What I'm Playing - No. 183
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Hogwarts Legacy (PS5)
Hogwarts Legacy is the type of huge RPG set in the Harry Potter universe my wife and I have been dreaming about for years. It features a lot of common mechanics from modern, open world action RPGs, like equipment, level ups, skill trees, and a bunch of collectibles scattered around the world. The largest thing that sets it apart from other open world games is its Wizarding World setting, but the IP isn’t the only thing holding up Hogwarts Legacy. It’s a very solid game in its own right, with a fast-paced, combo-heavy combat system, and a really cool traversal mechanic with its flying brooms.
You play as a character that you create and name. They’re starting Hogwarts late, entering as a fifth-year, for reasons that are never explained. I assume it’s meant to be left up to your imagination for role-playing purposes. On your way to Hogwarts, things get dangerous very quickly. A dragon attacks your flying carriage, you’re whisked away to a coastal ruin by a Portkey, then you and Professor Fig get locked in an ancient Gringotts vault. Through all this, you and Professor Fig discover that you can see traces of ancient magic, and find an artifact relating to it within the vault. You also learn that a dangerous goblin named Ranrok is now after you, and he has an army of loyalist goblin supporters ready to fight to take down wizardkind. Just normal stuff for a 15 year old wizard to deal with, really.
Once at Hogwarts, you pick which of the four houses you want to be in, which changes a few things throughout your playthrough. The most obvious differences are, of course, the trim color on your school robes and other house-themed gear you’ll find, and that you’ll only have access to your house’s common room. You can find the entrances to the other house common rooms around Hogwarts, but you won’t be able to go in. I chose Ravenclaw for my character, while my wife chose Hufflepuff, and the biggest change we noticed was in one of the early game main quests. We both had entirely different quests to do at one point, involving different NPCs and locations. The main questline returned to a single path after that, but it’s cool that there are some quest differences depending on the house you chose at the beginning.
Hogwarts itself was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. This will depend on how strong your Harry Potter nostalgia is, but I loved seeing locations from the books and movies brought to life and reimagined for Hogwarts Legacy. Places like the Great Hall look like they’ve been pulled straight from the films, and walking through them was so cool, it was almost surreal. There are also some random events you may witness when exploring the school that help liven up the environment, like Peeves playing pranks on students, or students playing pranks on eachother, or even the headmaster scolding students for some of these shenanigans. It’s clear the artists and designers have a lot of love for the source material, because Hogwarts is packed with little details. It’s easy to get lost in too. Even after finishing the game, I still don’t really have a good mental map of the place, but that might be because you don’t actually have to spend much time at Hogwarts.
Some early main story quests take place in the school or on its grounds, but after that the remainder of the main story missions largely take place in the surrounding area. You’ll have to return for a class now and then to learn to a new spell, and there are a number of side quests that pop up around Hogwarts as you progress through the game, but I found myself spending the majority of my time in Hogwarts Legacy outside of Hogwarts. It might have been cool if there was a school drama side arc, maybe something like a bully around the school who could have served as the main antagonist of some Hogwarts-centric plotline. Unless…you were the bully all along? That said, there is still plenty of stuff to do around Hogwarts. It’s an incredible, multi-layered area with lots of little secrets to find. I just wish it was a bit more involved in the main questline instead of mostly being relegated to one-off side quests.
The open world has plenty of stuff to do, but not so much that it feels overwhelming and the map doesn’t feel cluttered either. It helps that not all the mechanics and collectibles are available right away. They gradually introduce new collectibles like Ancient Magic Hotspots, Demiguise statues, Beasts, and more as you progress through the main quests. My favorite thing to do in the open world was flying around on a broom, hopping on it and taking off into the sky whenever you want is awesome. My first time flying back to Hogwarts after buying the broom in Hogsmead was extremely memorable. Seeing Hogwarts in front of me with the Black Lake stretching out below was breathtaking.
Instead of levelling up by defeating enemies and gaining experience points, you gain experience by completing and making progress in Challenges. Challenges consist of a wide range of activities, including standard things like defeating enemies, but there are also exploration-focused goals like Field Guide pages around the world, and a bunch of them are around Hogwarts and Hogsmead too. It’s cool that you’re rewarded with XP for more than just combat, it really makes it worth pursuing all the different systems and collectibles in the game.
Combat in Hogwarts Legacy feels very good. You have a basic cast attack that does a little damage, and you build combos using a mix of this basic cast, spells like Accio or Levioso to stun your enemies, and damaging spells like Diffindo. Those spells all have a cooldown after use, which you can speed up by landing more basic cast attacks. All attacks also charge up your Ancient Magic meter, and once it’s charged enough you can mix things up further by using Ancient Magic throws, which are basically Scarlet Nexus psychokinesis attacks where you grab and throw a nearby object. When the meter is even more charged, you can use Ancient Magic Finishers to instantly defeat weaker enemies and seriously damage stronger ones. Sometimes enemies will put up color-coded shields which you have to break by using a spell that matches the shield’s color before you can damage them with other spells. You can also block incoming attacks and counterattack if you guard with the right timing with a pretty generous window, and it does the spidey-sense thing before the attack hits you. There’s also a stealth mechanic where you can become semi-invisible by using the Disillusionment Charm. Enemies will still see you if you’re close enough to them in their line of sight, but if you sneak up behind them while hidden, you can use Petrificus Totalus to stealth kill them. All this makes for a solid combat experience similar to other modern action games like Spider-Man or Shadow of Mordor, but this time yer a wizard.
