For so many bookworms of the late 1990s to mid 2000s, Hogwarts Legacy is something of a dream game. After a long line of bang-average licensed titles, developer Avalanche Software is finally letting Potterheads realise their ambitions of attending Hogwarts, taking classes, and exploring the castle without restraint. It's a fantastic idea on paper, and the Salt Lake City studio has turned the hopes of that social and educational simulator into a reality. Hogwarts Legacy is a special experience for Harry Potter fans, packed full of magic, wonder, and charm.
However, it can't be ignored just how much of a problematic person the series' real-life author has become. J.K. Rowling holds views we strongly disagree with, and we're not interested in sweeping them under the rug in order to shower Hogwarts Legacy with unfiltered praise. No matter how highly we regard the game: trans rights are human rights.
Many members of the transgender community and its supporters have justified reasons for skipping the title entirely, no matter how much of a childhood dream come true it may appear to be. We respect their decision.
If you choose to look past the writer's opinions, then what awaits is the Hogwarts simulator you've been waiting more than 20 years for. Given the chance to create your own student at the school, your name will finally be on the class registers, there'll be a house to call your own, and the establishment's grounds (and beyond) are open for exploration. It's not like a Dead Rising or Persona 5 Royal, either — time isn't a factor, meaning you can role-play virtually whatever you like at any point.
What makes doing that so easy is the sense that Hogwarts Legacy comes from a place of immense love. The hundreds of people at Avalanche Software who made the game are the same ones that have been calling for a Hogwarts simulator for a generation. You can feel it as you walk the castle's hallways or browse the shops in Hogsmeade. The open world emits magic at every turn, from little pranks Peeves is pulling on students to conversations you'll overhear of other students' escapades.
It turns the game into one where you don't really have to do anything at all to find enjoyment. Simply taking an aimless wander around Hogwarts turns into fun, bumping into side quests and optional puzzles along the way. With so many secrets hidden out of view, the game successfully captures that sense of excitement you'd almost certainly be buzzing with during your first year at the school. It genuinely feels magical.
You haven't rocked up at Hogwarts as an 11-year-old, though: you're actually starting your wizarding education as a fifth year. It turns out you're a late bloomer, but while He Who Must Not Be Named hasn't planted a lightning-shaped scar on your forehead, you are still a special student. You're able to see and sense a form of ancient magic that's about to prove pivotal in the midst of a goblin uprising.
What follows is a lengthy campaign that combines classroom visits with deadly excursions to find out how this power can be harnessed to put an end to the revolt led by a goblin named Ranrok, who has formed a shaky alliance with a legion of dark wizards. Does he hold a candle to Voldemort? Standing at maybe a third of the height, absolutely not. However, he and the search for ancient knowledge still provide the foundations for an enjoyable story.
A cast of new teachers and students support your studies and adventures, with the house you pick playing a small part in who you meet. All have their own little quirks and problems to solve in side quests, but it's actually the protagonist you create who drops the ball the hardest. No matter how much you customise them, they'll always have the personality of a chalkboard. With boring line delivery and little in the way of pizzazz or swagger, they're a really dull character that feels more like an android than a real person. In fact, what appears to be a glitch in their voice acting quite literally applies a robotic tone to some of their expressions. It's really quite strange.
It's a good job they're not a chatty character then because exploring the gigantic open world wouldn't be anywhere near as fun as it is with random voice lines and jokes interrupting the mood. Hogwarts Legacy by no means reinvents the genre, and you could quite easily compare it to a typical Far Cry game. However, what it's got going for it is the magic touch.
Every location, assignment, and side quest is steeped in sorcery, from the enchanted brooms sweeping the hallways to students casting spells on their mates in-between classes. It's a world that feels alive with wonder and spectacle, with something new to see or do around every corner. The map is absolutely huge, providing a ton of content to complete off the main path. If you're bonkers about the Harry Potter universe, then this is an open world you could easily spend over 100 hours in, simply living and breathing it.
But there is one disappointment: don't expect the side missions themselves to be anything special. While there are a lot of them, they're never much more than simple fetch quests or a combat encounter consisting of just a single step. They're more like five-minute distractions than side stories worth investing in à la The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Some are better than others, of course, but you shouldn’t expect any optional plots to provide much of a captivating diversion from the main narrative.
Before you get cosy in the Forbidden Forest, though, it's worth levelling up and unlocking spells. Alongside exploration, combat is what you'll spend much of your time engaging in. New charms and incantations are learned from mainline classes and voluntary assignments, allowing you to increase your magical arsenal as you follow the movements of goblin overlord Ranrok. All the classic spells you remember from the books and movies return, letting you interact with the environment to uncover secrets and blast bad guys.
