Hogwarts Legacy is based on the Wizarding World universe created by J.K. Rowling. You can read more about Rowling’s history of transphobic remarks as well as find resources to support LGBTQ organizations here.
Hogwarts Legacy will almost certainly be one of the biggest, best-selling, and most debated games of 2023. Yet, at a time when discourse can emerge from pieces of entertainment that barely deserve a second thought, it’s worth noting that Hogwarts Legacy is actually a very good game. At the very least, there are aspects of the title that are not only a lot of fun but, in many ways, are pretty surprising.
However, none of those surprising aspects caught me more off-guard than the game’s sense of adventure. That probably seems like an odd thing to highlight when you’re talking about an action-adventure game, but at a time of stagnation for the open-world titles that more and more Triple-A developers have come to rely on, the ways Hogwarts Legacy captures a classic feeling of adventure elevates if over the complacency it could have easily succumbed to.
Hogwarts Legacy Doesn’t Try To Offer Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
I spoke about this briefly when we looked at some of the things Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t tell you, but one of Hogwarts Legacy’s best features is how much it doesn’t let you do right away.
Many (though certainly not all) open-world games are practically sold on the idea of letting you do pretty much whatever you want as soon as you want to do it. They give you access to a massive playground and all the toys you could ever want before sending you off to make your own adventure. Some restrictions often apply (gated areas, unlockable abilities, etc.), but many modern open-world games want you to say “look at all of this stuff” as soon as possible in order to justify their increasingly higher budgets and increasingly larger price tags.
Hogwarts Legacy takes a slightly different approach to that setup. Actually, when you first start the game, you may be surprised by how much you seemingly can’t do. You can’t really leave the castle, you can’t fly on a broom, you can’t use many spells, and you can’t even properly level up your character.
In many cases, you won’t unlock the ability to do some of those things until you’ve spent a few (or significantly more) hours with the game. Yet, you’ll be aware of the existence of many of those mechanics pretty much right away. For instance, you’ll immediately see that you can unlock certain doors, but you’ll have to go through much of the game without the ability to do so.
In the wrong hands, that approach could have easily frustrated the Veruca Salt gamers of the world who want it now. In Hogwarts Legacy, though, that restraint pays off in some remarkable ways.
When you finally get your own broom in Hogwarts Legacy, you feel a sense of exhilaration and freedom that wasn’t achievable before. When you finally get to capture beasts and raise them in the Room of Requirement, you start to reexamine the significance of elements of the game you only previously offered a passing glance at. When you finally unlock the World Map in Hogwarts Legacy, your jaw will drop at the sheer scope of the experience compared to what already felt like a pretty sizable title.
The magic trick behind that last reveal is the same magic that makes much of the rest of the game work as well as it does. Hogwarts Legacy certainly isn’t bigger than many modern open-world titles, but it feels so much bigger than those games because the developers chose to exercise degrees of restraint. There are numerous milestone discoveries in Hogwarts Legacy, and most of them make the game feel so much larger and more alive than it did before.
“Discovery” is the keyword here. The size of an open-world game is only as impressive as it makes you feel. Modern World of Warcraft expansions may technically be larger than their classic counterparts, but those older games sometimes seem bigger because they make more parts of your journey feel more significant. By slowly distributing its most magical moments rather than rattling them off during the pitch like a used car salesman, Hogwarts Legacy invokes the sensation of a proper adventure better than other modern open-world titles of its size.
Hogwarts Legacy Is Filled With Discoveries and Secrets It Wonderfully Lets You Miss
When I think of secrets in many modern games (especially open-world games) I often actually think of Easter eggs. At a time when many developers seem terrified of the idea of players missing something, true secrets are often limited to visual gags or collectibles largely meant for the 100% crown.
It’s a far cry from a time when more developers seemed more willing to hide pretty substantial parts of an experience from all but the most curious. Something like discovering Reptile in Mortal Kombat probably would have been cool if it was part of the main game, but it certainly enhanced the flavor of the thing to realize that something you had already been enjoying was somehow hiding something like that from you.
