Peer pressure is a wonderful thing.
I had basically written off playing Hogwarts Legacy, mostly because whilst I enjoyed the movies and read the first book I’m not what you’d call a fan. Couple that with JK Rowling’s TERF-y view of transgender women and I was happy to let this one slide by. But, as always, I had a good lot of mates who’d gotten into it, even those sharing similar views on both the source material and its creator, enjoyed it and wanted to know what I thought of it. So figuring protesting with my wallet wasn’t going to make a dent in the ~12 million copies that’d already been sold I threw myself into the world of Hogwarts once again and was met with a rather middle of the road experience overall.
You are an aspiring Hogwarts student, one who’s ability with magic didn’t manifest until much later in life. So it is that you’ll be joining Hogwarts as a 5th year student, a rarity even among this place of rarities. However that won’t absolve you from the work required to be a 5th year student so you’ll be needing to spend your time getting up to speed with all things wizardy/witchy quick smart. On your trip over to Hogwarts though you’re attacked by a dragon, your carriage sent tumbling down to the ground below. Thankfully a well timed revelation that an item that one of your travelling companions brought with them was a portkey saves you, transporting you and your accompanying professor to a far away place. What begins from here is a journey that reveals your latent abilities might be a bit more than just late blooming, they could be world changing.
To say that Hogwarts Legacy had issues with performance would be putting it pretty mildly. When I first spun it up I went with the recommended settings from the game which looked pretty conservative. Wanting to get the most from the game I then tried the Gefore Experience defaults, only to be hit with not much better than slideshow performance. Returning to defaults didn’t seem to help matters much and I was struggling to maintain consistent FPS no matter where I was. Replacing the the DLSS DLL helped some, however things really didn’t improve noticeably until I used the Ascendio mod in order to tweak a number of things. I honestly haven’t had to go to this level of tweaking a game just to get it playable for a long time and given the budget this game must’ve had I’m honestly baffled as to how it remained like this for months without getting fixed. Once that was all fixed the game was nice enough, although not what I’d call cutting edge by any stretch of the imagination.
Hogwarts Legacy is your standard open world action RPG that just so happens to be set in the magical surrounds of Hogwarts and the Scottish highlands. The game doesn’t deviate from the standard tropes too much, including your usual array of main quest/side quest/crafting/etc. that we’ve all come to know and love. There’s a few Hogwarts specific twists on the formula of course, like attending classes, broom riding, monster taming and the like but for anyone who’s played any kind of open world RPG in the last 10 years game will feel very familiar. For fans of the Harry Potter series though I’m sure there’s a ton of things here that I’m wilfully glossing over that likely elevates this from a simple open world ARPG experience to something grander but, as I said before, since I’m not what you’d call a fan they didn’t register as something worth noting.
Combat though is surprisingly deep and somewhat satisfying when you manage to get long combos of spells off against large groups of enemies. The core of it appears to be built around the idea of duelling, with every potential offensive and defensive maneuverer having a specific counter which, if executed in time, puts you at a great advantage to your opponent. The control scheme isn’t exactly optimised for PC unfortunately. limiting you to a spell bar that’s only got 4 things on it which you then need to switch between in order to access more spells. The game really doesn’t give you enough of these as the bare minimum requirement is 4 (2 for fighting, 2 for utility/puzzle solving) and should you want more variety in either of those categories you’re going to be endlessly swapping things around. Given I’ve worked with 30+ spells in the past in the various MMORPGs I’ve played I know there’s better ways of doing this, and I’m sure there’s probably a mod for it now that I think about it, but again that shouldn’t be a shortcoming that I have to overcome.
Early on I did wonder if the combat I was engaging in was somehow frowned upon in some way because the Harry Potter movies made it quite clear that going all Avada Kedavra on people was somewhat frowned upon. Turns out that no, the game does not care for your relentless slaughter of non-Hogwarts students or beasts outside the school’s grounds and should you even engage in using the forbidden bad things the biggest consequence you’re likely to endure is one of the side-quest NPCs being a little shitty at you for a bit. Whilst this does make the game a whole lot more fun from the player’s perspective I do wonder how the developers, creators and fans reconcile this…wilful ignorance of the lore’s principles.
The game spends an awfully long time introducing itself you to with new mechanics still being introduced as far as 10 hours into the game. This is somewhat due to their strange take on a few mechanics as well as the varying array of grindy activities that all open worlds must throw in now in order to pad out their playtime, but it does take a long time to feel like you’ve been given the keys to the kingdom. Once I was at that point though I have to say I was starting to lose steam with it as it was clear that there was going to be a lot of fetch quests, repetitive missions and trivial puzzles I’d need to do over and over again to get some quality of life upgrades that’d make things just that little bit easier.
Perhaps I would’ve had more drive to play it if I was more into the story and the world. Hogwarts Legacy is set some 100ish years before the events of Harry Potter which gives them a lot of creative freedom to play with the world’s lore and characters who (I’m assuming) are referenced but not explored as much in the main novels. Now for a worldbuilding enthusiast like myself this is golden, expanding a world and making the rest of it much more richer as a result. However, given my lack of Harry Potter knowledge, I really didn’t know if there were any nods to specific things or events given in here that would’ve had some kind of significance one way or the other. Nor did I have any potential character’s who’s stories I’d be interested in exploring because I simply had no idea who they were.
To its credit though it didn’t seem like that knowledge was much of a requirement to understand what was going on as the game’s narrative. You joining Hogwarts later in life means that the required exposition fits into the core story well enough and they don’t dwell on minutiae on that only a chosen few fans would understand. For me though, whilst the story was engaging enough, I wasn’t drawn into it enough to push past the next few rounds of quests I’d have to trudge through to see it move on. So instead of boring myself and not enjoying the game because of it, I decided to cap off my playthrough once I’d had my fill.
Hogwarts Legacy is certainly a game made for fans of the IP, brimming with all the details that Harry Potter fans are sure to enjoy endlessly. There’s a few surprises in there to be sure, like a combat system with a decent amount of depth and progression systems that are light enough that you don’t feel the need to endlessly consult wikis in order to max out your character. However the performance issues, semi-engaging narrative and general middle-of-the-road-ness that the game has in most aspects means it’s not a slam dunk for a non-fan like myself.
Hogwarts Legacy is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S for $89.95. Total play time was 14.3 hours with 20% of the total achievements unlocked.