Hogwarts Legacy review: Is the new Harry Potter game worth playing?
Avalanche Software has been set a difficult test.
This article is part of our free Hogwarts Legacy walkthrough guide. To unlock your complete companion to the game, click here.
The Hogwarts Legacy release date is beginning its gradual rollout this week, but is this new Harry Potter game worth playing? That was the primary question on our mind as we downloaded an early access review copy of the Deluxe Edition on PS5.
Before we get started with our Hogwarts Legacy review, it's worth stressing that this is in fact a prequel to all the Harry Potter books and films — set as it is in the 1800s, the Hogwarts Legacy story even predates the Fantastic Beasts movies.
You play as a character of your own creation (you can pick their name, their skin tone, their body type, their voice and a whole lot more), who is joining Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a fifth year student. Although this set-up is a clear departure from Harry's journey in the original stories, the developers at Avalanche Software clearly have no qualms with leaning hard on your nostalgia.
For example, the first scene of the game sees a kindly wizard visiting an otherwise ordinary muggle street. The echoes of Dumbledore on Privet Drive are clear, and you'll spot other such parallels at various points throughout your adventure. Once your character has been picked up, thankfully enough (from our point of view), things do start to deviate in major ways.
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What immediately follows is an eye-opening visual spectacular, evidence that publishers Warner Bros Games have spared no expense to bring the Wizarding World to life like we've never seen before in a video game. Here be dragons, here be beautiful landscapes, and here be a mysterious new story that digs into hitherto unseen areas of the magical sandbox that JK Rowling created.
It's worth noting, though, that Rowling has not been overtly involved in making Hogwarts Legacy, and the game is at its best when it veers away from those aforementioned nostalgic elements. After a few years where the Potter universe has felt almost dormant in terms of new stories, it's thrilling to see a fresh take on what could've happened in the magical days of yore.
Hogwarts Legacy's writer Moira Squier and director Alan Tew take the reins with an admirable amount of confidence, establishing about a hundred new characters and putting their own stamp on a few old favourites (don't forget that the ghosts, poltergeists and paintings from Harry's era had been hanging around for centuries in some cases).
Despite an action-packed pre-title sequence, the game doesn't rush to set out its entire stall of wonders. You learn the basics of combat and exploration very quickly, but you'll still be learning new spells and skills throughout pretty much your entire journey.
You'll also gradually learn just how massive the game's open world is, including not just Hogwarts and Hogsmeade but various hamlets in the Scottish highlands and a number of totally different locations to boot. You'll unearth loads of gear as you travel around, as well as ingredients you'll need to make various helpful things.
For the most part, we'd argue that the game design here is really strong, pulling inspiration from various places and making all of it gel together seamlessly. The combat, for example, borrows as much from the Spider-Man and Batman Arkham games as it does from the obvious comparison of The Witcher 3.
On top of casting spells every couple of seconds (you can map four spells at a time onto the face buttons of your controller, although you unlock more slots later), you'll also be dodging and deflecting, as well as dishing out powerful plant life to distract your enemies and guzzling potions to boost your own stats.
It's fun mix that only gets more enjoyable as you master the controls and add more tools to your arsenal. The duelling feels so good that it really makes us want Hogwarts Legacy multiplayer at some point in the future.
The level design is really nicely varied, as well. There are some dungeon-like missions, for example, that are stuffed with puzzles that could've been ripped directly from God of War Ragnarök. There are occasional boss battles that will have you rolling around and pushing your powers to the limits, not offering the same challenge as a game like Elden Ring but definitely pulling on a similar set of skills.
There is a staggering amount of side content, too, with numerous characters enlisting your help with their personal projects and problems. These side quests are great ways to dig a little deeper into your supporting cast and what makes them tick, although the actual content does get a bit repetitive. However, there are some more unique ideas here too, alongside a lot of traditional fetch quests and delivery jobs.
One of the most fun side-mission chains involves broomstick mastery, offering an increasingly difficult set of time trials around the local area. Flying on a broom feels great in this game, and there's a decent amount of challenge here - although the lack of Quidditch does feel like a missed opportunity. Here's hoping there's a DLC or sequel coming that can add that.
