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Hogwarts Legacy

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Developer: Avalanche Software
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2023


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PS5 Review - 'Hogwarts Legacy'

by Redmond Carolipio on Feb. 24, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Hogwarts Legacy is an open-world, single-player, action-RPG set in the 1800s wizarding world.

Buy Hogwarts Legacy

"I love magic."

These are the words young wizarding icon Harry Potter utters in the film "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" after witnessing his group of friends and their family enter a small tent that appears too small to accommodate everyone — only to walk in himself and witness an expansive, colorful and cozy living space complete with furniture and a kitchen. Actor Daniel Radcliffe's delivery was a perfect mix of breathless wonder, joy and matter-of-factness. It's the way we'd probably say it if we were in his shoes.

It's ... kind of the way I've said it in my head every time I fired up Hogwarts Legacy for the past week or so. The same kind of joy and verve Harry had upon walking into that tent can be felt throughout the whole game. This is what happens when game design manages to fully capture the true spirit of something, whether it's an intellectual property or a piece of pop culture — or both. Think of how Respawn wrapped itself around Star Wars, how Sony managed to spin up the energy of Spider-Man, and how Sucker Punch perfectly tuned into the romantic ethos of the samurai.

If Ghost of Tsushima were a game for the kind of people who love samurai s**t, then Portkey Games has produced something for the people who love them some magic, especially the kind developed in the Wizarding World. They've read the books, seen the movies. They've visited Universal Studios for butterbeer. They know it's pronounced "Le-vi-OH-sa" and not "Le-vio-SAH." This is their game.

It started to leave an impression on me from the jump, when it was time to create my own wizard or witch. The game features an impressive arsenal of character creation features, where players can pick and adjust skin tone, select from a wide array of face types, facial features, hairstyles, hair colors, the pitch and tone of your character's voice, their name, and whether they even identify as a wizard or witch. It's entirely possible to create a non-binary character. I decided to be boring and went with my traditional go-to of creating a female character with a scar on her face. If it worked for Mass Effect, it'll work for a tale of magic.

And it's quite the tale, or rather, tales. Like other great open-world action RPGs before it, Hogwarts Legacy's true power lies within its narrative bones. The focus is on your created self, a rare incoming Hogwarts student who's actually starting formal magical education as a fifth-year after being informally tutored by Professor Eleazar Fig. I thought it was interesting (and the right move) for the game to narratively treat your character as something of a special, unusual talent with advanced skills instead of someone starting from absolute scratch — cause frankly, sometimes, ain't nobody got time for that. What really separates your character from everyone else, however, is that he/she/they can see, feel and even manipulate a form of ancient magic that can't be seen by anyone else, even other wizards and witches. It's that special quirk about your character that serves as the foundation for the game's main quest, a rich and well-told piece of storytelling that could fit right in with the books and movies.

What really pulled me in, however, were the side-quests. What made the side-quests so compelling was their depth and investment in the characters they involve. Every character, even the seemingly smaller ones you meet in passing, mean something. You'll encounter Sirona Ryan, a trans barkeep who has her own deep personal story to share. You'll bond with at least three friends with long-reaching story arcs that deal with criminal justice, the protection of animal life and a classic tug-of-war over whether certain ends justify certain means. They need to be experienced fully, so they won't be spoiled here, even though the game's out.

Aside from life and death, the core narrative also errs on the side of humanity, as your character must balance life as a student at Hogwarts with missions of a seemingly greater purpose. They have to deal with topics ranging from friendship to questions of power and how to wield it — or if it should be wielded at all.

Of course, there's plenty of action here, and perhaps my critically favorite part of the game is the diverse and agile combat system. I hesitate to simply call it a combat system because Hogwarts Legacy does an exquisite job of handling all action in an overarching sense. When it comes to straight-up fighting, the Hogwarts Legacy network of borrowed and original concepts and tools could be a template for other games moving forward. The most fascinating part of the combat/action had to do with spells.

