Hogwarts Legacy on PS5
The last time I read Harry Potter fanfiction, I was about 15-years-old. A silly, giggly schoolgirl who’d sit in the back of class with friends, sharing notes and links to our favorite fics. The most popular ones among our friend group usually involved Malfoy and Hermione making out, or of them getting caught in some variation of angsty “I hate that I love you” situations. My early teenage years were riddled with romantic Harry Potter fanfics, along with fan-made music videos detailing headcanon arcs of unrequited love and jealousy set to The Killers’ Mr Brightside.
I remember those years well. It was a time of blissful fantasy, where every kid in school would tirelessly pore over every detail in the latest Harry Potter book, share their theories, and craft their own original stories of what it’d be like to explore that universe and to really, truly be attuned to it. For better or for worse, Hogwarts Legacy is a revival of the magic of that time. It’s fantasy fiction in video game form, and while it’s certainly not without its faults, we’ve never been closer to that Hogwarts self-insert dream we all had as a child.
Set in the 1800s, Hogwarts Legacy tells a wholly new, original story. The events of the game take place about 100 years before Harry Potter was even born, and that buffer is important. There are no Dark Lord, Death Eater shenanigans to be found here. No lightning bolt scar or Boy Who Lived prophecy nonsense. It’s a clean slate –the perfect setting for you, dear reader, to make your mark on this legendary world.
You take on the role of a witch or wizard who’s about to enroll in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a fifth-year student. This is very unorthodox as you’ll soon find out, as no one’s ever heard of a potential magic-user only getting their acceptance letter at the ripe old age of 15. Anyway, your adventure starts off rather rockily, and Hogwarts Legacy wastes no time in thrusting you right into the middle of a conspiracy involving a violent Goblin named Ranrok, your hapless mentor Professor Fig, and Algernon Rookwood’s ancestor (or Augustus Rookwood, for you non-first edition Order of the Phoenix plebeians).
After a brief tutorial section going over the basics of spellcasting and introductions to the main antagonists, it’s off to Hogwarts. And it’s actually breathtaking.
I’ll give Hogwarts Legacy this: the movies have always excelled at bringing this mystical school to life onscreen, and the game lets you live in it. A whole week into Hogwarts Legacy, and I’m still awestruck by the fact that I can just casually stroll out of the castle, take a brisk walk across the iconic wooden bridge where Cedric Diggory (my fave) gave Harry that vague hint about the bath, and go down the hill to find myself outside Hagrid’s Hut, years before he’d ever inhabit it. The majesty of Hogwarts is very much present here, and it’s easily the game’s strongest point.
In-between your Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, you’ll be playing games of Summoner’s Court out near the Quidditch pitch, taking on flying trials, or venturing into Hogsmeade to replenish your school supplies. Unlike most other girls who also loved Harry Potter as a kid, personally I never had the desire to become a witch or don some silly pointy hat while spinning a ladle in a dirty cauldron, but Hogwarts Legacy has converted me. You may only refer to me as Sabrina now.
As if the castle itself wasn’t layered and dynamic enough, there’s a whole open-world out there to explore. Beyond the grounds are mines, catacombs, dungeons, and little villages to visit. Within those are environmental puzzles, wild beasts and animals to fight and tame, and so many little collectibles to, well, collect.
Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t feature quite the same amount of depth as, say, Skyrim, but it doesn’t need to. It already has the power of the Harry Potter brand behind it, and it helps that the world is so flavorful, with little details that will charm you every step of the way. I’m talking floating candles that appear out of thin air (it’s a feature, not a bug), suits of armor that pop and lock as you walk past, and weird objects just flying around that make you wonder whether you can Accio them over.
The quests are fine, for the most part. Hogwarts Legacy’s quest structure has you completing little objectives in-between lessons so that you can learn new spells that are required for the next story mission, and you’ll be tasked with longer, ongoing side quests to nab as many collectibles as possible. There are side quests you can take on from your peers in school, and these are usually fetch quests, duels, or short stealth missions. Then there are Merlin Trials, which are cryptic little environmental puzzles scattered all over the world and test your knowledge of all the spells you’ve learned so far.
We haven’t even talked about the Room of Requirement yet, or the fact that you can tame beasts and take care of them. Hogwarts Legacy is an absolute monster of a game that will just entertain you for hours on end. There are raw materials to pick up, plants to grow in the Room of Requirement which acts as your base of operations in Hogwarts, potions to brew, and animals to feed and ride. There are also, of course, broomsticks to collect and races to partake in. Everything you could want out of your magical fantasy life in Hogwarts is made possible here.
Even the combat is fun, though it can feel rather basic at times, and it also triggers a pet peeve I never knew I had till I played this game: having to constantly swap between spell sets, and not having enough spell sets to house all of the damn spells this game throws at you. More on that in a bit.
