A magical open-world delight
Harry Potter is a series that feels tailor made for an open world RPG. Between the expansive school grounds, the array of different spells on offer and comprehensive lore, perhaps the only surprising part here is how it has taken any studio to pick up the reigns of Harry Potter and run with it.
Sure, we have the PS1 movie titles complete with savage Draco Malfoy and PS1 Hagrid face, but beyond that, Lego Harry Potter is perhaps the closest we’ve come to a full blown Harry Potter adventure game with free-roaming and broom flying aplenty. Hogwarts Legacy then, has the world at its fingertips and you can really feel the creative team over at Portkey have done their absolute best to bring this world to life.
Hogwarts Legacy is not the best open world game on the market, nor is it the best movie tie-in game. What it is, however, is a beautifully realized RPG, dripping in a familiar Harry Potter aesthetic that does its absolute best to honour the source material and craft an original story around that.
The main story is pretty perfunctory for the most part and is set back in the 1800’s. You take on the role of a new student starting at Hogwarts in the fifth year, complete with a wizard field guide to help catch up with the other students. As a fifth year, you’re not quite bound by the same strict rules the youngsters adhere to, but you still have to work your way through classes to get the best spells.
This first part of the story (acting like student, honing your skills and crafting friendships with other students at Hogwarts) runs second fiddle to a much larger plotline encompassing a shady goblin and dark magic gone bad. I won’t spoil what happens here but suffice to say the story settles into a rather formulaic structure around 10 hours or so in, requiring you to find a whole bunch of different trinkets and completing trials in order to gain enough intel and power to combat the dark powers growing.
While the story is a bit unforgettable, the same can’t be said for the gameplay and the world itself. Hogwarts Castle is an absolute joy to explore and between missions, the game allows you free reign to go off and wander the corridors, uncover secrets and complete side quests for other students. These areas will be recognizable to anyone who has played the games and whether it be the individual classrooms or the astronomy tower, real thought has been put into both rewarding exploration and giving nods to fans of the books and games.
Hogwarts is only one small part of this game though, as you’ll soon discover a much larger world beyond the walls of the school. Not only can you go and explore the Hogwarts grounds, you can also venture into the Forbidden Forest, take a hike up to Hogsmeade or even venture beyond to little villages and settlements dotted around the world.
To begin with, thing are a tad slow going with plenty of tutorials and a good few hours dedicated to learning all the mechanics of the game. Once you get past that though, Hogwarts Legacy opens up and continues to do so the longer you play. More mechanics and gameplay additions are locked behind story progression, so you’ll find yourself drawn to completing more of the story simply to unlock extra spells and find hidden places to explore. However, you also can’t just blast your way through the plot either, as some missions require you to attend classes to learn certain spells or to progress up to a certain level.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward for the most part, with the combat feeling like a polished version of what Lego Harry Potter had. You have four different main spells, mapped to R2. From here, you can press any of the four face buttons to craft a spell. You also have a simple blast with just spamming R2,while pressing triangle alone adds a protective shield to block incoming blasts. All of this works together with a dodge (Circle) and jumping (X) to create a pretty satisfyingly system, although the combat never works as well as it does late on, especially when more spells are unlocked.
The only gripe here comes from the inability to jump and craft spells at the same time, which does feel like a slight oversight as it prevents much verticality when it comes to combat.
The ability to quickly switch out spells (even mid-combat) is great though and adds an extra layer of strategy to the fold. You’ll need to adopt this quick-thinking against other wizards and goblins you encounter too, as the higher level enemies tend to have a protection charm around them unless you craft a specific spell to take the guys down.
There’s a decent array of enemies to face, with each individual race (spiders, skeletons, wizards, goblins to name a few) having different soldier types within those ranks. For example, spiders have an aggressive Matriarch with lots more health, spitters that keep a distance and fire projectiles at you and soldiers that get up close and personal. This all helps to keep things interesting, and the game wisely mixes up the different enemy types during your traversal and story missions to keep things from stagnating.
There’s an awful lot to do in this game and alongside the main missions and side quests, Hogwarts Legacy features a lot of collectibles. There’s over 1000 to be precise, and each serve a purpose to upgrade your gear or unlock extra goodies through the “Challenge” part of the menu. That aforementioned gear is an important part of the game and is both Hogwart Legacy’s strength and weakness. Given how long you’ll take to craft your character’s appearance, it’s disappointing then to find that account for nothing 5-10 hours into the game when you’re equipping massive wizard hats, sunglasses and huge scarfs to buff your stats and hide your appearance.
Each level gain also grants you Talent Points, and in true RPG fashion, you can use those to gain extra combat advantages, better stealth skills (which can allow you to also craft Petrificus Totalus) and even better skills in the Room of Requirement.
For anyone familiar with the Harry Potter franchise, the Room of Requirement is a place that Hogwarts conjures up to help hone your skills and comes with some Transformative magic that’ll allow you to craft potions, plants and even breed beasts using specific tables or pots. Each of these take a while to unlock in the story, which has a completion time of around 15-25 hours to complete. That’s only if you intend to focus on the story.
If you deviate from the path, explore the grounds and attempt to collect everything, you’re probably looking at upwards of around 70 to 80 hours. This is a massive game but the open world trappings show up here too and may cause a bit of fatigue, especially as you near the end of the game.
All the usual open world suspects are here, including unlocking fast travel points, clearing out bandit camps, completing treasure hunts and finishing Merlin Trials, which work to test out your magic skills. Although to be honest, it’s not worth doing much of this until near the end of the game anyway when you’ve unlocked most of your spells.
Hogwarts Legacy does attempt to add extra layers to the established lore too, with plenty of nods to other characters from the books as you encounter early ancestors for people like the Weasleys or the Slytherin tribe. There are also three primary side quests for each house too, with separate, long-running storylines for classmates. This work to flesh out more of your supporting cast and features some of the best material. A personal favourite comes from the Slytherin missions, but I won’t spoil what happens here. It’s definitely not a side quest you should miss!
I said before that there’s a good deal of diversity in this game and Hogwarts Legacy really embraces that idea of community and togetherness. The only part of this though that sours the experience is the game breaking lore surrounding Nighttime activities.
Given we’re told on several occasions within Hogwarts Legacy that there’s a curfew and students can’t be caught by teachers wandering the hallways or out after dark, the fact you can just wander about outside willy-nilly, go deep into the Forbidden Forest and even fly around the grounds on your broom, it breaks the illusion of being an actual student. This is particularly evident during one mission midway through the game when you’re collecting Demiguise Statues (another collectible) and your character is worried about being caught out of bed.
There’s a whole bunch of Easter eggs here, not to mention an expansive world brimming with secrets and plenty of busywork to keep you playing long after the main quest has finished. The combat is pretty fun, especially late on when you can mix and match spells, and you can tell a lot of care and attention has been putting into this.
Hogwarts Legacy isn’t the best open world game on the market but it is a surprisingly polished experience and the perfect thrill-ride for Potter fans.
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Verdict - 8/10