Each spell falls under a color category, and you can assign them to one of the face buttons via a combination of the right trigger and directional pad. However, as your character evolves and upgrades their abilities, you'll be able to assemble whole, switchable loadouts of spells, which can be used in combination for combat sequences that — and I'm a little amazed I can make these comparisons — carry the energy and adaptability of games like Devil May Cry (Levioso + basic projectile right-trigger blast = juggle city), Ghost of Tsushima (switching loadouts almost feels like switching sword stances), or even God of War Ragnarok (pace and controlled chaos, multitude of weapons/spells). You also have a parry/block spell and a roll-dodge, and the buttons for both flash at the moment of attack to give you the ability to set up counters or create space. You can also pick up and hurl things (magically, of course) with R1 and conjure super attacks with that "ancient magic" I mentioned earlier with a press of R1 and L1 once you fill up a special meter. Used in a fight, few things are as satisfying as parrying a boulder thrown by a massive troll, then "catching it" in mid-air and flinging it back for, you guessed it, massive damage. The color categories I mentioned? Food for thought when certain enemies cast shields of a certain color. You can figure out the rest.

All of this knowledge also feeds into another aspect of the game: How it makes you think. There are a lot of puzzle elements to be found. Some of them are instrumental within the main story, playing with things like visual perception, the sequential pushing or pulling of mechanisms, the use of certain spells to create ledges to grab onto (Hint: Le-vi-OH-sa) or the manipulation of shadows and light. Some of these stumped me for a hot second, so be prepared for a bit of intellectual lifting.

As the name implies, so much of the world is built around Hogwarts, and justifiably so. The magic school is an intricate star, itself a giant puzzle and the nexus of the game's character and ethos of learning. Like in the literature and film, it's the closest thing some of these wizards and witches can call a home. You can get lost heading into its classrooms (where learning spells is a thumbstick-gesture-and-button minigame), exploring the common room of your house — ah yes, I got to put on the Sorting Hat and it turns out my character is a Ravenclaw — or heading into your very own Room of Requirement. There, I spent a solid half-hour decorating it with the right rug, tables to mix potions (that's a thing), a vivarium to keep rescued beasts I can brush and feed (that's also a thing you can do), and finding a spot for a loom to upgrade my gear.

For better or worse (mostly better), I feel the need to talk about the sheer amount of drip one can acquire in this game. It feels a bit loot-y, as you're constantly picking up stuff that might add to your attributes: hats, scarves, face wear, robes/cloaks, regular clothes for under the robes, gloves and even handles for your wand. You might find yourself constantly altering your character to nail that perfect mix of style and power — compounded by the fact that you can change the appearance of gear to whatever you like while holding on to that sweet attribute boost. Like the cloak you acquired that gives you a 15-point defense boost, but not the way it looks? Switch up the appearance to that overcoat with the dope design that you picked up near Hogsmeade.

The world outside Hogwarts is quite large, but it's not in the realm of Horizon or Elden Ring, where there are whole lands and kingdoms with their own artistic ecosystems. The most exotic places you visit within the game are in story parts that take you into seemingly alternative dimensions or under Hogwarts itself. Outside, there are small hamlets that emanate similar energy, caverns and ruins to explore, smaller puzzles to figure out, and clusters of enemies to hone your battle skills upon. Where the world does expand, however, is in the sheer amount of things you can do. You'll be able to fly on your broom through courses and set times. There are smaller, busywork side-quests that make sense in the world of magic, like finding a student's missing Gobstones (you'll find out what those are). You'll jump on a Hippogriff or help undo a curse that turned someone's feet into beets. You'll look for a unicorn. Right now, I'm trying to help someone track down their missing brother.

As we near the end of this review, I have a small secret. I'm not someone you'd call a "fan" of the Wizarding World, at least not in the sense where I've got my own wand or want to down a butterbeer. I enjoy and appreciate the world that was built and the characters in it, but it's not like I got fully sucked in. That changed a little after a few dozen hours of playing Hogwarts Legacy. If you're a fan, you're in heaven, and if you're not ... well, this game might not make you love magic, but you'll certainly want to like it.

Score: 9.1/10

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