When I first saw footage of Hogwarts Legacy, it immediately jumped to the top of my “most anticipated games of 2023” list. The trailers promised that Hogwarts Legacy would be something truly special and now, with 2023 in full swing and the game finally on shelves, I got the chance to find out if lived up to the hype and, dare I say it, it turned out truly magical.
Developed by Avalanche Software, Hogwarts Legacy’s aim is to give you the wondrous Harry Potter adventure you’ve always wished you could live. From attending classes at Hogwarts, making friends, and exploring the surrounding world of Hogsmead, the developers have gone out of their way to create an adventure that feels like your own.
Harry Potter without Harry Potter
Set during the 1800’s, some 100 years before Harry Potter began his epic journey, you take on the role of a new student at the venerable Hogwarts Academy. Starting out in the fifth year, your journey begins with danger at your very doorstep. You’re swiftly thrust into an adventure concerning an ancient form of magic that few can see, let alone wield, in a battle against those who wish to use it for ill. One thing is for sure, this will be a year to remember!
As an RPG, Hogwarts Legacy aims to immerse you into the world of Hogwarts as deeply as possible. You’ll get to make dialogue choices, choose whether or not to help people, and, most of all, learn how to be a badass wizard or witch. It sounds pretty simple and, on the face of things, Hogwarts Legacy features many of the elements other open-world games do, but it’s the depth of the content here puts Hogwarts Legacy in a class all of its own – especially in the realm of IP tie-in products. Sorry other movie-based games, but Hogwarts Legacy just set a standard that is impossible to ignore and will be difficult to surpass.
Your first step into Hogwarts begins with creating your own character. There are an admirable number of pre-sets to choose from but you can customise your character as well. While these options initially felt rather light here compared to other character creators, Hogwarts Legacy has decided to keep the iceberg-sized raft of cosmetic options discoverable in-game.
Familiar but fun
The opening hours are designed to funnel you through the myriad gameplay mechanics and set you up with the basic spells you’ll need to survive life at Hogwarts. You can, fairly early on, go off the beaten path and explore to your heart’s content, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not because you’ll be underpowered to deal with any threats you’ll come across, but rather because you won’t have the right tools to deal with whatever you may discover. Exploring too much too soon also means it’ll take longer to get into the air with your very own broom!
You see, spells aren’t just for combat, but for world and puzzle manipulation as well. There’s a total of twenty-three spells for you to pick up, though initially, you can only have four assigned. One to each face button, with R2 dedicated to your basic offensive cast. However, as you progress, you’ll unlock alternate button setups that you can access at, well, the touch of a button. There’s a place and use for each spell that you’ll discover while exploring, though they get their most furious workout during combat.
For those wary that the game may go full simulation, classes are tied into the main story and character progression, so you don’t have to worry about setting your alarm clock or rushing around completing activities against the (in-game) clock! Classes are mandatory but always fun to engage in. Whether you’re learning how to break a shield in the Defense Against Dark Arts class, or learning to brew potions, they’re necessary to progress the story and increase your spell or item repertoire.
A world with lots of rewarding things to do
Across the open world, you’ll find plenty of side quests to tackle, Field Guide pages to collect, and combat challenges to compete in – along with a myriad of other mini-game-style activities. The bulk of them are no different from what you’ve encountered in other open-world games, but Hogwarts Legacy manages to make them feel essential by tying them into a reward system – specifically the character customisation system. Kill X spiders, help Y number of students, and collect so many pages; all these tasks reward you with new visual gear pieces to make your character feel like your own. It’s a system that more games should embrace as it provides more tangible in-game rewards than chasing 100% checklists and achievements.
For lore hounds, consider the Field Guide Pages a necessity. They detail important places and items in the Wizarding World, and I was always excited to pick up some new knowledge about this world. I found side quests just as important to do and not merely for the customisation parts as rewards. They generally had some great quest-givers with quality writing, and almost always sent me to new places in the world I hadn’t seen before.
The combat that breaks up moments of exploration and story may seem simple at first, but once you start to mix and match spells, you’ll appreciate the complexity on offer. It’s easy enough to deal with one opponent, but encounter a group of five and it becomes incredibly challenging. Primarily, combat is of the ranged variety but you’ll encounter enemies that deal melee damage. You can always block and counterattack, but enemies often cloak themselves in magical shields that are colour-coded and you need to use the right colour-coded spell to break them before you can deal decent damage.
