Harry Potter is one of the most recognisable franchises of all time, and the school setting of Hogwarts is its most prominent location. Yet gamers have been starved of an opportunity to explore the ever-changing halls, delve deep into secret rooms and utilise the many spells highlighted in the books and movies (outside of some Lego games and early console titles). That has all now changed with Hogwarts Legacy. Despite being set a century earlier than Harry’s adventures, the game houses all the magic and wonder that leapt off the pages and screens during our childhoods. Not only does it replicate the feeling of being a student at Hogwarts, but it is an expertly-constructed RPG with a surprising amount of depth in its combat, lore and original story. This isn’t just a good Harry Potter game; it’s a contender for Game of the Year.
Where does one start with such a fantastic beast? The beginning of the game allows you to customise your character’s looks, as is the staple with most RPGs. It’s nothing revolutionary, but you’ll be spending a good 15-20 minutes trying to nail the exterior. Following a few key story beats that showcase excellent graphics, a soaring score and an introduction to a range of core characters, the sorting hat will suggest your house (fear not, you can ignore his choice and go with your favourite). For the purposes of being unique to the books/films, I chose Ravenclaw. The decision hasn’t really impacted my playthrough outside of some dialogue, blue trim on uniforms and the common room I’m allowed in. But it’s another option in a long list of RPG elements that make you feel unique to everything and everyone else chattering away around you.
The story, without spoiling anything, does its job of making the player a ‘chosen one’ of sorts. Most teachers are keen to help you, especially as you’re a fifth year attending Hogwarts for the first time, and NPCs either love you or hate you. The Field Guide is an excellent tool in tracking progress, but it can be very difficult to stick to the story missions (ancient magic, an evil goblin, trials to prove yourself) when there are so many interesting locales to explore via broom or foot. There’s no Quidditch – we’re given a few excuses as to why – yet the list of mini-games, collectibles and general ‘things to do’ is expansive. Sticking to the story can be the biggest challenge, as can be seen from this paragraph which couldn’t even manage to do so without straying into other areas that branch out from missions.
Combat is an absolute joy to experience and learn. The amount of spells, potions, assisting plants/beasts and buffs make every fight a chance to try something new. From a general attack to some of the most popular spells in the franchise (to a few new ones to benefit the game) all gamers will set out their four quick-attack spells differently. There are elements – fire, electricity, ice and more – alongside push/pull, disarm, or even dark arts options. Testing out new spells and buffs against foes is trial and error, finding the set that best works for you. The required speed of movement is very unexpected for a game aligned with Harry Potter, but it demonstrates how well the franchise aligns to a game when focused on more mature players. The foes may get a little repetitive over time, but having so many spells ensures each battle is fresh rather than button smashing. Bored of using the same powerful spells? Dangle an enemy over a cliff with Leviosa and then use Depulso to send them sprawling down to the countryside below.
Exploration is a key aspect of any RPG, but when the locations are so iconic it takes sightseeing to another level. Hogsmeade is a shopping hub full of life, the surrounding countryside has hamlets and secrets to uncover, and even the train station is a fun stop of nostalgia. But nothing compares to the long corridors, shifting staircases and moving paintings of Hogwarts. The school is very much alive. Students are always up to something, every corner is detailed with Easter eggs, and the side missions add detours to an already distracting package. You are also well rewarded for exploring, which provides experience points in the same way any battle does. I entered a random room and found the Goblet of Fire – such a simple trinket that demonstrates the references that can be found, or completely missed.
There is so much more to discuss – the broom flying, the many beasts to tame, the potions to brew, the plants to grow, the Sims-like Room of Requirement, duels dark and light, Merlin’s trials, patting cats, the familiar-yet-new score, being a bit of a bastard in dialogue choices – but the review would turn into the length of a Harry Potter novel. If you’re on the fence about buying the game, there is no need. All Harry Potter fans will fall in love from the moment Hogwarts opens its doors, and even those unaware of the lore will find a deep RPG with enough to do for 70+ hours. Often, games with the weight of expectation crumble under such a passionate fanbase. Not here. The only way to describe this game is WOW.
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