Given how cruel trendy popular culture is in its exploitation of childhood nostalgia, it’s exceptional there’s been no credible try at a big-budget Harry Potter online game prior to now. Hogwarts Legacy has a lot to work with: it’s the product of thousands and thousands of childhood desires. Donning the Sorting Hat and setting foot contained in the Gryffindor frequent room, manipulating the world effortlessly with a wand and preventing darkish wizards are all fantasies that it may well simply fulfil.
Nevertheless, amongst a big proportion of the millennial contingent that kind Potter’s unique and most passionate fanbase, JK Rowling’s interventions into the debate about transgender rights – she is in opposition to self-ID, or admitting trans ladies to some single-sex areas reminiscent of ladies’s prisons or rape disaster centres – have precipitated outrage, and this sport is the topic of a boycott.
It’s a disgrace that the sport can’t escape this context, as a result of large effort has clearly gone into diversifying Potter’s magical world for a 2023 viewers. Except for the baffling determination to make use of one of many books’ most uncomfortable tropes, the goblins, because the central antagonists, Hogwarts Legacy is studiously inclusive. Hogwarts’ college students and workers hail from Uganda, India, Korea; it’s closely implied, if by no means outright said, that a minimum of one character is trans; a feminine quest-giver casually refers to her spouse inside the first 5 hours. It could be set within the 1800s, however this can be a completely trendy take.
As a sort of interactive Harry Potter museum, Hogwarts Legacy is spectacular. The fortress itself is majestic, not possible to navigate, a stone warren of mysteries, disappearing staircases and shifting work, stuffed with secrets and techniques and particulars from the books and the movies. By some means I managed to keep away from the Nice Corridor, with its enchanted ceiling and chattering crowds of scholars, till about 15 hours in, and when I discovered it I used to be awestruck. The primary time you mount a brush, a deal with that the sport holds again for a very good whereas, you’re taken on an aerial tour, swooping between turrets and over courtyards, skimming the Nice Lake. It’s a crafty transfer – is there a extra good distillation of the liberty of risk that we present in Harry Potter, as children? – and it definitely acquired an emotional rise out of me, regardless of all of the reservations I’ve developed about Potter and its creator as an grownup. When Hogwarts Legacy leans into its function as a wizarding wish-fulfilment simulator, it’s – forgive me – enchanting.
I had a really pleasing time inside Hogwarts, attending classes and exploring at night time with the assistance of a Disillusionment allure and the Alohomora lockpicking spell, however this sport is definitely 40 hours lengthy, and plenty of it takes place exterior the fortress. Down the street, the magical village of Hogsmeade is one other hub for nostalgia-tickling fan service and wizarding quests, however you’re additionally given license to discover everything of the Scottish Highlands (evidently Hogwarts didn’t preserve a really shut rein on its college students in earlier centuries). Most unexpectedly, out within the wilds, Hogwarts Legacy jogged my memory strongly of 2012’s cult Japanese role-playing sport Dragon’s Dogma, within the sense of freedom and hazard in its open world. The wild countryside is stuffed with trolls, poachers, goblins, creatures and mysterious, probably harmful ruins and artefacts. I discovered it unnerving on the market, at night time, alone within the forested darkish.
However exterior Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, the sport doesn’t have almost a lot persona. The story, which revolves round a goblin rebellion, is skinny and uninteresting, and interrogates nothing in regards to the Darkish Arts or the sources of battle between wizard-kind and different magical denizens. The participant character, whose look and nature is left as much as you, is just too clean (and posh) to be memorable; the friendships they develop will not be significant or plausible, and even probably the most likable characters simply really feel like quest-givers. Among the set-dressing could be very twee, an American’s thought of British allure, such because the cups of tea sitting round on tables on your character to sip. There are some appalling Scottish accents, too, alongside the nice ones; did Portkey Video games run out of cash midway by casting?
The open-world scope is spectacular. Seeing the define of Hogwarts’ battlements in opposition to the mountains by no means misplaced its surprise, for me. However I longed for a extra intimate, character-driven Potter fantasy: conversations within the dorm room, rivalries and feuds between academics and college students, buddies to get to know. Rather than that, we now have tons of of issues to gather and darkish wizards and magical wildlife to battle, and like most open-world video games it begins to really feel repetitive and meaningless after some time.
Hogwarts Legacy derives its magic from its setting, not from its sport design, which is competent however unspectacular. Battling with spells is thrilling for the primary few hours, then more and more fiddly to manage, as you accumulate extra enchantments to fit into swappable skill-wheels. It has a bunch of bizarre quirks which can be straight out of the 2010s: if you arrive on the flawed time of day for a quest, your younger witch/wizard merely lies down on the ground to go the time; you gather new, marginally higher cloaks and scarves and glasses on a regular basis, that should consistently be swapped in stock screens and make your character look ridiculous; each time you discover a new hamlet or constructing, the very first thing you do is steal all the pieces in it; there are elaborate crafting and enhancement options that I barely used.
Hogwarts Legacy begins to really feel like numerous open-world video games of the previous decade when you’ve been enjoying it for greater than 15 hours. Nevertheless, you get to journey a Hippogriff. It’s these magical moments and the setting that rescue it from mediocrity, however provided that the Wizarding World nonetheless has you beneath its spell.