Well well well, what do we have here. Quite an unexpected and pleasant surprise from a universe of which I'm not a huge fan. I don't dislike the Harry Potter universe mind you, but I've always just had a "well that was a pretty good movie" attitude, and have never read the books.
That said, this game is quite the spectacle, and well worth your time. Bear with me folks, as it's been a LONG time since I reviewed a game other than my beloved Ori and the Blind Forest
. (And Potter fans bear with me if I don't get the intricacies of what is or isn't happening in this game).Hogwarts Legacy
will have you following the path of a young wizard at the titular school of Wizarding, as well as roaming out into the wider world to expand on the central story line. You'll use spells, potions, magic items like a meat-eating cabbage, and 'basic magic' (aka unlimited zaps from your wand, similar to magic missiles in the D&D universe) to fend off animals, magical creatures, the undead, and evil wizards as you gain experience more powerful magic. You can grow your own plants and brew your own potions in the Room of Requirement early-on, but I dont find it super useful for my play style.
What struck me first and foremost about this game is just how incredibly detailed Hogwarts is. After the opening sequence, I wound up spending several hours just wandering around the school. I'm playing on Xbox Series X with the hi-rez texture pack downloaded, and even in performance mode I was absolutely in awe of the developers' attention to even the tiniest detail in the castle. There is a fidelity mode option (aka better graphics but at the risk of frame-rate drops), and a fidelity mode with ray-tracing (peak graphics, on Series X at least, but with noticeable performance issues even for someone not that picky like myself).
The easiest place to see the difference in fidelity mode with ray-tracing is in front of a mirror. In performance mode on Series X, the mirror would reflect my character admirably. I was even able to make out the difference when I switched hats, and the feather in my cap (literally) was noticeable in the mirror. But the room behind me was just a blur, and my character was a 'shadow of herself'.
With fidelity and ray-tracing, the mirror recreated the room behind me in stunning detail, and I could do my character's make-up using the mirror (if that were an option - it isn't). I highly recommend sticking to performance mode. The differences are extremely minor anywhere else in the game without a mirror to gaze upon. The lip movements for the massive amount of spoken dialogue are the best, most realistic I've ever seen in any game.
Even in performance mode, the lighting shines above and beyond most games (pun intended). Shadows dance and waver based on the source direction of the light, and some of the more explosive combat spells can light up a dark cavern in a real feast for the eyes. I'm not surprised, and thankful, the OG Xb1 and PS4 versions were abandoned as they would have hamstrung the devs' work on the visuals. An odd graphical glitch such as clipping, and the lower half of an NPCs cloak rotating around to the front like an apron, mars the near perfection of the visuals, but they're superbly polished 99.5% of the time.
Speaking of combat, once I pulled myself away from exploring Hogwarts to get to the meat of the game's story, I found the combat mechanics equally satisfying. The combat is what you make of it, however. If all you do is spam
for the 'basic magic' zaps and roll around with
to dodge, you'll quickly get bored. If, however, you set up your quick-casting options appropriately, there is something immensely satisfying about a Glacius->Leviosa->Repulso combo to levitate a frozen enemy and throw them into a wall or another foe to explode on impact. The light show of a confringo-ending combat combo is dazzling if done in a confined chamber.
Don't shy away from upgrading your talent tree in the 'dark arts' section either, as this will open up even more combat options, allowing you to mix things up further with your spell combos. You'll quickly find yourself becoming more of a walking nuclear weapon than a lowly little wizardling child. The game has no difficulty-related achievements, so I expect many folks will play on story or easy mode, and that's totally fine if it's your cup of tea. For true enjoyment of your character's weapon-of-mass-destruction spell combo abilities however, I'd suggest one of the higher difficulties as you become accustomed to the game's flow. You can start off on a lower difficulty then bump it up as you go.
Another very pleasant surprise is the gear system. Although you'll want to upgrade to the latest-greatest gear for better offensive and defensive stats, especially if playing on higher difficulties, the game allows you to press
when hovering over a particular gear slot and change its appearance to any piece of gear you've found previously. With so much of this game's enjoyment being how much of a visual spectacle it has, it's quite nice to keep your character looking how you see fit without sacrificing combat stats to do it.
Inventory space is quite lacking early on, so make sure you are selling any and every extra piece of gear you have on your person at every opportunity. Being able to use their visual appearance on your higher-stat gear removes any sting from doing so, and until you complete Merlin Trials to upgrade your max gear quantity that you can carry, you'll need the slots for additional loot you find.
Collectibles... oh how I normally loath thee. Collectibles are a hallmark of modern RPGs, for better or worse, and Hogwarts is no exception. Between field guide pages aplenty, Merlin trials to complete, Demiguise statues to hunt down, and butterfly mirrors for which you track down their corresponding Lepidoptera (just to get another field guide page, mind you), the collectibles in this game could quickly become annoying. Somehow though, despite having already found over half the collectibles in the game, I haven't gotten super annoyed.
Perhaps it is because I am not going out of my way to sit and grind them out, hunting hither thither and yon, and doing it all in one go. I tend to find myself just hunting for the occasional one if I cast Revelio and hear the characteristic 'ping' of a page nearby. I have vibration turned off (never cared for it, even a little, on any game), so I have to rely on the nearness of the sound and its directionality. But it hasn't become a bother.
You'll be hunting down treasure chests frequently for better gear (hopefully) anyway, so you tend to find quite a lot of the pages by shear happenstance, which is a true saving grace. Added to that, the mini-map does a fantastic job of pointing out nearby items to find (chests, Merlin challenges, and pages), so it really isn't as much of a bother as it could otherwise be.
As for the story, I won't get into it in detail because I'd rather not spoil anything for anyone. Suffice to say that much as Potter discovers himself in a way in the movies, so too will you learn about your character as you progress through the game. With that will come twists and turns in the plot, and although I'm not even halfway through the main story, the portents and foreshadowing are pulling me in well, in many ways better than the Potter movies ever did. Perhaps it's just easier to see myself vicariously in a character I'm controlling than one on the silver screen.
I have one gripe with Hogwarts. There are several points in the game where you're following along behind an NPC as they talk about this or that. I get that it's to expand on the plot, and perhaps it's a way to mask the loading of larger areas behind the scenes so as not to take you out of the experience, but the walking speed is excruciatingly slow. For whatever reason, these follow-the-leader sequences annoyed the living bejeesus out of me. But that really is my only gripe with an otherwise masterpiece of a game.
All-in-all this is one of the best RPGs I've ever played, and I don't say that lightly. I've been trying to play The Witcher 3
lately, and have struggled to maintain any desire to play it. Yet I can't put Hogwarts down, except when I absolutely must to spend time with my wife, or get some sleep so I'm not dead at work. I'm surprised and pleased to see such an incredible game come out of a big-budget studio. That feels like more of a rarity these days than ever, with so many AAA big-budget games falling into the same tired routines and half-arsed bug-filled releases. Hogwarts is a polished, fresh twist on a pretty routine formula for Action-RPGs, and I'm loving every bewitching minute of it. Play this game, whether you're a Potter fan or not.