The latest installment in the Harry Potter Universe, Hogwarts Legacy, captures much of the classic elements beloved by fans yet sadly squanders it on a mundane open-world experience. Instead, the game is full of run-of-the-mill tasks, forced animations, stale characters and overreliance on boring gameplay loops through endless collectibles that are uninteresting to obtain.
It's not uncommon to come across someone familiar with the world of Harry Potter. For many, it has been a part of our lives since childhood, with the book and film series remaining popular in the public consciousness. It is thus peculiar that it took so long to get a game that would bring the fantasy of being a wizard or witch in the Harry Potter universe to life, with classes, spells, troublemaking, and the grandeur of Hogwarts Castle being some of the experiences promised. While able to fulfill some of these promises, Hogwarts Legacy is still stuck in the present and past of open-world game design. Most activities are reduced to repetitive checklists in an unreasonably empty world.
Set in the late 1800s, Hogwarts Legacy may not be immediately recognizable by the characters' clothing and dialogue, which appear to be taken from the films set in the late 1900s. Players will create their own witch or wizard using a light character creator and are sent off to battle a goblin uprising led by the menacing Ranrok. The narrative is somewhat predictable and scattered, with progress only occurring every few hours as quests are completed. There is very little screen time for the main characters in your journey, especially the antagonists, leaving the player with minimal understanding of their motives. This is exemplified in the case of Ranrok, who only appears for a few lines before vanishing for hours. This, alongside the complete and total lack of emotional tension, ultimately reduces the story to that of an incredibly competent student who only needs to try a spell once to be a master at it and succeeds in defeating a powerful enemy. I assume this would have been like if Hermione was the Chosen One in Harry Potter rather than Harry.
You will be tasked with preventing a catastrophe and managing the responsibilities that accompany being a fifth-year student at Hogwarts. You will learn familiar spells from the earlier years, like Alohamora and Lumos, and access more complex ones as the year go on, such as Bombarda and Expelliarmus. The introduction to each class is exciting, from engaging in duels in Defence Against the Dark Arts to dealing with a screaming Mandrake in Herbology. These are some moments where Hogwarts Legacy shines, as it captures the sense of enchantment that has made this world so alluring to many. Unfortunately, however, the game's mechanics do not meet the same standard. The mini-game used to illustrate the wand movements for each spell appears to have been taken from the initial video game in the series (which was… not great). Many other activities are brief, uninteresting, and primarily serve to populate the map with more of the same. As a result, any hopes that the school activities would be as engaging as they appear to be are quickly dispelled.
Once you have gone through the introduction to each class, your association with the professor and the craft is only slightly engaging. You are tasked with completing two objectives before you can receive another spell, and sometimes these tasks do not even make sense in terms of the class they are meant for… okay most of them don't. A few of these objectives can be completed while you explore or engage with other quests, such as being asked to apply a particular spell to enemies or acquire specific potions. Other tasks, however, will require you to divert from the enjoyable parts, such as objectives that request you to purchase or grow a particular plant in the Room of Requirement, which takes about 15 actual minutes, similar to the fake timers you often find in free mobile games. I am going to go off for a second here. Games that are not pay-to-win mobile games that need gating to push your audience to pay to remove the annoyance should not have these real-life timers. That is not why I am here, and it isn't a good or fun mechanic, so devs, please stop doing this! Rant over, back to it. It wasn't apparent to have progression constantly hindered by these activities since most main quests usually need a specific spell before they can start.
The spell collection in Hogwarts Legacy is beneficial during combat, which makes an excellent first impression. Casting standard defensive and offensive spells are straightforward, with combat resembling the familiar process of timing blocks and parries as the player presses the attack button. Advanced combat spells are classified into three categories red, yellow, and purple, each of which indicates the purpose of the spell in combat. The purple spells like accio and descendo are manipulation attacks, while the red spells like incendio and expelliarmus are all about inflicting damage. When used together, the combat has a rhythmic flow that makes players feel empowered when they pull off combos.
The way magic is used in this media differs from how it is typically portrayed in other Harry Potter universe media, and it may be easy to overlook the dissonance between a school where students fight off dark wizards and the idea of using magic so freely. But the most jarring part is the Unforgivable Curses that one can acquire, even with the option to choose whether or not to use them. Characters may express their disapproval, but it does not affect the outcome of proceedings; they are just another tool in the toolbox. If you are reading this before picking up the game yourself, my suggestion is to suck up that one storyline's awkwardness, you may feel, since these spells help a lot in combats.
As you gain more and more spells, you're required to assign them to different loadouts, with a maximum of four once they've all been unlocked. Switching and rearranging which spells are assigned to each face button is very tedious. When not in combat, you'll have to go into the menu to rearrange the spells since you'll likely have more than you can keep at once. During a fight, going back and forth between the loadouts disrupts the battle flow, so you have to remember which spells are in which loadout more than fighting the enemies. This makes combat become increasingly repetitive because it's easier to stick with four basic spells that you don't have to change, since they scale with upgrades and the enemies don't change that much over time.
