If you’re someone who has grown up reading and watching Harry Potter, Hogwarts Legacy is a tantalising prospect indeed.
Although it’s set some 100 years before Harry Potter ever stepped foot into Hogwarts Castle, it allows us all to live out the fantasy we’ve had since we were eleven years old: receiving our Hogwarts acceptance letter. Sure, you might not get to become best friends with Fred and George Weasley or flick gobstones at Draco Malfoy from across the Charms classroom, but in so many ways, Hogwarts Legacy does a remarkable job of letting us feel like a true part of the wizarding world.
Hogwarts itself has been created with such love and attention to detail. Forget about the game at large: simply exploring Hogwarts Castle and its grounds is experience enough. It feels like a modern-day Virtual Springfield, in fact. For the most part, the castle itself is free of threat and if you’re not following a mission, you are free to simply wander, poke your nose in its dusty, hidden corners and figure out some of its very many secrets.
You’ll hear snippets of students’ conversations as you walk around: some names and terms you might be familiar with, or sometimes just an amusing bit of chit-chat. There are plenty of familiar sights, too. The grand staircase, which moves around at will. And the dining hall, with its enchanted ceiling which is just as mesmerising as ever. We’ve explored a LEGO version of Hogwarts before, of course, thanks to the LEGO Harry Potter games. But this is another level. The amount of detail is extraordinary, and the secrets it holds is incredible. Twenty, thirty hours in, you’ll still be discovering something new.
It helps that Hogwarts Legacy is absolutely stunning to look at. Playing on PS5 for review, this is one of the nicest-looking games we’ve encountered, especially when playing on a graphics-optimised mode. There are a few presets to choose from: we’ve found the best to be Balanced, which is only available on a 120hz-enabled TV. It looks brilliant without compromising performance – ideal if playing at 30fps feels too sluggish. The amount of details in textures and environments is second-to-none, particularly in the areas surrounding Hogwarts: lush greenery and forest areas are brought to life with vivid colours. Even inside the castle itself, despite being dull in comparison with its greys and reds, looks fantastic thanks to shimmering reflections in marble floors, intricate woodwork and an insane amount of decor.
Yes, there’s a good chance, like us, you’ll simply get lost in admiring Hogwarts Legacy for a number of hours before bothering to engage with its story. The joy of this being an open-world game, though, means that’s a perfectly legitimate way to play. Despite the urgency of your character’s quest at hand – to stop a rogue goblin and his supporters using ancient magic to destroy wizardkind – it can wait as long as it needs to. There are plenty of puzzles to be solved, friends to be made and classes to attend, after all.
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Tackling a mixture of main quests and side quests in moderation seems to be the best way to enjoy Hogwarts Legacy. And indeed, the game itself encourages you to partake in a number of side activities. You’ll need to reach a certain experience level to continue progressing with the story at key points, for example. And to unlock various story levels, you may have to first complete related side activities. It all feels cohesive and smooth, though, and in our time with the game we’ve never been below the required level cap, so we’ve never needed to ‘grind’.
It helps that almost every activity you perform in Hogwarts Legacy rewards you with experience. Find a point of interest inside Hogwarts or one of the neighbouring villages? Experience. Solve a mini puzzle inside the castle? Experience. Kill an enemy? Experience. Attend a class? Experience. You’ll gain levels in no time at all, each one bringing a new skill point and extra power.
Being an RPG, Hogwarts Legacy has its fair share of combat, and your character isn’t afraid to unleash hell on their opponents. No, you won’t be able to cast Avada Kedavra willy-nilly from the get-go – although it is available later on – but your regular spells can be used to do great damage. Upgrade it, and Expelliarmus becomes a curse. And the powerful explosion caused by an upgraded Incendio attack is enough to make you shudder. We’ve found Hogwarts Legacy‘s combat to be fun, although it can get a little messy, particularly on higher difficulty levels when you’re facing multiple enemies. Play on easy and you’ll be given prompts as to when you need to dodge and parry enemy attacks. On medium and higher, however, you’ll need to judge for yourself. And when you’re surrounded, it’s all too easy to take damage.
With a wide range of skills in your arsenal, though, combat can be exhilarating. Spells can be chained together to absolutely obliterate your enemies, and as you deal damage an ancient magic bar will be charged, eventually allowing you to perform a powerful attack that may as well be dark magic.
You’ll probably be glad to hear there’s plenty of loot to be collected in Hogwarts Legacy, too. You’ll find new pieces of clothing just about everywhere you go, each one with its own rarity level and stats. We’re sad to say that wizard fashion in the 1800s wasn’t exactly great, and so your character might not always look the part. Thankfully, you can customise their appearance regardless of what’s equipped, so that’s something.
Even if you’re not a huge Harry Potter fan but love open world fantasy adventures, we feel like there’s enough here to keep you engaged. The world it’s set in is fantastic: we’ve already talked about Hogwarts, but the areas surrounding it – Hogsmeade and the smaller hamlets – are packed with character. The story is suitably engaging, the skills you acquire make combat fluid and fun, and getting around the world is a cinch, too. Fast travel points are ten-a-penny, and you won’t have to wait long until you have access to a broomstick and a flying steed to make traversal even easier. But it is the Potter fans who are going to get the most out of this, of course.
You’ll likely grin when you see a familiar name – yes, there’s at least a couple of Weasleys for you to meet – and when the opening scene plays with its oh-so familiar music, you may well get a few goosebumps running down your back. There are a few key story moments that have been lifted out of the original source material, too: a wand-choosing scene in Ollivanders feels very familiar, for example, as does rescuing an imprisoned hippogriff – that’s a bird-cross-horse type creature – from a tower. They’re a little cliché, sure. But we couldn’t help but smile getting to relive them for ourselves.
It’s not all perfect, though. Our character’s incessant chatter has made us groan more than once. Their voice is irritating enough by itself (though there are multiple to choose from in the character creation tool), but the sheer number of repeated one-liners you’ll hear will soon wear you down. Worse still is their need to “help” solve puzzles by blurting out clues when you’re already half-way through solving something. And, unlike some other games that may have committed this crime, there’s no option to minimise such chatter in the menu. You’ve just got to live with it.
Avalanche Software and Portkey Games have done an impressive job of creating something original within a much-loved franchise. Hogwarts Legacy is the closest any of us are ever going to get to actually attending Hogwarts, and what a magical experience it is. It’s clear that it’s been created with love, and the attention to detail here is phenomenal. It’s not without its issues, of course, but there’s few that get in the way of the overall experience. It looks gorgeous, it’s a joy to play, and being a wizard is just about as fun as we’d always hoped it would be.