After all the anticipation, Hogwarts Legacy has finally launched for Xbox, PlayStation and PC, with a Switch version to follow in a couple of months. Here’s our take on the PlayStation 5 version.
To be perfectly honest, we didn’t know what to expect from Hogwarts Legacy prior to playing the launch version. Warner Bros hadn’t shown it off during the trade show season last year, it was hit with delays and it didn’t tap into the ever-popular cast of characters from the original books. And to make matters worse, author J.K. Rowling didn’t do the franchise any favors with her remarks either. It felt as if the odds were definitely stacked against this way turning out reasonably well, but it looks like Avalanche Software managed to defy the odds and deliver what’s quite possibly the best “Harry Potter” game yet – and it doesn’t even have Harry Potter.
In a way, that last part is a blessing – most of the previous games were rushed tie-in productions to the movies, and our favorite of the bunch was probably the LEGO version that came out later. But even that game was tied to an existing script, and Hogwarts Legacy is an entirely original story merely mapped against a familiar background – and it’s more filled with wonder and all the better for it.
Taking place long before the time of Harry, Ron and Hermione, you start off at Hogwarts as a student about to embark on his fifth year there – though if you go off of the amount of things you have to learn you’d be forgiven if you wondered how on earth the first four years were spent. On the plus side, this lack of background knowledge and pre-existing plotlines makes your character feel like someone you can truly make your own, and a good character creation suite enhanced this feeling.
Not long after you take control of your character, you learn that you can – unlike other students – wield an ancient kind of magic. This prompts Professor Eleazar Fig to take you under his wing, but it’s not long before you discover that goblins and dark wizards are also after the magic that you have a connection to – setting you off on an open world action RPG to further your understanding of magic and traverse the dangers that now face you.
You won’t do this alone, and although the narrative is a fun adventure-style romp in and around Hogwarts it’s the interesting cast of characters that carries the story. Most of the characters are completely new and it’s interesting to get to know then, even those with all-too-familiar last names like Weasley or Ollivander. Many characters will offer you side quests that let you delve into their personal stories and backgrounds – and there’s a good bit of variety in the mechanics on offer in these side quests too.
Even if you ignore the side quests, you’ll notice how large a game Hogwarts Legacy is – there is a lot to see and explore and rather than a romp in and around a castle this feels more like games such as The Witcher 3. Curiosity is rewarded, and there is a lot to see and discover here – with rewards that makes your little side endeavors worthwhile as well.
The combat system’s been extensively reworked since the last Harry Potter games as well, with a control scheme that allows you to launch different spell types with each face button while also letting you string these together for combos. Want to pull the enemy in after disarming them for a devastating finisher? You certainly can! You can also deflect and counter, or roll out of the way of incoming danger, all of which you might need because spells can’t be hammered out due to a cooldown period.
During busier fights (sometimes with multiple enemies at once), you’ll regularly charge up your special attacks, which are tied to your connection to the ancient magic and generally look quite spectacular. It’s no wonder everyone’s after its secret. It’s definitely not non-stop combat at Hogwarts though – Hogwarts Legacy also taps into what it’s like to be a student at the school, letting you attend classes, engage in conversation and find collectibles, with rewards available both during side quests and through regular play. For fans of the source material, there are a couple of easter eggs to discover as well, which is nice fan service. For completionists, there are dozens of hours of content here, though we imagine that that will ultimately turn into a bit of a grind.
The majority of people won’t feel the urge to push on to explore every nook and cranny though, and you don’t need to. Hogwarts Legacy provides about thirty hours of top notch entertainment with its campaign and good dose of side quests, and there’s more if you want it.