Hogwarts Legacy

Hogwarts Legacy

The magic's in the details.

hogwarts legacy

Portkey Games, Avalanche Studios and Warner Bros have an uphill battle with Hogwarts Legacy… there’s no shying away from the fact there’s considerable controversy surrounding the original work’s author and her views.  To say it’s a shame is an understatement and for us at Codec Moments the issues the game’s release are bringing to the fore are not something we are educated or experienced enough to weigh in on, so we won’t.  What we can do though is objectively review what the developer and publisher have served up – a Harry Potter game that doesn’t feature the titular character, or even many of the main players from the core stories and films.  Here is an almost blank slate to craft an adventure without the weight of canon threatening to crush it that should enable newcomers to enjoy its charms, yet still balance a massive army of fans expectations of the Wizarding World.  Can it manage to pull off that magic act of pleasing both the hardcore and non-Potterheads alike?

Where Hogwarts Legacy kicks off is putting you in the shoes of a new fifth year student, about to attend the school of magic for the first time.  Set in the 1890’s, it tasks you with not only joining academia, but also with uncovering the secret of rare ancient magic which you just so happen to be able to use.  As a late arrival at the world’s premier wizarding academy, you’ll have a huge amount of work to catch up on, taking in the basics of spells, broomsticks and beasts alongside establishing relationships and managing the demands of the teaching staff.  Guiding you along the way is Professor Fig who acts as an anchor to the main quest and arranges for the other faculty members to give you their support when needed.  His input is crucial to your development, though there’s only so much he can actually do – you’re the one with the link to ancient magic and the only one who can wield it.  That’s not to say there aren’t nefarious individuals out there looking to use it to their own ends, and you’ll be doing as much battling against the evil goblin Ranrok’s forces as you will learning how to harvest mandrakes, or spending time figuring out the trials that are key to unlocking the past and the secrets that everyone is searching for.

There’s little preamble with Hogwarts Legacy, the game is keen to get you into the school of wizardry and wants to spend as little as possible building up to the iconic pieces that you’d expect.  That’s not to say there isn’t a reasonable amount of time dedicated to the absolute basics of the controls and teeing up the story, but to be fair most will be itching to get past that and on to the sorting hat and figuring out which house they’ll be in.  Your actual character creation is done before any of the action starts, and is pretty flexible, allowing you to customise a decent amount of your appearance and name.  Your real Hogwarts education begins once you’ve determined whether you’re in Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Ravenclaw or Gryffindor.  In a nice touch a series of questions from the hat decides which house you’re best suited for, but if you don’t like what it suggests then you can opt for a different one (though that feels like a bit of a cop out).  Largely, selecting a house is all about the common room style and which logos you’ll be sporting, the vast majority of characters and quests are independent of where you end up.  This is no bad thing because as becomes apparent there’s a huge amount to do across the surprisingly large open world.

The school itself actually doesn’t take up much of a footprint on the overall map, though its twisting corridors and spiralling staircases mean it’s a densely packed space that evokes a genuine feel of an institution that’s grown and evolved over the years.  Lesson number one should really be finding your way around the many, many different areas in the building and committing various routes to memory because after a couple of quests running errands and learning some spells, it’s very easy to get turned around.  Fortunately the Hogwarts Legacy team have realised how disorienting it can be and offer up a very good GPS system and a massive amount of fast travel points so that it’s as painless as possible.  Unless of course you want to spend your time wandering corridors and stumbling on the various secrets the school has to offer… there are loads of those and it’s very easy to get sidetracked.  Head out of the school grounds and the scale of the world really does impress, with even a short trip to Hogsmeade seeming to be quite a trek.  There’s a tonne of places to explore, each with their own stories and most with some form of side quest, and whilst you’ll visit quite a few during the main story, there’s still a lot to investigate unprompted.

In the early days of your education you’ll be taught a plethora of magic spells and techniques that will ultimately combine to ensure you can set out and complete the four key trials that will solve the ancient magic mystery.  It’s worth a shout out to the quest structure here, where the elements needed to be in place to start the next trial are clearly listed, though you’re mostly able to go about them in your own way, and figure out the best approach for learning new abilities or spells.  Be aware that Hogwarts Legacy is curating your development, and it will likely take in excess of 10 gaming hours before you’ve most of the basic pieces unlocked and available to use.  It still won’t be everything as it takes a huge amount of commitment to obtain every spell possible, and arguably there are few too many meaning that there’s some menu juggling to do to manage them all for the particular situations they’re used for.  The pacing isn’t really an issue as the unlocks come at a steady rate, and at appropriate points in the story too, there’s just a note of caution for those expecting to dive right in and be a first rate magic user from the off.  It takes time, and practice.

Learning spells is a matter of completing the right requirements for the person who’s going to teach you it, then solving a quick minigame that unlocks the magic to be added to your arsenal.  Spells come in several flavours – combat, movement, puzzle solving, object manipulation – and over time there are options for upgrading some of them to be more effective.  With 26 to learn and only 16 quick slots, you can see that you’ll need to be aware of which are commonly used so that you can keep those on hand, then move the others in and out as needed.  Some spells are assigned their own specific buttons and can’t be changed, such as Revelio, so will be constant use tools, and others can only be utilised in specific rooms of the building, so are not worth tying up slots for.  Your core set of spells though will be used in combat.  There’s a standard blast attack linked to a trigger button which can be fired off with wild abandon, then the major spells such as Accio, Levioso and Confringo are there to chain in attacks and keep combos going to inflict more damage.  Work up enough of a combo and your ancient magic meter will fill up and give you the chance to let rip with an instant kill move.  It’s not exactly the most unique system, but it works well and can be quite satisfying when it all ties in together.

