September 17th 2010. I was still in PreMed at The University of Southern Mississippi living in that shitty little apartment off West 4th Street with the terrible brown carpet and the guy below me who played Smoke On The Water poorly on his out of tune guitar thrice daily. It was a Friday, and I only had a few afternoon classes and had just gotten back to the ol desk and sat down to catch up on some SomethingAwful threads (back when it was still a good forum). I'd been seeing rumblings about the game Minecraft for a while, but as a broke college student whos greatest luxury was getting Lil' Caesers every few weeks, I wasn't at a surplus of cash to throw down on Early Access games. Well as luck would have it, Notch fucked up the login system and decided to just let everyone play the game for free that weekend. I seized on it of course, and downloaded the game and logged in around 6PM. Being 13 years ago almost so I don't recall all the details, but what I remember most is that after logging in, I got absorbed into the game, only being pulled out what I assumed was a few hours later when I realized I hadn't had supper.
It was 3AM.
Great story Taylor, but what's the point? The point is that's the only time a game has been able to wrap me up like that, to entirely envelop my entire being into it. Until now. I'm older now and thing's have changed of course, but as I closed Hogwarts Legacy last night, and realized I had sunk a cool 10+ hours into the game completely interrupted, I had to pause for a moment to consider how good a game has to be to pull me in like that once again.
To preface: I will not be addressing or even mentioning any relation to Clown World Culture War bullshit in this review. It's stupid, probably manufactured, and almost certainly a marketing gimmick. YOU ARE NOT IMMUNE TO PROPAGANDA.
To go back into the past for a second, I'm probably in the prime age range for who Harry Potter was intended for when it originally came out. I think I remember reading it first when I was 9, and it just blew my little redneck mind. I was already a fan of Tolkien at this point, so the British genre of fantasy writing was just crack for me. Now, I quickly outgrew it as kids do, but I've always retained a soft spot for the series in my heart despite Rowling insisting on making everyone gay for some reason. The movies too were great, but there was never a game that really encapsulated the magic of Harry Potter. Sure, the movie tie in games weren't terrible but they're old, janky, and just rehashes of the books. So when Hogwarts Legacy got leaked a few years ago, I near about pissed myself with excitement. Naturally of course I ordered the Deluxe Edition because I have more money than sense, but mainly I wanted to get that head start and play as soon as possible. The preorder bonuses are ok, nothing great, and the mount included isn't even unlocked until DEEP unto the game, well after the midpoint of the main quest.
A bold, but appreciated, choice by the developers was to place the game in the late 19th century, far from any of the events of the main Harry Potter story, even predating Tom Riddles birth by about 30 years. The game focuses on the lost art of Ancient Magic and a small band of Hogwarts professors who worked to hid the truth of it from those that would abuse it. Ancillary to this is the backdrop of a Goblin uprising led by a Dark Arts wielding Goblin named Ranrock. You, the main character, are a 5th year just starting at Hogwarts, something very unheard of. You have little to no backstory, whether or not this is an intentional element to the story or just purely a chance for the player to project their own backstory on the character I am not yet sure, although I have my theories. Immediately you are thrown into the shit when a rogue dragon bites half of your carriage off, including a Ministry stooge (who I still say isn't dead. First rule of fiction: If you don't see a body, they aren't dead.) The game takes no time to introduce you to the main elements and players, as you work your way through the Scottish Highlands to the depths of Gringotts, and finally to Hogwarts as you begin to discover the Ancient Magic. I appreciated the ongoing trope of Main Characters in the HP Universe having the most arduous and fucked up journey to Hogwarts possible.
The game progresses mostly as such, with the addition of attending classes, completing (rather enjoyable) side quests for fellow students, and most of all, going on a HELL of a Collect-A-Thon. Now I know that lost one is super controversial. Some people DESPISE collection games, but as someone who grew up idolizing Rare games, especially the Banjo Kazooie series, there's something very Zen and nostalgic about running around and completing little puzzles for nothing more than completion percentage and little trinkets.
I found myself not even that annoyed of the side quests, and even actively sought them out along my way. Many of these games make the mistake of having these very involved side quests that take up a bunch of time and lead the player all across the map, but I found most of the side quests were very self contained to a small area, easily done while working on one of the larger Main Story quests.
Obviously, as a wizard (or witch), your primary weapon is magic, and an impressive arsenal are you given to wield. Most spells are divided into 4 or so “schools” of Control, Force, Damage, and Utility (Transfiguration and Unforgiveable Curses come in later, as well as some spells to feed and groom animals????) The primary wand flick attack feels anemic, but once you get the big fire spell, Incendo, you start to feel like a god. It's further enhanced later into the story as you unlock “Talents” that augment spells, essentially turning you into a 16 year murder machine. Oh yeah, that's another point, not strictly related to gameplay that I found odd. The books were mostly based towards children, and yes they were a coming of age story and did get rather dark around Goblet of Fire, but I was struck by just how quickly your character descends into just straight up mercing dudes, I mean just straight up pulverizing and turning brothers into ash. Very hardcore. The most satisfying of it all is the combos you can line up, throwing a guy up in the air then yeeting him across the room into a wall. The Force spells especially have some great potential for shenanigans and again, just feels so satisfying. The curses are late in the game, but are so cool. You feel like they're actually a mythic and unspeakable thing that you sacrifice part of your soul for using.