You’ll tap R2 to perform a basic cast, and your combos start to come together as you learn utility spells, defensive spells, and more offensive ones. They’re all color-coded, and enemies can cast different colored shields when engaging you, which means you’ll need to break their shield with an appropriate spell type before you can start dealing damage to them. A typical combat encounter consists of you breaking an enemy’s shield, followed by a fun combo spam that could involve Levioso-ing them into the air and slamming them backwards with Depulso. Or you could disarm them with Expelliarmus, and immediately follow that up with Glacius to slow them down, or Confringo to set them ablaze.
As you level up, you’ll be able to spend Talent points to upgrade your spell effects as well. Incendio doesn’t have to just be a shotgun blast-style fire spell; it can now summon a ring of fire around you to push enemies back. The spells in Hogwarts Legacy get pretty insane as you continue playing, and while combat never quite gets especially challenging, it’s still plenty of fun trying to figure out what combos you can come up with.
What is annoying, however, is that the game gives you so many spells to work with, but there aren’t enough hotbars to hold all of them. You get four hotbars in total, with each one being able to house four spells. Swapping between them in combat can feel cumbersome, forcing you to set up combos in each hotbar so there’s less finagling in battle. But when you’re out of combat and you’re solving environmental puzzles, or even trying to conjure and dispel items in the Room of Requirement, it’s back to the menus with you as you unequip all your combat spells from one hotbar and swap in a set of new ones just so you can do some reorganizing or move a luminous moth from one pillar to another or something.
When you’re not idling your time away playing Summoner’s Court or taking on quests, you’ll be pushing through the main story quests, which are by far the weakest part of the entire game. While Hogwarts Legacy has done a phenomenal job of bringing the Harry Potter world to life, unfortunately it falls short when it comes to the narrative department.
The conspiracy with Ranrok and the Goblins feels woefully uninspired, and it certainly doesn’t help that the supporting characters are just dreadfully boring and uninteresting. After getting sorted into Slytherin (naturally), I spent the bulk of my time with Sebastian Sallow, a rebellious, tortured boy who just wanted to find a cure for his sister’s unnatural curse. He was likable enough, but rarely displayed any interesting traits outside of being a scowly teenager who snarks on occasion. And his snark game isn’t even all that great.
See, as I played through Hogwarts Legacy, I started to realize that it wasn’t just the world of Harry Potter itself that entranced me; it was the characters, too. Ron and Hermione were the lifeblood of the series, as were the iconic professors and fellow students you met along the way. They’re part of the reason why my teenage self dived headfirst into fanfic territory, after all.
While I appreciated the diversity and representation that Hogwarts Legacy’s cast afforded, I found myself constantly forgetting names and faces as I clumsily barreled my way through the story. Put bluntly, playing through the story was like reading mediocre fanfiction –an admirable, yet deeply flawed attempt at world-building without the charm and personality of the series’ most beloved characters to prop it up.
The joy of Hogwarts Legacy comes from being present in the world and interacting with it in meaningful ways. The euphoric sensation that comes with kicking off the ground on a broomstick as you fly across Hogsmeade towards Feldcroft never quite goes away, and I had the most fun with this game when I got to simply, peacefully coexist with its denizens, and flora and fauna all through the night. There’s always been a calmness and serenity to the Harry Potter universe that Hogwarts Legacy has so beautifully captured here. It’s hard to put into words.
And as much as I’d love to review this game in a vacuum, unfortunately, that just doesn’t seem possible. For all its strengths and charm, Hogwarts Legacy has been marred by controversy, both from J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans rhetoric and elements of anti-semitism within the game itself. While it’s clear that Avalanche has attempted to create a game that’s inclusive and welcome to all (Hogwarts is home, after all), I wouldn’t fault anyone for wanting to avoid it just based on all the negativity surrounding it. Is it possible to separate art from its creator? Sure, but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t feel at least a tiny bit icky as I played through the game, and thankful at the same time that I was fortunate enough to have received a review copy instead of paying out of pocket.
Hogwarts Legacy fulfilled a long-standing childhood dream of mine: the dream of receiving my Hogwarts acceptance letter as a kid, and waving a wand around to do all sorts of cool magic tricks. Bad fanfic or not, it’s hard to ignore the amount of pure, unbridled joy I got out of the game simply by being present in its immersive world. Hogwarts Legacy gave me the rare opportunity to be transported back to a time that was harder in some ways, but also simpler in many others. The fantasy of what could’ve been was sweet and lovely, but also devastatingly fleeting. Then again, perhaps that’s really all I could ever ask for.
The characters are devoid of charm and personality.
Spell swapping is a real hassle.