By: Patrick Weeber (Vanilla Bear)
Hogwarts is back! When the announcement from Portkey Games (Warner Bros) and Avalanche Software surfaced I was skeptical. Harry Potter’s lineage is a dicey one for me personally. I barely read the books. I have seen the movies too may times because people in my life love them. Plainly, the Wizarding World never sold me on its vision. Hogwarts Legacy brought a new level of excitement. This was due to beautiful trailers and the promise that I could be a dark witch and/or wizard. To me it looked like a fun magic combat game with the potential to tranform a well-known intellectual property. What ended up being released is a Game Of The Year contender. However, it is not without flaws. Let’s jump into why the story, combat, and technical skills push beyond its time.
The promise to cause chaos sold me. The intertwining main quest kept me obsessed. Why you start as a 5thyear is never fully explained. It opens up with Professor Fig guiding you to the sorting hat. His ability to get distracted makes you late for the grand ceremony. Depending on your house it only slightly changes dialogue, but it does give you access to that house’s common grounds and small design changes in quests. Once you start your journey it is revealed that there is an ancient magic seemingly all around you. Going to different classes helps you become proficient in certain skills like crafting or using enemy crushing cabbage. You will meet up with those professors and students of multiple houses to work through the story and earn new skills; including dark magic! The main quest involves a dark wizard named it or Rockwood, his right-hand man Theophilus Harlow, and the goblin leader Ranrok. Ranrok wants the ancient magic to take control and get back at wizards for their history of enslavement. Natsai (Natty) Onai, Poppy Sweeting, and Sebastian Sallow take the lead as far as student relationships. Each has a motive you learn over time that make you question right versus wrong. Natty’s wants revenge for her father’s death. Poppy is the daughter of a poaching family. Sebastian is the star of the show for me though. He is trying to save his sister from curse and guides you down the dark path. I was not on my broom fast enough when a quest for him popped up. My time with the story showed me something on the level of the Xenoblade franchise. It had been years before I felt emotionally invested in what minor characters were doing and tying intersting skill rewards to them only enhanced the dopamine hit. Chocolate Bear loved the puzzle design. He did tell me that the the worst of those were the Merlin Trials. They are mostly tedious and only give you more inventory space, which is vital as you collect gear. I can not comment much on the puzzles because puzzles are not my favorite. Even if well done I find them distractions from the story experience. Even with that slight issue the main story puzzles are super engaging and had me trying to complete them with out assistance. I will give credit where it is due! I tried to avoid major spoilers as this story is powerful and excellently weaved to keep you going. I lost sleep multiple nights wanting to know what was going to happen next.
Everything I just wrote could describe a movie or tv show. I want to bring it back to what makes it a video game. The combat is on a level I haven’t seen since Nier: Automata. The combat system was almost perfect. The customization, wide range of skills, and options to grow your character’s strengths through Professors keep you adventuring across the sprawling open-world design. You go from basic attack spells to collecting magical beasts in your Room of Requirment. Based on a cooldown system it is up to the player to figure out how to attack, dodge, perry, and format skills to create more effective combos. You must prepare for large battles in this game or you may just get your teeth kicked in by a troll. The game does struggle with reuse of enemies like death eaters, preachers, and spiders. The threat to face a dragon comes up but never happens. You may not care based on how the story shapes their need in the world. This is a forgettable deficiency when you roll up to a poacher encampment, curse multiple enemies, and then hit them with Avada Kadavra. All of them disappear from the screen making you feel like a god. Interestingly, this feels like an accomplishment because you cannot just spam these spells. Consideration is required when setting up an epic loot grab. Unfortunately, the process to switch sets of four spells did feel clunky using R2 and the D-Pad. It felt smoother when area of affect spells became a part of your arsenal because they could buy you time to plan attacks on the fly. What they did nail is the design of the magical beasts. Going to an area could reveal a hamster-like fur ball or their reimagination of a unicorn. If the combat and beast design were upgraded slightly I would throw my wallet at Portkey Games for early access.
Hogwarts Legacy ran out of the gate with excellently curated music. It gave you a feeling of mystery as you walked around Hogwarts findings its hidden halls, whimsy as you adventured on a broom, and let you know when it was time to prepare for battle. Broom flying was a feat in itself. Until later in the game I tended to avoid fast travel in attempts to upgrade my broom and see the world from above. There was so much to find on your way to completing a quest. I would get taken off track for hours. The balance of exploration still kept a sense of urgency with your main goal. The technical shortcomings are where a potential sequel would require legitimate thought. In one case entire quests get halted because the next marker just doesn’t populate. You can tell that the recreation of Hogwarts caused issues as well, despite it being incredibly detailed and in iconic spots a one-to-one likeness. It does cause you to stand at doors with a spinning circle for a few seconds. Kin to the nostalgic Apple pinwheel. The voice acting is serviceable. The largest sin to me though is the lack of inventory space and tying its growth to the Merlin puzzles explained previously. Maybe tie this to level growth or specific gear given through main story quests. I would like to see the gear system become less prominent regardless but that could make it serve a larger purpose if maintained. The small upgrades each outfit gives do not provide a noticeable advantage to you as the player. With so much good as you’re playing these seem to be merely inconveniences.
Overall, Portkey Games and Avalanche Software have done the unthinkable. Portkey is a new division of gaming for Warner Bros and Avalanche Software’s last major release was a Cars racing game. You truly become immersed in the world and in my case choose the path of Dark Witch. Being that the fixes in the game I would want were not game breaking they are easy to look past. The intentionally placed points of interest, well put together story, and complex side characters create an experience worth the $70. One last major note is that they reference not having Quidditch far too many times to make it suspicious. Look out for DLC or a new entry that allows competive wizarding! An off the wall theory I have is that a sequel could allow you to countinue based on your final choice and you may just become a leader of the death eaters. Or even set 50 years later where you need to unravel a half-century long Jack-the-Ripper style serial murder. Yes, that would end up with you having to choose whether to kill or become Voldemort’s Second. The future of what was achieved here makes it so exciting to think about what else is in the works. There’s already buzz of a boosted and improved Wizarding World films and TV shows division. What theorys do you have? What do you want to see for the future of the famous Wizarding World? Seriously! Myself and Chocolate Bear want to discuss it.
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