Hogwarts Legacy is unfortunately bound to the familiar tropes and conventions of open-world games, leading to many of the tasks players must complete feeling repetitive and monotonous in a sadly empty world.
You'll face dark mages, warlocks, goblins, and various creatures like wild dogs and giant spiders. Generally, these monsters can be dealt with the same strategy, though humans and goblins require more effort to beat due to their color-coded shields that need to be destroyed with specific spells. Bigger enemies can't be juggled like their weaker counterparts, but their simplistic movements make them lack any real sense of danger. Bosses are even worse, as they only have two attack patterns which you must learn as you chip away at their health bar. This repetitive nature drains any sense of suspense from the fights, making it clear that they are artificially stretched out.
Combat is an integral part of almost every quest in Hogwarts Legacy, though there are also options to use spells in more creative ways. Throughout the game, some puzzles make good use of the player's assortment of magical skills, which can be combined to solve the levels. Of particular note is the Falbarton Castle mission that has a combination of spells and battles, as well as a thrilling conclusion where you ride a Hippogriff. It is a faithful reproduction of the Harry Potter universe, and the attention to detail is evident, but it is also one of the only exciting quests you'll find in the first 20 or so hours.
The level of detail present throughout Hogwarts Castle is highly conspicuous, making it the most beautiful area in the wide-open world of Hogwarts Legacy. Suppose you've wanted to figure out how its rooms come together, how staircases that move around link crucial corridors, or where all the landmarks are located. There has never been a better way to get those answers before now. It feels like you're walking through an enthralling museum, pausing briefly at places of grandeur such as The Great Hall or The Library, watching pupils going about their day and glimpsing small magical tricks. One part that I liked about the environment was how it evolved as it went. Decorations change as you progress, from a bare castle to Halloween to Christmas. It adds those small touches that make a big difference. So not only is it visually stunning and encouraging to investigate, but it is also full of small puzzles and activities that invite further exploration. It may not have been large enough to house the entirety of the Hogwarts Legacy story, yet its level of quality stands in sharp contrast to the world beyond its boundaries.
Hogwarts Castle is the grandest spot on the map of Hogwarts Legacy, with Hogsmeade coming close in its streets lined with vendors. The same two vocal cues are heard when visiting the town, but it has a comfortable ambiance and provides the necessary items to purchase. The other locations, however, are not as impressive; the Forbidden Forest has an eerie vibe, but the identical trees in the surrounding hills weaken its impact. There are also smaller villages with a few merchants and quests, but they look so much alike that it's hard to tell one from another. This is especially clear when flying between places since Hogwarts and Hogsmeade can be easily spotted. Still, everything else looks like a mix of trees and open fields, which does not entice exploration over fast-traveling.
It's easy to miss the abundance of mundane activities scattered throughout Hogwarts Legacy's visually dull open world. However, suppose you've been following the trend of modern open-world design. In that case, you'll recognize the usual tasks such as clearing out enemy camps, collecting and hunting flora and fauna, uncovering pages from your collectible field guide, and searching through chests behind locked doors. These activities are meant to reduce travel time between story missions and offer monetary and gear rewards.
Nonetheless, difficulty arises when Hogwarts Legacy requires players to progress in these mundane side activities. Several story quests necessitate a certain numerical level and access to a specific spell. Most of the activities are scattered around the world and the unremarkable side missions only grant experience. Depending on how much of the game one chooses to explore independently, one may have to break away from the main path and participate in the open-world missions just enough to progress, only to find themselves in the same predicament again.
The promise of better gear should compensate for the repetitiveness, but it's so generously given out by defeated foes that you'll find it challenging to manage your limited inventory. You start with a mere 20 slots shared among the five gear categories, which can be filled quickly in one or two missions if you don't visit a vendor to sell or discard items. The only way to address this situation is by completing many of Merlin's Trials scattered around the map, all of which are comprised of the same few small, rapid puzzles. Each success in this challenge gives you four extra slots, with the requirement for the next milestone increasing along the way, making it time-consuming if you want to reduce the times when you have to manage your inventory.
The mechanics of Hogwarts Legacy are often overburdened, leading to decisions that make it feel like a typical loot-based action game. Some systems attempt to incentivize you to upgrade your equipment or gear, but they feel unnecessary due to how easy the combat is. For example, the Room of Requirement provides a range of activities, from revealing unidentified gear to crafting potions and cultivating plants. Still, I found little incentive to use it as better gear would often drop before I had the chance to visit. These systems are often pushed onto players through quests, but many are unnecessary and a waste of time.
Hogwarts Legacy doesn't seem to value one's time with its repetitious tasks, uneventful open world, and tedious combat, from its sluggish start to the needless introduction of different systems. That being said, the castle is a captivating place to explore from entering it until the last day of school. While some remarkable missions pair up solving puzzles with combat, using the spells you have in a stimulating manner, these are scattered among much less captivating filler content, so it will probably take die-hard Harry Potter fans to appreciate the journey fully.
Final score, 5 out of 10. Though it had some bright spots, this felt less like the Hogwarts Game fans have been calling for, for years and more like a generic open-world RPG with a Hogwarts Skin.