One of my favorite mechanics that I've gone on and on about is The Room of Requirement that gets introduced to you around midgame. A small pocket dimension of Hogwarts that allows the player to customize, build work stations and growing spots to cultivate herbs and other resources. You even eventually get a small menagerie to raise and breed magical animals (that you get by kidnapping them with the appropriately punned “nab-sack”).
Fairly early on you're taught how to fly on a broom, which completely changes how you traverse the map. Flying on the broom feels great, its not as in depth or fluid as say, World of Warcraft's recently release “Dragon Riding”, but it feels so good on Mouse and Keyboard, and can only assume it's more fluid on controller (which I didn't try). The hippogriffs are an “upgrade” to this system, but personally I found them way clunkier and less fluid.
The gear system feels superfluous, at best, and annoyingly tedious at worst. Your inventory fills up very quickly, and can only be increased by doing a bunch of Merlin Challenges across the map, which are also slightly tedious, but enjoyable enough. Later on via the Room of Requirement you can upgrade gear which makes it a little better, but still feels pointless. Clothes can have traits added to them like less damage from goblins or spiders, enhancing certain spells. It feels like a system that would be good if it turnover on gear wasn't so fast, but maybe I'm just playing it wrong. A big complaint from me regarding the gear especially is the way that cosmetic changes are gear based, instead of slot based, so when you replace an item you have to go through and change it custom appearance as well. It's the same in World of Warcraft, so you'd think I would be used to it, and yet here I am, still pissed.
I will say however, that the game is not free of many of the ills that have befallen Open World games. The map is huge, and I wont say empty, but not extremely varied outside of the castle and Hogsmeade. There's a plethora of challenges, little hamlets to explore, caves to delve for treasures, and powerful beasts to slay, but it just feels like something I've seen before (AC Odyssey, Fenix Immortal Rising) but with a new skin. This isn't a knock, it's just what it is, a consequence of Open World games, its a hard genre to reinvent. That said, what a Hell of a skin to put on it
Art and Sound
I'm not near as nostalgic for the Harry Potter theme as say, The Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but the magical whispy theme still fills me with that air of mystery and wonder. The design of the game feels very faithful to the near whacky design of the books, while keeping it realistic enough with its wonkard ass looking houses, It looks great, but warning: The game requires a fairly beefy rig to run maxed out. Even with my 3080 Ti, I encounter a good bit of chugging in certain areas of the world and more often, the castle. These are hopefully issues that can be ironed out in patches later on.
The major point of praise goes to the animations. Oh God it all feels so smooth. There's one specifically when you invoke the Ancient Magic attack and it throws someone up in the air and repeatedly bashes them into the ground. Just chef kiss. I just love the little things about it too: The way the Slytherin door reveals itself, how people and things do that weird whirly thing when they teleport. All these little things together just makes the whole experience so fluid and visceral.
With the story changes, so too does the world change. You start in a nice fall atmosphere with slow changes into Halloween and Christmas as the school term progresses. Hogwarts turning into a Winter Wonderland wasn't something I expected, but mounting up on the broom and swooping around the snow covered landscape was so nice, especially considering it was in the 70s outside that day.
Two of my primary complaints are also fairly big ones. Firstly, there's an option to pitch your characters voice, but it makes it sound very unnatural, tinny and canned. When I streamed the game on Early Access launch day, everyone said they didnt hear it, but its there. Secondly, I see a lot of uncanny stuff with the faces I don't like, especially with the player character. Feels almost like LA Noir.
Did it live up to the hype? More than yes, which is refreshing to see. So many games in the past decade or so have been hyped to the moon and fallen well short (thought most later on got patched up to be decent to good games i.e. Cyberpunk and especially No Man's Sky). I want to see more from this game. I'm not finished with the game yet and I already know I won't be satisficed by the end. I want Quidditch DLC, I want a Triwizard DLC, maybe even a Ministry DLC. But most of all, and I wont hold my breath, but I want a mode of this game that makes the game more role playable for infinite replay value. It wasn't how the game was pitched, but I was very disappointed to find there's almost no immersiveness to the game. Common rooms have no real use, classrooms are just part of scripted cutscenes. I'm not sure what the modding potential of this game is, but if possible, would love to see what the community can come up with.
A great game that looks great, feels great, and sounds great that will only get better with time. Well worth the money, but maybe pass on the Deluxe Edition.