Hogwarts Legacy, a sprawling RPG that takes you back to Harry Potter’s 19th-century wizarding school, releases this week amid controversy and focused outrage. There are long calls to boycott the game in toto because of Potter creator JK Rowling’s alleged transphobia.
Although Rowling was not directly involved in developing Hogwarts Legacy – Avalanche Software developed the story and characters – she will receive royalties from game sales. It is a specific case that he cannot separate art from the artist. This culture war is happening now, with the fear that Rowling will use her wealth and platform to present views that are considered harmful to transgender people.
Hogwarts Legacy cannot be detached from this context. Even if you want to ignore the outside influence and focus on whether or not it’s a good game — it is fine– you can see the conflict within herself. Developer Avalanche and publisher Warner Bros. after dancing around the question as best they can in an attempt to calm everyone down. And while Hogwarts Legacy makes a sincere effort to be inclusive, a lot of it is underwhelming.
You are a new fifth-year student at Hogwarts in 1899, entering the school much later than your classmates but with a rare natural ability for magic. You can create your character from scratch, with a wide and fluid range of gender and racial options, and your pronoun when other characters talk about you is – either by design or to save voice work – ‘they’ neutral.
The teachers and students at Hogwarts are also a wide variety, with a stronger aim for diversity than Rowling’s original work. However, much has been made of the inclusion of the first trans-Wizarding World character; the bartender at the Three Broomsticks in the nearby town of Hogsmeade. Tokenism or olive branch; that she is named Sirona Ryan, of all things, is clumsy at best, antagonistic at worst. However, those out there who eagerly bought and played Hogwarts Legacy as a protest against the ‘wokery’ would probably be confused.
Undoubtedly, when Avalanche set out to make Hogwarts Legacy, they didn’t expect to become a flashpoint in a culture war, and set their sights on making a nice open-world game based on a series that meant and means a lot for many. And there yes plenty of that here, but there is an equally broad attempt to please everyone through mechanics and politics. The story itself is a fairly thin reworking of the ‘chosen’ trope, with your unusually gifted witch or wizard drawn into conflict with goblin rebels capable of wielding ancient magic. It’s a pretty neat consideration to take you on a whistle-stop tour of Hogwarts classes, as well as extra-curricular learning, all under the guise of fast-tracking your junior skills.
The school itself is something of a triumph. It is carefully and skillfully designed, all ornate halls, intricate staircases and grand towers. It’s rich with detail, too. The student population feels a little thin–though there are plenty around to offer you sidequests–the walls are alive with chattering pictures, a suit of arm near the bicker armor, and the Hogwarts ghosts flit through the halls and aim of mischief. The first time you enter the great hall is sure to impress those still enthralled by the Potterverse. Go out to Hogsmeade and it’s a similar story, cobbled streets lined with magical shops to pick up new robes, wands at Ollivanders, fancy brooms. At times it feels less like a video game than a theme park, carefully curated wish fulfillment as you wander Hogwarts and the colorful surrounding hamlets.
Hereditary exchanges a full The pace of the story itself is fairly glacial, as it takes you to Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons, Potions, Botany and so on; all with the intention of giving you more things to do and things to collect. And a litany of spells for both combat and exploration flow into your arsenal. This sounds great at first, but it soon wears off and Hogwarts Legacy falls into familiar pitfalls that can make open-world games a slog. Missions and ‘tasks’ (often to earn new spells) are checklists to go through; by the time I was repeatedly smashing pumpkins as the main part of a mission, the interest was already waning. It makes sense to know when to equip a new skill — when you first gain access to a broomstick and soar around the Hogwarts towers and fly off into the forest, you can’t to deny the pleasure. But he quickly falls back into his familiar rhythm.
You’re constantly picking up new gear like robes and uniforms that also power up your stats. And while the designs are well done and it’s initially funny to swan around the school in neon turquoise robes, Quidditch goggles and a fancy hat; it will soon become a breakthrough in inventory management. Every now and then you’ll get a warning about your inventory being full while giving infinite item chests, which means you have to — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — destroy old gear or go to the town to sell it. .
Games like Destiny, which Legacy gear takes inspiration from, work so well because new loot has tangible effects and the underlying action is just as good. But Legacy can’t match that. The fighting looks interesting, if not always successful, styles. You’ll blast basic projectiles to deal damage, and you’ll be able to combine more powerful attack spells with special wills. So you pick up an enemy with Leviosa, blast them out with a flaming Confringo before sending them back with Accio for more punishment. All this is done with the requisite flair and fireworks and, when it works, it’s a satisfying waste. But throw multiple enemies into the mix, which Hogwarts Legacy is keen to do, then it starts to falter with fiddly targeting and irresponsible defensive action.
And so, Hogwarts Legacy is a well-constructed but overly familiar video game, with those bits of Harry Potter that you love. Or used to thank. In any other context, it would be a good distraction to be left on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The madness of being there can live long in the memory. Is it a game itself? Maybe not so much.
Developer Avalanche software Publisher Warner Bros. Games Formats Xbox Series X/S, PS5 (test), PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch Age rating PEGI 12 Released 10 February 2023 (Xbox X/S, PS5, PC); April 4 (Xbox One, PS4) July 25 (Switch) RRP £64.99