every nook and cranny to find a chest that might have a new piece of gear was a delight. Having to throw most of them away due to the lack of storage was frustrating, but “Hogwarts Legacy” found a way to make up for it.
Take “Elden Ring”, for example. In that game, you basically had to choose whether you wanted to wear gear that made you look cool or made you stronger. There was no point in finding a middle ground.
In “Hogwarts Legacy,” you can keep a certain piece of gear’s attributes while overlaying it with something you think looks better. Keep the defensive buffs of the boring fedora, but make it look like the scarecrow hat that you sold earlier in the game when you ran out of storage.
It’s a wonderful touch, and something I hope other RPGs replicate in the future.
This is a huge, almost unforgivable bummer.
There is absolutely zero Quidditch in “Hogwarts Legacy”. You’re told at the beginning that the Quidditch season was canceled due to a serious injury suffered by a student the previous year — and that’s it. You never get to take to the skies as Slytherin’s seeker or Gryffindor’s keeper.
It’s hard not to feel that the omission of Quidditch is due to timing/budget issues, rather than a story decision. The potential benefits of it being in the game are too great. Anyone who played “Final Fantasy X” as a kid can tell you how much fun an in-game fake sport can be when done well.
It really is too bad, because flying on a broomstick in “Hogwarts Legacy” feels just right. So does flying on a Hippogriff, for that matter. Some of my favorite moments in the game were flying around the castle and finding secret areas to check out.
Here’s hoping Avalance finds a way to include Quidditch in the inevitable “Hogwarts Legacy” sequel.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with “Hogwarts Legacy”. I admittedly didn’t watch many trailers, check out gameplay reveals or take part in early access. I largely went in blind.
As someone who’s flicked by playings of “The Goblet of Fire” on FreeForm more times than I can count, I thought I’d had enough Harry Potter for one lifetime. I haven’t been itching for a return to Universal Studios.
But it didn’t take long for this game to hook me and capture my imagination. I’ve spent the equivalent of nearly two days playing “Hogwarts Legacy” — probably not something I should brag about — and plan on devoting many more hours to seeing what the game has to offer.
Not since reading the books have I been this interested in the world of Harry Potter. And, if I’m being honest, I’m more likely to play this game again than I am to re-read the books or re-watch the movies.
Final verdict: 9/10.