There are a number of dungeons throughout Hogwarts Legacy, most of which are involved in quests. These dungeons are separated from the overworld by a loading screen, and often feature a few puzzles requiring the use of specific spells, in addition to combat and boss battles. Most of the puzzles were pretty easy to figure out, a lot of them are solved by finding a box you can levitate and climb up to reach a higher area, or locating a few switches to hit with a spell and open a door. But some of the main story dungeons had a neat mechanic where you pass through an archway and things around the room change depending on which “side” of the archway you’re on. It’s tricky to explain, and it probably makes more sense seeing the gameplay, but this made for some fun puzzles and these were my favorite dungeons to go through. It reminds me a bit of at least one other game I can’t think of right now, where there were time travel mechanics and you had to flip between past and future to solve puzzles. If you know what game I’m trying to remember, please let me know!
Besides the main story and the numerous one-off side quests, there are also 3 relationship questlines with characters who become friends with your character over the course of their questline. There’s one of these with Natty, a Gryffindor, Sebastian, a Slytherin, and Poppy, a Hufflepuff. For some reason, there’s not one for anyone in Ravenclaw, so you don’t get to know any of the Ravenclaw NPCs very well as a result, even if you’re in Ravenclaw like my character was. It makes me wonder if a fourth questline for a Ravenclaw NPC was planned at some point, but had to be cut during development or something. These relationship quests are optional, you can complete them independently of the main story for the most part, although there are points where you need to progress in the main questline before the next relationship quest becomes available. I completed all three of these questlines, and they were all pretty enjoyable, but I have to say my favorite was definitely Sebastian’s. In the movies, Slytherins are painted mostly as the “bad guy” house, so it was really nice to see a more fleshed out Slytherin character like Sebastian, and his story arc was the most impactful of the three.
The Room of Requirement is your customizable home base in Hogwarts Legacy. You can conjure up and place objects purely for decorative purposes, and others that have practical uses like potions stations to brew potions to use in battle, or gardening stations to grow magical plants to sic on your enemies. After you unlock beast taming, the room expands with areas to let the beasts you’ve captured roam around, and here you can feed and brush them to get materials that you’ll need to upgrade and enchant your equipment. I didn’t get much into the decorating, I tried out a few decorative items but I wasn’t inspired to try and make my Room look particularly aesthetic. I placed the maximum number of potion and gardening stations though, and returned to the room periodically to resupply and upgrade my gear.
When you learn new spells, there’s a spell learning minigame where you have to press buttons at the correct times and move the joystick along a path to trace the wand movements of the spell. This was a very nice nostalgic reference to the spell learning minigames of the first few Harry Potter games, and it kind of feels like a blend of how you learned spells across the various platforms the tie-in games for the first two movies released on. As a kid, I played Sorceror’s Stone on the Game Boy Advance, and Chamber of Secrets on the PC, and looking at those two games it’s easy to see similarities to the minigame in Hogwarts Legacy.
The one complaint I have about the experience overall is that NPCs feel a bit dead sometimes. Like I mentioned, there are some cool scripted interactions they can have, like how your may randomly see a student being embarassed by the delivery of a Howler, with a few student onlookers nearby. That’s a really cool little detail! But students don’t really react to you most of the time. People you’ve done side quests for will have something to say to you, but many other NPCs don’t react to your presence at all. You can cast Incendio right next to them and they don’t flinch or even remark at all. This is hardly the only open world game like that, I’m pretty sure Horizon Zero Dawn is similar in that NPCs don’t react to you swinging your spear right in their face. It’s not something that you’ll notice for the vast majority of the gameplay though.
Hogwarts Legacy is a remarkable showing for developer Avalanche Software. The studio was owned by Disney for a period of about 10 years, and during that time they made a bunch of tie-in games for Disney movies, and also made the Disney Infinity games. So to go from that to developing a game as massive and ambitious as Hogwarts Legacy is incredibly impressive. They’re still working on getting the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch versions of Hogwarts Legacy ready for release, but I’m really curious what their next project ends up being. With the huge financial success of Hogwarts Legacy, I think some sort of Wizarding World followup is guaranteed, maybe it’s story DLC for Hogwarts Legacy, maybe it’s Hogwarts Legacy 2. Only time will tell, but I’m excited and hopeful for the future.
My final time was 38 hours, which includes completing the main story, the 3 relationship questlines, and a handful of side quests and collectibles. If you play the game and focus only on the main story, you could get through it much faster.