Hogwarts Legacy review-in-progress: It'd be a lot easier to dismiss Hogwarts Legacy if it weren't so good

Hogwarts Legacy review-in-progress: It'd be a lot easier to dismiss Hogwarts Legacy if it weren't so good

Hogwarts Legacy review-in-progress: It'd be a lot easier to dismiss Hogwarts Legacy if it weren't so good

I'm impressed by my first 32 hours, but also haunted by JK Rowling.

I was over 20 hours into Hogwarts Legacy before it revealed that, on top of being an expansive RPG with skill trees, wizard combat, crafting, environmental puzzles, and loads of sidequests, it's also a quaint home decorating game with a splash of zoo management . This is a much larger game than I think anyone was anticipating and I'm continually surprised by how good each individual element is so far.

It certainly suffers from a meandering start and distracting technical issues, but now that I've been set free to explore the entirety of Hogwarts and, shockingly, miles of countryside surrounding it, I'm enjoying Hogwarts Legacy in the same ways I did The Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2: moseying across a convincingly rendered world at my own pace, letting myself disappear into a character I'm increasingly invested in.

Hogwarts Legacy is in many ways a game you've played before, but also a rarity: a big-budget RPG attempting to bottle up all of the prestige, splendor, and expectations of a massive media property into a seamless sandbox, and so far , actually nails it. This is Harry Potter's Arkham Asylum moment—a game telling its own story in an established world, unshackled by the restrictive deadlines and creative boundaries of a movie tie-in, created by a studio that was itself once relegated to obligatory marketing products like Toy Story 3: The Video Game.

Now 30 hours in with no end in sight, Hogwarts Legacy has a firm grasp on my brain. I'm thinking about zapping dark wizards with gratifying blasts of Confringo when I should be preparing dinner. I'm pondering what scarf goes best with my new favorite coat, which plant I should grow to brew invisibility potions quicker, and whether or not the game will ever stop hitting when I move between Hogwarts' many towers. I'm also, unfortunately, thinking about JK Rowling.

wizard bowl

Usually it's an uncomplicated thing when games are good. We like them, they surprise us, I write about it, it's fun. But the fun of Hogwarts Legacy forms a unique set of conflicted feelings: I'm enjoying a game that's an extension of JK Rowling, an anti-trans bigot(opens in new tab) who has spent the last few years applying her wealth and fame to promote an ideology that rejects and further marginalizes one of society's most vulnerable communities.

Hogwarts Legacy is not written by JK Rowling or adapted from any of her stories. In fact, Warner Bros. and Portkey Games (the game publishing arm of Harry Potter properties) go as far as to say that she was "not involved in the creation of the game"(opens in new tab) at all. Still, it's built upon the world that she created and inherits some of its problems, particularly its portrayal of goblins(opens in new tab) and "house elves"(opens in new tab). Its success is likely to benefit her both culturally and financially.

Hogwarts Legacy review-in-progress: It'd be a lot easier to dismiss Hogwarts Legacy if it weren't so good

It will also benefit the talented folks at Avalanche Software, who have built a rich, almost annoyingly detailed world that routinely exceeds its source material in terms of quality and inclusiveness. Hogwarts Legacy is full of simple but harmonious systems that keep things fun and accessible:

  • Wizard duels: A unique take on ranged combat where no aiming is required but spacing, dodging, and countering are key. Think Batman with cooldowns (and more murder).
  • Exploration: The world is surprisingly large, and gets bigger when you can simply fly anywhere you want, anytime.
  • Loot: Your clothes, cloaks, scarves, facewears, and hats have Destiny-like offensive/defensive stats, but you can just set your cosmetic look to whatever you want.
  • Collectibles: There's a seemingly endless list of things to find across Hogwarts, often concealed behind a micro-puzzle. Not enticing enough to seek out, but fun to grab on the way to bigger things.
  • Talking: You do a lot of it, often with two or three dialogue choices that express a chosen personality within bounds (but only rarely seem to influence the outcome of interactions).
  • The Room of Requirement: A personalized living space for your wizard with an almost Animal Crossing-level of decoration options. Eventually, it gets a lot bigger.
  • Perhaps the single most distinctive and impressive aspect of Hogwarts Legacy is Hogwarts itself. Developers love to describe their games as "living, breathing worlds" but it's hard to think of a better way to characterize the titular castle.

You can't walk 10 feet without a part of Hogwarts castle coming alive: books reorganize themselves on shelves, suits of armor salute passerbys, hedges trim themselves to perfection, ghosts float around telling jokes, textbooks flutter above passing students, and paintings animate or converse as if the MOMA switched to the .gif standard. My favorite hallway of Hogwarts is this unassuming corridor near a courtyard where two golden suits of armor slyly antognize each other with a kick everytime I pass by. One time the right armor, after it'd presumably had it up to here with lefty's shenanigans, donned its mace and beat the everloving crap out of the other guy.

lost again

That grandeur isn't always a blessing, though. Avalanche's dogmatic pursuit of a realistic Hogwarts also means the place is an honest-to-god maze. Central Hall alone spoke off in six or seven directions, each spiraling up toward classrooms or down into dungeons. I've never climbed more videogame stairs in my life—I'm winded just thinking about it. I usually like to disable navigational markers in open world games and learn the map myself, but since I don't have three years to spare, I constantly hit the button that conjures a golden trail to my destination.

I still have lingering questions and concerns as the year progresses at Hogwarts (winter has finally arrived). I have no idea how long this main quest is, which is both fun and kind of annoying. My spellbook is nearly full, but since about half of them are optional to learn, mainline combat encounters and puzzles never ask more of me than the basics (bummer). I've also mostly checked out on what has been so far a shallow loot pool—clothing with slottable traits has finally begun dropping from enemies, but the effects are minor so I've just been equipping whatever has the biggest offense/defense number and then cosmetic swapping to what looks best.

Some persistent, but not disruptive, technical issues are also wearing on me here and there. Most noticeable are the brief, yet frequent pauses at the doors of Hogwarts while the game is loading whatever's on the other side. Loads have never lasted more than two seconds on my setup (RTX 3060, Ryzen 7 5700, NvME SSD) and only happen on doors leading outside, but it's a problem on an otherwise immersive world.

At this pre-release moment before a presumed day one patch, Hogwarts Legacy also has a significant pop-in problem. Arrive at a location via broom slightly faster than the game anticipated and students will fade into existence. Coasting high above the countryside can also confuse the engine as it spawns and despawns entities below you. Render distances and streaming budgets are technical hurdles that control most open world games by keeping players grounded and curating lines of sight, but Hogwarts doesn't have that luxury.

It's so rare that we get a licensed, blockbuster game like this. One that so far delivers on a very specific fantasy and then some. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that something this exceptional is haunted by a bigoted creator who stands to profit from it. What could've been a moment of celebration for a series that's overdue for a great videogame is instead destined to be one of the most divisive games in years. Every fan will be faced with the choice of which side to pick in the 2023 Harry Potter Culture War, including those who just want to play the cool new wizard RPG.

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