A basic attack (known as Basic Cast) is mapped to the R2 button, but then you can hold the trigger to gain access to more advanced spells on the face buttons. It makes the system really easy to pick up and start downing enemies immediately, with environmental attacks and ancient magic letting you really strut your stuff.
As you unlock more complex spells, the skill tree opens up ways of customising loadouts. Expanding your capabilities further, you can switch between them on the fly and start to build up some impressive combos as you transition from one charm to the next. Pull an enemy in with Accio and then set them on fire through Incendio. Or cast Disillusionment to go invisible and silently subdue them with Petrificus Totalus. The game offers quite a few different methods of approaching fights, making for a really fun combat system that meets your needs.
With exploration and combat encounters taking up so much time and energy, your character needs a place to rest up and replenish supplies. The Room of Requirement provides that home base, which can be customised to your liking with various decals and ornaments. It's a neat little feature that's a boon for the overall experience, and it at least helps to streamline what is far and away the most annoying thing about the game.
While they're not essential to progression, you're able to brew potions and grow plants so you have more ways of healing or improving your character during duels. You can craft them at specific stations, but the kicker is there are timers attached to making each individual potion or plant. Think of a free-to-play title where you need to wait a number of real-life hours before something in-game can take effect or be completed. It's the same in Hogwarts Legacy, albeit in seconds rather than minutes.
The most useful thing you can brew is a Wiggenweld Potion, which is the only way of healing during a combat encounter. You'll want lots of these in your inventory, but you need to wait 15 seconds for every single potion to fully brew. Therefore, you could be waiting multiple minutes until you're fully stocked up, and the timer only counts down when you're actually in the world; it pauses when you're browsing menus. It's a completely useless mechanic that seems designed purely to just slow you down. There are no microtransactions in the game, so you can't pay real money to speed these countdown timers up. As such, they serve no real purpose to you, the player. It's a really frustrating and baffling design decision.
Those moments would have served as a great opportunity to dive into the menus should the timer still tick down because they're just as poor as the mechanic itself. Navigation of them is poor and slow, with a Destiny-like cursor controlling your interactions. Information is spread all over the place, with challenges tying into a collections tab, but its rewards don't seem to actually grant you any items. Rather, they're simply unlocked and ready to be found somewhere in the open world. With a truly terrible map of Hogwarts on top, the menus can be a chore to rummage through.
However, they're complaints that simply fall by the wayside when you're caught up in a magical story beat or an intense duel with another wizard. Avalanche Software has expertly captured the magic and vibe of Harry Potter, thus creating the Hogwarts simulator we've always dreamt of. Kicking back and relaxing in the common room is a joy, while exploring the surrounding regions aboard a broomstick is delightful. When the title has so accurately recreated the school every Potterhead has wanted to attend, it's difficult to let a handful of clunky menus get in the way of the experience.
And while it's not even close to being the best-looking game on PS5, there's a lot of gorgeous scenery in the Scottish highlands to marvel at as you're exploring original locations not mentioned in the novels or films. The castle itself looks spectacular, too, towering over the landscape as you complete odd jobs in the Forbidden Forest. What lets the package down to a degree is the character models, but then there are some nice faces dotted about Hogwarts (particularly the teachers) that make up for the personalities not taking up much screen time.
The frame rate matches the visuals with smooth performance no matter which mode you pick. We opted for the Balanced Mode, which supports VRR to adjust the frame rate on the fly. Then there are the Fidelity and Performance Modes either side, allowing you to opt for better graphics or a smoother frame rate. Raytracing is also an option along with a high-performance mode for TVs that support up to 120 frames-per-second.
Sony's PS5 DualSense controller also receives a bit of love with haptic feedback turning spell casts into rumbles inside the middle of the pad. You can feel when a particularly powerful charm has been used, and your footsteps are turned into vibrations on either side of the controller at opportune moments. There's then a bit of resistance on the adaptive triggers, but you can't feel it quite as much as the haptic feedback.
Hogwarts Legacy has turned the hopes and dreams of Harry Potter fans into reality. Finally there is a proper simulator of the school of witchcraft and wizardry, allowing you to create your own student, attend classes, and explore the vast landscape outside. It's not without its issues — side quests prove far too basic, the menus are poor, and annoying timers hurt the player experience — but they don’t get in the way of something that so blatantly comes from a place of extensive love for the source text. Almost 26 years after Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hit bookshelves, video game fans finally have a magical title to be proud of. It's everything we’ve dreamt of.