Harddrive-by: Hogwarts LegacyThe Dark Herald
In fairness I need to start with this statement: I am not the target customer for this game.
I never got into Harry Potter. My interest level was at best Culturalist and that was when the first Harry Potter wave was at its height back when the last of the movies were coming out. I wouldn’t even be a Flirt except I have children that are at Intentionalists level of interest. I know the major characters, the setting, and the houses, and I am familiar with its not too interesting magic system.
I can at least understand if not take part in the excitement of playing the game.
The major issue I have with the game is that the gameplay was created with console peasants in mind. It really needs to be played with twin sticks. It just isn’t comfortable being operated by a mouse and keyboard, it’s doable with a lot of key rebinding but it’s not happy about doing it.
I had some frame drops and some texture pop-ins, especially outside the castle, although it wouldn’t be enough to take you out of the game. I only noticed because I was looking for them. I’m willing to blame those on the Unreal engine rather than Avalanche.
This is the game that Harry Potter fans have waited for beyond hope of its coming. Previous games have disappointed in one way or another but this one seems to have delivered for its core audience.
The game is designed with the Harry Potter fan in mind first and foremost. The story isn’t particularly interesting. The mechanics don’t do anything that other games haven’t done before, it just does them all in Hogwarts which is the entire point of the game. This thing is meant to be an immersive world for Harry Potter fans to gorge on. You get all of Hogwarts’ whimsey and wonder you ever wanted if that is you. The game is built around people who just want to be in the Wizarding World.
The star of the show is Hogwarts Castle. It is designed with autistic detail and there are over a thousand collectibles. Every famous or for that matter minor location is recreated with an eye that was focused on perfect depiction. Portraits are animated, busts follow your movement, students are doing student things wherever you go and Peeves is annoying them while they do it.
The detail work matters because it keeps the fetch quests from feeling like a waste of time. The castle changes from day to night and from season to season with decorations that are added for Halloween which is then changed to a Christmas theme. Neat.
There is a fast travel system, but the game is built around exploring and it will reward you for doing so.
Hogsmeade is where you buy and sell gear, it’s not as built up as the Castle, but it’s not meant to be.*
As you advance, you’ll get the usual Gear That Does Stuff: Pluses to offense, pluses to health, you already know what I’m talking about. Various quests will increase your inventory space and you will need it. One of the big rewards is a Room of Requirement which you can personalize and store stuff in, a neat touch that even I the non-Wizarding World fan really liked was your private vivarium, it’s where you keep your various animals.
You breed the animals and collect fur and feathers from them that you use to enhance your spells. You capture them with a Pokeball (pretty much). They were designed with cuteness in mind, except the Thestrals.** And even the jaded old Dark Herald enjoyed riding the critters, especially the Graphorns.
The combat is magic based, as such you are more focused on finding the right spell for the right situation and/or the right combination thereof. There are various ways to upgrade your spells but mostly you’re going to need your vivarium or a lot of money in Hogsmeade.
You can’t max out everything on a single run and you are barred from the other Houses, so you will need at least four characters if you are going to see literally everything in this game. Also, each house has some unique features and side quests. Hufflepuff got the most attention from the devs and it’s the only way you can visit Azkaban.
The music is a John Williams tribute band, and the sound design has the same attention to minutia as the visual aspects of the game.
There are NO microtransactions, which is damn nice these days. Well, not yet anyway, we’ll see if that changes when the Quidditch DLC finally drops.
No multiplayer mode either but the odds are good that it’s coming.
In summary: This is not a game that is trying to get by on its name alone. The fact that it takes place in the late 1800s breathes a lot of life into a setting that was getting way too set in its early 2000s ways. Hogwarts Legacy has a profoundly vibrant vision and while it doesn’t touch my ice-cold heart, it does earn my respect. If you are a Wizarding World fan then this one is a don’t miss.
*Sidenote: The Trans bartender was clearly and obviously a last-second voice swap. Apparently, you can unlock her original voice if you go digging into the code. It was profoundly silly and was the only thing that took me out of the game. It was also fundamentally retarded, since the Wizarding World is a place where you can get changed into a frog how hard can it be to get changed into the opposite sex? Of course, being turned into a real woman would defeat the entire point of the Trans movement, which is to make every say there are five lights when there are only four.
**Sidenote: Thestrals were one of the few things I really liked about Harry Potter. The whole thing about how they are invisible unless you have seen death spoke to me and it was an excellent device for showing that Harry had left his true childhood behind.