Capturing the essence of an established fiction is tricky business, especially when translating into a new medium. It’s a big reason licensed games frequently miss the mark, sometimes failing to find the tone and nuance that made the original version shine. Avalanche Software navigates those challenges with a deft eye and an evident appreciation for the source books and films. Hogwarts Legacy is a remarkable adventure into the wizarding world of Harry Potter, offering a clever mix of gameplay styles and experiences that keep things fresh for dozens of hours while always maintaining the magical touches that captivate fans.
By setting the game in the 1800s, the developer is able to borrow story elements and locations from later in the timeline, but otherwise tell a new story free of canon constraints. Adopting the role of a witch or wizard of your creation, players arrive at Hogwarts as a new student joining the fifth-year class. Circumstances rapidly develop that challenge you to balance your matriculation with a grand extra-curricular adventure involving dark wizards, dangerous goblins, and an ancient form of lost magic. The storytelling sometimes serves as an excuse to hit big beats players expect, like a triumphant ride on a hippogriff or an amusing excursion through the castle while shapeshifted into a humorous character. If the overarching narrative sometimes feels a little flimsy as a result, it’s buoyed by uniformly excellent dialogue and voice acting that carries the action forward, as well as a standout musical score.
From the armor suits that come to attention as you pass to books that fly around like birds waiting to be snatched from the air, Hogwarts is a delightful environment to explore. It’s not hard to understand why characters in the books were always getting into trouble outside class; it’s nearly impossible not to get distracted from your path to education by a side quest, collectible chase, or other activity. Secret doors and discoveries are everywhere, as are plentiful relationships with the young students and eccentric faculty. That dynamic extends beyond the labyrinthine corridors of the castle to the large open world beyond its grounds. The outdoor environs are filled with beasts to tame, dungeons to tackle, and chances to hop on your broom to zip across the countryside.
A wealth of unique systems and mechanics govern the game’s advancement, leading to a mix of exploration, puzzle, and combat gameplay and a satisfying progression of leveling and upgrades. The vast majority of those systems are well-designed and fun, but it means you’re still getting tutorials in new game processes, even dozens of hours into play. That works within the fictional framework to some degree; after all, you are a student at a school. But it can make you feel like you’re waiting for the full suite of options to open up for far too long.
Combat is exciting, filled with flashy spell effects and fun ways to exploit individual enemy weaknesses. Battle animations are entertaining, making it feel like you’re in that life-or-death magic duel or a terrifying confrontation with a troll. Too little enemy variety begins to dim the excitement after a time. Still, I always enjoyed the fights and even the optional stealth routes that sometimes let me avoid the scuffle with a bit of invisibility potion on my side.
I encountered several minor technical issues over the course of my lengthy playthrough, such as pop-in while moving fast or long door-opening loads. And some of the game systems are more successful than others; a flood of useless low-quality gear rewards is one notable, if minor problem that sometimes stalls the fun. But for those who have long wished for a rich interactive playground to live out your own Harry Potter fantasy, Hogwarts Legacy casts an incredibly mesmerizing spell.