Some early examples include levitating an opponent before unleashing a bolt barrage on them or pulling them closer and setting them on fire. The options are there and watching a giant spider screeching away from the field while covered in flames was quite the sight.
Hogwarts Legacy throws a lot at you to do, filling up your virtual life with no shortage of combat challenges, puzzles, and exploration goals. There’s so much to do that it can feel incredibly overwhelming at first, but it was always compelling. The last time that I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of an open-world game was with Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and now Hogwarts Legacy has given me that feeling again. Whether I was on foot, on a broom, or riding a Hippogriff, I always needed to see what was around that next corner or just over the next hill. Of course, none of that would matter if the game wasn’t fun to play and Hogwarts Legacy excels. Nothing felt boring or like busywork, with addictive action and exploration, and enthralling role-playing elements.
Ye Olde Hogwarts
Although not packing the most visually-advanced rendering techniques we’ve seen this generation, Hogwarts Legacy has incredible production values and a great atmosphere. The writing, which is ever so British, is fantastic and it’s backed up by some wonderful voice acting and supporting music. The overall high level of quality is on display from the get-go, most notably with the visuals, making Hogwarts Legacy an incredibly gorgeous, mind-bogglingly detailed game. Character modeling and animation are top-notch as well, and the materials look fantastic.
Hogwarts itself is the crowning achievement here. That’s not to say that the surrounding countryside, forests, villages, and hamlets are any less spectacular, but that feeling of exploring Hogwarts in all its glory, the sense of immersion and freedom, is unparalleled.
The technical prowess on display here is jaw-dropping. Hogwarts is one of the most incredibly detailed locations I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. It’s one of the most stupendously well-realised pieces of multi-level digital architecture I’ve ever seen. If you can imagine a sprawling edifice, with room built upon room, rising into the sky, where each doorway and corridor hides new rooms or areas to explore – you’ll have some idea of what Avalanche has created.
The level of visual fidelity and detail in the architecture, from the animated bas-reliefs to the moving haunted paintings, from the gorgeous stone and marble tile work and the light scattered across them, is insanely gorgeous. Hogwarts is filled to the brim with props, overflowing in fact, and it all adds to the feeling of a lived-in environment with a long history. All the texture work and 3D modeling holds up to the closest scrutiny. The rest of the open world displays the same level of attention to detail. From the stunning, bendy architecture of Hogsmead village, to the cluttered shops that you can explore, and even to the spider-dens in the Dark Forest, Hogwarts Legacy boasts production values through the roof (and this is one title I’d love to explore in VR!).
On a standard 60Hz TV, Hogwarts Legacy comes with three visual settings. There are Fidelity, Fidelity + RT, and Performance modes. Fidelity, which is how I played most of the game, runs at 30fps and is absolutely stunning with screen space and cube map reflections. The Performance mode drops the visual fidelity in favour of a 60fps performance. Fidelity + RT is basically the Fidelity mode with ray-traced reflections but with a resolution drop. Unfortunately, I found Fidelity + RT mode suffered from performance issues, noticeably slowdown, and reflection solutions popping in if you’re running quickly between sections of Hogwarts. In contrast, I can’t recall any significant issues using either Fidelity or Performance mode. Interestingly, all three modes have the option to turn off the frame rate cap, but I didn’t make use of this feature as I wanted to keep performance stable.
Now it would be easy to say that Hogwarts Legacy is a giant piece of fan service – and in some respects it is – but there’s an obvious love for the source material displayed by the developers in every moment of the game. From the stunning architecture, to the high-quality writing, intricate animations, and great vocal performances – Hogwarts Legacy oozes love for the Wizarding World. It certainly doesn’t hurt either that it’s a stunning and enthralling game featuring a great story, plenty to see and do, and challenging, tactical combat. Outside of finding a rip in the space-time continuum that will let you step on through into the Wizarding World, Hogwarts Legacy is the closest thing you’ll get to being a student there. This is definitely a journey worth enrolling for!
A review code for Hogwarts Legacy was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Hogwarts Legacy (Xbox Series) ReviewHogwarts Legacy (Xbox Series) Review
Visuals10/10 The Best
- Fantastic writing and voice acting
- Excellent gameplay
- Hogwarts is amazingly realised
- So much to do that actually rewards you for doing it
- The Fidelity + RT mode demonstrates performance issues on the Xbox Series consoles