There are a lot of things going on in Hogwarts Legacy, and Avalanche Software doesn’t waste any expense creating an enjoyable open-world game. You’re in the middle of a magical adventure, and although some parts make you feel like your main character is a The Truman Show version of a Harry Potter story, the overall experience is fun. This has to do with the countless puzzles, locations to explore, enemies to fight, and people to meet as you attend Hogwarts classes.
I applaud the developers for the quality of the final product, and although it isn’t groundbreaking, it’s a good game. That said, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that there’s something off when playing Hogwarts Legacy — and it all obviously stems from Harry Potter author JK Rowling, whose words, views, behavior, and the online mess they caused has turned the Wizarding World IP into an unforgivably cursed object.
Related: Hogwarts Legacy’s biggest problem isn’t just its story — it’s the author who lives
The power of Ancient Magic
The main plot of Hogwarts Legacy focuses on your character, a student joining Hogwarts as a fifth-year. This is exceptionally unusual, as most students begin their first year of Hogwarts when they’re 11 years old. For whatever reason, the owl with your acceptance letter missed your character, and their magical talent was not discovered until they were older and is forever avoided. Brushing this aside, it’s a decent reason your character doesn’t have access to multiple basic spells and needs extra assistance from professors throughout the school year. Early on, your character discovers they have access to an Ancient Magic long thought extinct, leading them on a grand journey through Hogwarts while a goblin rebellion is ongoing.
The goblin rebellion and Ancient Magic plotline are woven together, with goblin leader Ranrok heavily invested in this unique magic. The key plot points throughout Hogwarts Legacy are relatively tame, especially because this tale takes place a little over one hundred years before the Harry Potter books take place, so nothing with massive consequences could ripple out and directly affect the already ingrained timeline. It makes for a mild story that plays out well, with several dramatic moments, but don’t expect anything extraordinary.
The side quests are similarly straightforward, and they’re some of the larger pieces of content where you’re going to spend time with other students in Hogwarts and characters in the surrounding villages. You can make a handful of small decisions during these encounters and how you handle these situations, but don’t expect too much variation.
For example, one girl had charmed her books in the library and asked for your assistance to retrieve them — one of these books was her diary. After retrieving these books, you can give them back to her, with a choice of making her buy her diary from you or simply giving it back to her. The different choices didn’t seem to affect too much of the overall experience, other than the ‘bad’ decision leading her to huff about you when she walks away.
Although the main and side quests in Hogwarts Legacy lack any narrative risks, the real fun was diving into the game’s exploration and combat, taking full advantage of the unique magic from the franchise.
Mastering the mystic arts with a gorgeous backdrop
It takes a bit before Hogwarts Legacy lets you access the many spells you can use in the game, but it’s well worth the wait. These spells are broken into unique categories, with the more combat-focused ones being Control, Force, Damage, and Unforgivable Curses. Although you might do more harm to enemies using a Damage spell, the game encourages you to have one from each category in your limited spell slots, as enemies typically have a specific shield around them you can only break using a spell from that category.
It’s a nice bit of encouragement, but it’s unnecessary. These different spells beautifully flow together — you can throw an enemy up into the air with one spell, toss them away with another, and then smoothly parry an enemy attack and response with a stunning curse before you bring them closer to you and unleash a close -range fire spell. The combat is wonderfully smooth, easily the most enjoyable part of the game.
What makes these magic attacks truly breathtaking is the gorgeous graphical design in Hogwarts Legacy, with each move popping every time you unleash them. The stunning details in the world make exploration a delight, and with so many things around each corner, it’s hard not to get lost exploring Hogwarts. Although it can take some time to become comfortable navigating this world, Hogwarts Legacy gets really exciting when it stops holding your hands.
The fun of seeing familiar locations and using iconic magic from the Harry Potter series stems from nostalgia for the popular books and films. It’s easy to get lost in this game because of how much it nails that setting. Though the development team has seemingly attempted to make Hogwarts Legacy as inclusive as possible for any player willing to attend Hogwarts, the outside influence from Rowling and the discourse that resulted turned this into a sour experience.
The real problem with Hogwarts Legacy is beyond its control
You can’t have a major tale set in the Harry Potter world without thinking of JK Rowling. In recent years, she has exposed herself with her transphobic and hateful rhetoric, lashing out against a chunk of her fandom that might have initially found a place in her fictional world. To describe it as a betrayal feels soft on how what Rowling has done, and gives a platform to others who feel empowered by this and thus justified in their heinous acts towards transgender individuals.
There have also been people addressing Rowling’s use of anti-semitic stereotypes with the goblins from her fantasy world. Although goblins in many fantasy settings are depicted as greedy, the imagery used in the Harry Potter world is a lot more blatant, as they are hook-nosed creatures that run the wizard’s banks. They appear frequently in Hogwarts Legacy and play a large role in the main story with an ongoing goblin uprising.
Many may try to separate Hogwarts Legacy from Rowling whenever given the chance, the same as Avalanche has tried to do every step when promoting the game. It’s hard to blame the studio, especially with these apparent attempts to depict an inclusive Hogwarts. Still, much like a dark mark, Rowling’s actions remain a heavy cloud over the game that all you have to do is keep your eyes low, and you’ll never see it. But doing so is a disservice to those pained by Rowling’s actions, and not addressing them is as wrongful as allowing them to happen in the first place.
I think that Avalanche Studios deserves some goodwill for the technically impressive work that it did in Hogwarts Legacy, especially for a development studio mostly new to the open-world genre. However, the fact this game is set in the Harry Potter franchise, and all the problems that came with it both inside and outside the pages, made it cursed from the start.
Hogwarts Legacy is a good game. The open world and combat are the highlights of this odyssey, with the side quests being another quiet star. The main story quests and progression through the Hogwarts school year are enjoyable, but the overall narrative felt too laid-back as it was trying to protect an already decided future.
Avalanche Studios has proven to be a capable studio, and I’d love to see more attempts from them in the future. But ultimately, setting Hogwarts Legacy in the world of Harry Potter makes it a troubling object, and one Rowling and the bad faith actors who espouse her views have done entirely themselves. It ultimately comes down to players asking themselves if they can look beyond these issues and bubbling hate simply to play a video game.
|+||Flourishing combat that is difficult to put down|
|+||Gorgeous backdrop and environment to explore|
|+||Exciting open world to unlock and discover|
|–||Middling main plotline that trudges you through the game|
|–||The Harry Potter property and everything around it remains the main problem|