Hogwarts Legacy is Harry Potter-flavored comfort food — it is as crowd-pleasing a game as you’re likely to find. It’s ironic, then, that it releases in controversial circumstances, as author J.K. Rowling’s persistent hounding of the trans community casts a dark shadow across the franchise. Legacy has not been unscathed, with there being calls to boycott the RPG so as not to give her more money or relevancy. Amid this ongoing debate — or perhaps because of it — Avalanche Software’s take on the Wizarding World is so plainly benign and forgettable that, if you didn’t know about Rowling’s history, you couldn’t possibly guess that this is a controversial release.
Set in the late 1800s, this is an alarmingly pleasant Hogwarts that’s far removed from orphan Harry’s often traumatic experiences — there are no tormenting teachers like Severus Snape, no class bullies a la Draco Malfoy, nor are there abusive adoptive parents like the Dursleys. You create your character with just a smattering of customization options, and with barely a hint of their backstory, you’re thrust into the school as a fifth-year student who has missed the childhood bonding with his peers that made Harry, Ron, and Hermione such a likable trio.
Unlike the Harry Potter series, which balances the bright and fantastical with characters enduring very relatable pain and grief, Hogwarts Legacy’s cast is mostly plain and forgettable, your player-character included. The school’s students and teachers are almost exclusively very nice to you, guiding you along your journey as though you’re a guest at Universal’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and they’re paid actors ensuring you’re having a good time.
We don’t need no education
Even your choice of House has no impact on your adventure, save for some altered dialogue and a different set of robes. Playing as a Slytherin, there was no evidence of the cunning and power-hungriness typically associated with their members, and they were completely interchangeable with the Gryffindor students. Almost everyone here is pleased to see you, save for the villainous Ranrok, leader of the actually-quite-understandable goblin rebellion that sees him looking to violently escape the oppression his kind faces in the wizarding world. Hogwarts Legacy’s writing isn’t good enough to explore the nuances of what is effectively a race war, and like almost every other character, he pales in comparison to his Harry Potter equivalent, Voldemort.
It isn’t helped that the most compelling parts of the story are all relegated to flashback cutscenes, and many major plot points are inexplicably relayed to your character via a bunch of dead wizards in paintings. Not only does this break a fundamental part of Harry Potter lore — if paintings of the deceased have this much agency, then death isn’t much of an obstacle — but it also undermines your own adventure. I often felt like I was on the outside looking in, my soulless avatar being told stories by characters more interesting than my own, fulfilling objectives for NPCs that were given the luxury of story arcs.
A Harry Potter podcast game
This is because your protagonist isn’t the star here — Hogwarts is. Avalanche has gone to tremendous lengths to accurately recreate the castle, and the end result is remarkable. The common rooms are wonderfully themed, from Slytherin’s dank underwater dwellings to Ravenclaw’s stately accommodation. There are an array of secrets to be found in its winding corridors, and outside there’s a whole world to explore on your broomstick, from the magical village of Hogsmeade to the quiet hamlets dotted around its countryside.
Within this world, Avalanche has made sure that almost every single Harry Potter box has been checked. Do you want to browse every shop in Hogsmeade? You can. What about attending all the wizardry classes, from Herbology to the Dark Arts? They’re all in there. And how about wandering off the beaten path and getting lost in the creepy Forbidden Forest, where centaurs and giant spiders roam? That’s in there, too.
For anyone even partially interested in the Wizarding World, Hogwarts Legacy can seriously raise your dopamine levels with the sheer number of things to do shoved in here. Throw in a Destiny-esque progression system where you’re constantly picking up cool-looking gear that raises your stats, and this is one of the more satisfying games I’ve played in a while. It’s peculiar that something based on the best-selling book series of all time is the ideal “podcast game,” but I found Hogwarts Legacy to be more enjoyable when switching off my brain and playing it in the background.
Hocus pocus, but lacking focus
Even though Avalanche has stuffed so much Harry Potter fanservice into Hogwarts Legacy, only a select few features are expanded on meaningfully. For instance, you can happily fly around on your broom, but there’s no Quidditch — the game’s characters offer a throwaway explanation as to why you won’t get to play it, and then you’ll use your broom solely to float from A to B or ambivalently pop balloons to complete challenges. And for as much attention to detail has been put into the environmental design, copious amounts of texture pop-in, miscellaneous open-world jank such as characters falling through the floor, and limited character animations make for a mixed visual experience.
Most egregious of all is potion-making, which boils down to finding ingredients and then waiting actual real-world minutes for them to brew. One quest took me 30 minutes to complete simply due to the fact that I had to earn enough coins to buy a table with a large pot, then wait for plants to grow in said pot, then wait a whole 15 minutes for those plants to turn into a potion in my cauldron.
One area of Hogwarts Legacy that has been fleshed out is its combat, which manages to make wand-wielding more exciting than anticipated. There are tons of spells to unlock as you progress that can then be included in lengthy combos, with the player pushing and pulling their enemies around, setting them on fire, and if they’re so tempted, using the “unforgivable” Avada Kedavra to kill them outright.
There’s parrying, too, with you able to satisfyingly block enemy attacks before stunning them, and an extra layer of complexity is introduced with shielded enemies, who can only be attacked with spells that match their shield’s color. Considering that combat is a lot less mobile than other action RPGs — there’s a dodge roll, but it’s only really necessary for unblockable attacks — fights are still a lot of fun, and become colorful firework displays when more enemies litter the screen.
But even the comparative strength of its combat is undermined by an unchallenging difficulty level. Most encounters are surmountable and render much of your toolkit pointless, given that enemies can be dispatched with the same combo of spells and other abilities such as potions are rarely worthwhile. This makes for a good summary of Hogwarts Legacy in general — getting into these scrapes is a lot of fun, but they don’t require an awful lot of brainpower.
Hogwarts Legacy is likely to please Harry Potter fans by providing a faithful recreation of the titular school, and if you can emotionally distance yourself from the intense debate caused by J.K. Rowling’s obsession with the trans community, it’s easy to immerse yourself in this world. However, if you can look beyond the magic, you’re left with a basic RPG that lacks the heart and imagination of its source material.
Hogwarts Legacy is full of Harry Potter fanservice, but as a game, it’s only serviceable. A fun but forgettable journey that isn’t worth the amount of controversy surrounding it.