When talking about anything related to Harry Potter, it’s important to remember that its creator, J.K. Rowling, is a bad person who does not deserve your attention. It’s a damn shame how much of a shadow she casts over this beloved franchise by being a bigoted asshole, particularly in the wake of the release of Hogwarts Legacy, which is a good game with its fair share of faults. It also raises the very good question of, “should I play this game knowing that she benefits from my purchase?” To that end, I don’t have a good answer. All I can confidently say is that Hogwarts Legacy is an enjoyable game and Rowling is a bad person.
I’m not very well-versed in the Harry Potter franchise, having only seen the movies for the first time this year, but even I was intrigued by the idea of being able to explore a fully realized Hogwarts Castle and its surroundings. In terms of presentation and world construction, Hogwarts Legacy is an absolute triumph. Nearly every house and room is immaculately designed and explorable, packed with shelves overflowing with books, knickknacks and all kinds of magic minutia, well-worn chairs and the clutter of everyday life strewn across the floors. The houses are cozy and lived in, the shops are dense and stocked with all sorts of baubles and trinkets, and in-between all of it are sprawling meadows, hills and forests that hide dank and dreary dungeons and other curious oddities to discover. Every ounce of the world is filled with evidence of a development team that truly loved and understood what fans of the series were looking for.
I was surprised to find just how much that presentational excellence actually worked for me, considering I was more interested in the gameplay going into it. I was curious as to how you make magic-only combat interesting, fun and impactful, especially over the course the near 70 hours it would take to see everything it has to offer. It turns out that all you really have to do is give the player an absurd amount of magical powers on short cooldowns, and graft the Arkham Asylum combat onto it. It didn’t take much time before I was pirouetting my way through enemies, 360-no-scoping everything that so much as threatened to attack me. A dozen hours or so and the only real wrinkle in combat has been when enemies use magical shields that require certain types of spells to dispel them. The combat is serviceable and visually exciting, but has yet to be overly challenging or exceptionally interesting in any way.
That actually leads me to one of my biggest issues with Hogwarts Legacy, you know, aside from the obvious one, which is how clunky playing it can feel. Early on, you’re given access to more spells than you can actually use at once, as spells are mapped to the face buttons and there’s only so many of those. Using another spell requires you to open your spell book and map the new spell to one of the face buttons in order to cast it. This makes for a real clumsy experience when you need to use something new to accomplish one of the many collectible-based challenges that litter the open world. Through upgrades you can open up more sets of mappable slots that you have to page through with the d-pad, but even that feels impossibly awkward to do when you’re in combat and dodging attacks.
Hogwarts Legacy follows the classic open world format that has you running from map marker to map marker, gathering collectibles, crafting items and so on and so forth. It isn’t reinventing the wheel with its structure, rather, it’s just a really solid one of those kinds of game, with a very cool and fan-service-filled setting. It doesn’t really deliver on the promise of being a student at this school either. The classes start out as fun little tutorial levels, but devolve into montages of wacky magic imagery, followed by the professor giving you a checklist of objectives to accomplish before the next story mission.
Hogwarts Legacy is a lot like AI generated art in that at a glance looks it phenomenal, but once you start to look a little closer at the details you notice how the hands are all fucked up and the NPCs are kind of phasing through the floor. Textures don’t load in correctly and the game hitches a lot both in and outside of the magic castle, whether it be décor, lighting or the people themselves. In fact, the other students seem to be nothing more than ephemera that you sprint through from objective to objective, listlessly lingering in common areas and meandering up and down hallways. It’s clear that developer Avalanche Software tried to make the world feel alive and lived in, but following NPCs around for more than a few seconds breaks that illusion when you see them get hitched on the environment or disappear into the walls. I know that walking through walls is a thing in Harry Potter, but these were not clever little nods, these were glitches.
But that’s all of Hogwarts Legacy. The game is a little messy and buggy, but it’s so expansive and filled with things for Harry Potter fans to experience. One of those experiences however, happens to be engaging in a significant aspect of the story that’s about crushing a goblin rebellion, which doesn’t seem great considering the already problematic portrayal of goblins in the world. Like I said, I don’t know much of anything beyond what I vaguely remember from seeing the films, but even I can see just how bad the depiction of the goblins is.
The moment to moment stuff in Hogwarts Legacy is very good though. Juggling enemies with endless magical combos, solving the bevvy of micro-puzzles that are scattered around the world, and jetting across the massive landmass, which I’ll call Wizardville, on your broom is a blast. In the open world, there’s definitely that, “just one more thing” aspect to exploring, where you just can’t help but take a little peek at what lay beyond the next ridge.
There’s a lot of game here, and even 12 hours in I’m still being introduced to new mechanics and concepts that open up entirely new questlines, activities and abilities. Oh, and if you like seeing numbers go up, then you’ll love the sheer amount of scored loot this game hurls at you. Genuinely, it becomes a problem with how frequently you have to do inventory management, and how you have to manually change the appearance of every piece of clothing every time you equip something new in order to avoid looking completely ridiculous.
There’s a lot for Harry Potter fans to like here, and it’s evident that the people who worked on this game poured a lot of love into crafting a love letter to the universe, and they deserve praise and reward for their work. While some could argue that most of the things we buy benefit some shitty CEO with horrendous views, something about the visibility of Rowling makes it harder to ignore than the usual bits of soul crushing capitalism we have to engage with on a daily basis.
As someone on the outside of this fandom looking in, I feel like there’s also an aspect of betrayal that permeates this whole situation. Someone creates this wonderful world that captivates a generation of children who literally grow up alongside these beloved characters, only for the creator to come out as a hateful piece of garbage. Maybe I’m completely off base, but even as someone who doesn’t identify as a fan, I kind of feel that way about this whole mess.
Ultimately it’s your decision as to whether or not you want to engage with Hogwarts Legacy and handle all the baggage that comes with it. You may want to support the people who made the game, which is fantastic, developers deserve adoration for their good work. But I also recognize that there’s no way to do that without kicking cash over to the shithead who thinks Trans people aren’t people, which is objectively wrong. Hogwarts Legacy is a fine game, made by people who clearly cared, based on the wonderous source material of an miserable and awful person. So do with that information what you will.