Outside the combat, the other mechanics work as they’re supposed to, with riding brooms being fairly intuitive and the Pokemon-lite beast capturing proving simple yet engaging.  Coming from a studio known for large scale maps and physics shenanigans, there’s no real surprise that everything is solidly built and easy to get on with.  The layered way the different systems are opened up and taught, from zapping targets to decorating your own Room of Requirement, all cement that style of learning through repetition.  Supporting you is the field guide which is the ever present reference for quests, collections and lore.  Yes, it’s a fancy pause menu, but it gets its own namecheck in the game as well as tutorial section so it feels broader than that.  In a way that sums up a lot of the way mechanics are introduced: there’s an effort to embed them fully into the game world so they’re not just arbitrary gaming tropes, and I suspect this is done to help onboard new gamers who are hitting Hogwarts Legacy out of fandom rather than the promise of a AAA title.  Kudos to the development teams here as the launch has been relatively bug free.  Of course, there have been some, it’s a huge open world with many moving parts, but nothing I’ve encountered in the hours I’ve put in.

Adding to the complexity in Hogwarts Legacy are the number of voiced characters and amount of dialogue available, including branching conversations and the chance to be kind or sassy.  A lot of it is optional, though given the quality of the voice acting it’s almost a crime to not listen to it.  Simon Pegg and Lesley Nicol are probably the most well known that you’ll come across, though the rest of the cast turn in superb performances, and no doubt due to the profile of the game and property it’s linked to.  Maybe the only piece that gets a bit grating is the response when using the flue fast travel system; despite having tonnes of locations, the response options are quite limited, so you’ll hear the same ones over and over again.  If there’s one thing I haven’t liked in the main characters voicing it’s the customisation of the tone where you move a slider to alter the pitch.  It works, but for anything outside the default it adds a digital processing noise to it and in-game conversations sound like they’re taking place in different locations.  I ended up having to switch to the base setting to avoid the effect, and I’m probably the only person who’s even going to care about that.

For a high budget game out of a major studio you’d expect it to look good, and it does.  The screenshots dotted through this review don’t really do it justice, there’s a level of detail and vibrancy to the world that makes it feel like it’s been modelled on a real place.  Clearly the Scottish Highlands exist and the wilds are captured wonderfully, though all the other locations have a believability to them, as well as a level of object fill that makes them seem lived in.  Exploring various professor’s quarters in the school shows you stacks of texts, in progress experiments, and blackboards filled with workings; and all add to the characters you’ve met, and the depth of the world.  It’s stunning throughout, and because you’re enrolled at a school of magic you can expect all sorts of videogaming tricks are used to replicate the fantasy elements of the environment.  Framerate appears locked as well across any of the three graphical modes – Fidelity, Fidelity with raytracing, and Performance.  The middle option there brings a sheen to Hogwarts Legacy that makes a subtle difference to lighting and shadows that really sell your movement through dark places, and not just in the mirror reflections; though Performance doesn’t sacrifice too many effects and zips along at a steady framerate, making it my go to choice.

Not being a Potterhead I was concerned whether Hogwarts Legacy would have enough substance to invite me in and share its world.  Would I have had to read every book, see every film, and even catch up on the ancillary materials?  If it did require that then I haven’t noticed.  I’m sure there are Easter eggs galore to be found and fans are going to be poring over every incidental detail to see where they tie in, yet the takeaway is that you don’t need any knowledge of the franchise to enjoy the game.  Of course, it helps to have an idea of what the global idea is, I’m sure those that are completely new might wonder what on Earth is happening in that first 20 minutes, though it takes pains after that point to explain everything, and it never lets the story run away from you either.  What Portkey and Avalanche have made is an immersive world that lets you be a student at a magical academy, decide which of the other boarders you want to speak to and which to ignore, offers huge amounts of exploration outside Hogwarts itself, and ties everything together with a tale that does the job without being revolutionary.  There are hours upon hours of content presented beautifully and it showcases how film and book conversions can be done right.  I can raise the criticism that it doesn’t really breakaway from a tried and tested open world formula (a fairly familiar one to most of WB’s titles too!), but it’s so well executed it that it makes the time just fly by as you’re playing.  The only question I have lingering about the game is what magic can they pull off to make it run on hardware nearly a decade old when their turn comes later this year?

A PS5 review copy of Hogwarts Legacy was provided by Warner Bros PR team, and the game is available now on PS5, Xbox X|S and PC for around £65 depending on platform, and will be coming to PS4, Xbox One and Switch later in the year.

Ali’s Thoughts on Hogwarts Legacy
Finally, fans of Harry Potter and the Wizarding World have a game that they can get their teeth into as fans of the world.  Despite all of the controversy, the game has been created very well and is one of WB’s best.  You don’t really have to be a fan to enjoy the game as it’s a very well-told and constructed RPG.  The level of depth and activities to do in the world is enough for anyone to get their teeth into without it being overwhelming unless you’re not a gamer as such and are new to this style of game.

The Verdict

9Amazing

The Good: Large open world | Lots to do | Manages to be compelling

The Bad: Becomes a tad repetitive | Takes a while for all the systems to be revealed

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Matt

Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.


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