Another qualm of ours is that the main character feels a bit bland for quite long stretches of time, being essentially a cipher for most of your journey. We played with Sebastian Croft's voice and it often felt like he'd been asked to do an impression of a very polite and very young Daniel Radcliffe. After a few hours, we started choosing the more nasty conversational options just to spice things up a bit. There's no overt morality system at play here, so don't be afraid to do the same!
That being said, the Hogwarts Legacy cast do a wonderful job, with Simon Pegg on fine moustache-twirling form as Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black (an ancestor to Sirius Black who feels like the anti-Dumbledore in a lot of ways). In fact, we enjoyed all of the teacher performances, with Lesley Nicol's Professor Matilda Weasley being a nicely warm contrast to Pegg's Phineas.
Speaking of teachers, as the game progresses, you may start to feel like you're being pulled in a few too many directions by all of the adult characters. Every teacher gives you too much homework (under the guise of helping you to catch up on missing years one to four), which manifests in the game as lengthy to-do lists that often feel like a grind.
On the flipside of that, these extracurricular tasks do force you learn all of the different systems properly, and it does save in-game money to brew your own potions and grow your own combat-ready plants rather than buying direct from the Hogsmeade shops. (Top tip to make money in the game: don't forget to sell outfits that you find on your adventures!)
It sometimes feels cruel that you have to do homework to unlock the next main mission, but at least you're always learning something useful. Plus, it's worth taking a moment to note that the Care for Magical Creatures class is a total standout and it adds some very welcome cuteness to the game.
It's also worth noting that Hogwarts Legacy looks wonderful. This is by the far the finest digital creation of the castle that you've ever seen. It is full of mystery and discovery, just as it should be. That being said, it is a bit tough to find your way around, even when you're using the clunky in-game map (remember trying to navigate the 3D map in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? It's a bit like that).
Hogsmeade is just as cosy and welcoming as you'd hope for as well, and the neighbouring hamlets offer a decent distraction and plenty of extra things to do. The game plays wonderfully, too, and we only saw a few very minor graphical glitches during our pre-launch time with the game.
All in all, it feels safe to say that this is the Harry Potter game that you've been waiting for. Distancing the story by centuries allows for plenty of new twists and turns (ancient, forgotten magic is a nice inclusion), allowing players to make this corner of the Wizarding World feel like their own personal playground.
A comparison that comes to mind is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and that RPG prequel is still regarded as one of the greatest games of all time by this writer. In a similar way, this game carves out its own corner of a much-loved universe, allowing you to feel more ownership than usual over your adventure, and allowing the writers to have some fun trying to wrongfoot you.
One thing we will say is that the Hogwarts Legacy age rating of PEGI 12 does feel about right. Although the game is largely bloodless, there are some grown-up themes and the combat does get quite dark. You don't learn the killing curse until later on, but you can reduce your foes into piles of dust (even some of the human ones) pretty early in the game.
It's been a long wait for Hogwarts Legacy but we're pleased to say that it's a truly magical experience. Sometimes it leans too far into nostalgia for this writer, but other fans will love spotting all the Easter eggs and familiar family names.
It feels good to be back in Hogwarts, and this feels every bit like the game that Harry Potter fans have been calling out for over the last few years. As much as we love the LEGO Harry Potter games, finally this title gives the Wizarding World the gorgeous AAA treatment it has always deserved. Whichever house you choose, we think you'll have a great time.
The game is at its best when it forges a new path, though, and you've got to applaud the team at Avalanche Software for acing this very tricky test. Breathing new life into this franchise was surely a daunting task, and it seems like everyone involved has risen to the occasion. It's spellbinding stuff.
Hogwarts Legacy launches on PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC on Friday 10th February, although you can play from Tuesday 7th February if you buy the Deluxe Edition.
We reviewed on PS5. The game will reach PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch later in the year.
Read more on Hogwarts Legacy:
- Hogwarts Legacy release date - staggered launch explained
- Hogwarts Legacy cast - Simon Pegg and more
- Hogwarts Legacy house sorting quiz - take the text
- Hogwarts Legacy character creator - customisation revealed
- Hogwarts Legacy common rooms - tour all four
- Who is Phineas Nigellus Black? Sirius ancestor explained
- Hogwarts Legacy year - when is it set?
- Hogwarts Legacy multiplayer - is it co-op?
- Hogwarts Legacy Switch - handheld version explained
- Hogwarts Legacy PC requirements - the specs you need
- Hogwarts Legacy Deluxe Edition - price for early access