Hogwarts Legacy certainly features secrets designed to cater to the Easter egg and completionist crowds, but I often found myself surprised by how many fairly substantial secrets the game lets you miss.
For instance, because I chose Ravenclaw as my starting house, I actually encountered one of the game’s “Puzzle Doors” early than some players might. I knew I could somehow open the door, but I just couldn’t figure out how right away. I convinced myself that they must require an ability I didn’t have yet, but it turns out that they were actually math puzzles that I could have solved at any time. There is a missable sheet hidden in the game that would have helped me figure that out, but I could have solved it on my own without ever knowing that sheet existed.
Not every puzzle in the game is like that, though. It turns out there are indeed numerous Metroidvania-like puzzles in the game that you can’t solve until you’ve acquired certain abilities. That blend of logical solutions and progression puzzles constantly keeps you on your toes. Can you not solve this puzzle yet, or are you just not looking at it the right way?
As noted above, that approach is enhanced by the fact that the game is constantly teasing you with the presence of such secrets. That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s surprisingly not. The game has this way of letting you know something may be possible without sacrificing the thrill of figuring it out or frustrating you with the kind of puzzles that practically demand a guide.
It’s not just puzzles and collectibles, though. There are so many intriguing pieces of worldbuilding, gameplay, and storytelling that are tucked away in Hogwarts Legacy that can easily be missed if you simply choose to look elsewhere. While I kind of hate that many of them require liberal use of the Revelio spell (Hogwarts Legacy’s equivalent of the revolutionary Detective Mode feature from the Arkham games), it’s a testament to the quality of the game’s secrets that I constantly felt compelled to look for them for reasons that went beyond completionism.
At a time when a game like Elden Ring can become a bonafide blockbuster, it’s refreshing to see more developers trust in the thrill of figuring things out. Hogwarts Legacy is certainly not on that level, but it at least puts some faith in the idea you will seek out parts of the game that are worth finding.
Combat, Dungeons, and The Other Adventures Around Every Corner
Going into Hogwarts Legacy, I was most worried about the game’s combat system and world exploration. The former never shined in preview videos, and the latter felt like it could so easily be an afterthought compared to the appeal of wandering around Hogwarts. Yet, both those aspects turned out to be two of Hogwarts Legacy’s surprising strengths.
To be fair, I severely underestimate the game’s combat system. Like the Arkham games or Shadow of Mordor, it often emphasizes battling multiple enemies at once while dodging and countering incoming attacks. That style of combat is almost always inherently satisfying, but it’s enhanced here by both the weight of Hogwarts Legacy’s abilities and the surprising amount of creativity the game affords you.
Despite not being as visually elaborate as they are in some other titles, spells in Hogwarts Legacy often feel surprisingly impactful. The game relies on those “floating numbers” that are so often the bane of modern action sequences, but enemies rarely feel like mere bullet sponges. There’s a wonderful one-to-one sensation of firing off a spell and seeing, feeling, and responding to its impact.
That sensation is enhanced by the almost puzzle-like elements of that combat system. You usually only have quick access to a limited number of spells at a time, which instantly encourages you to experiment with various combos and approaches. Many are viable, but the idea that there is somehow an even better way to do things feels persistent enough to ensure that you can spice up even otherwise mundane encounters.
The same is true of the game’s dungeons. Yes, Hogwarts Legacy features several dungeon-like areas, and I can tell you right now that they’re not going to make you forget about The Elder Scrolls and gaming’s very best examples of that concept. They’re way less frequent, not nearly as elaborate, and, much like the combat, won’t offer too much of a challenge to more experienced players.
Yet, I’d be lying if I told you that those puzzle and secret-filled caverns didn’t often invoke the same sensations that the best video game dungeons are designed to invoke. Those areas could have been nothing more than the enemy camps, watch towers, and other barely-there distractions we see in so many modern open-world games, but the team took the time to implement these areas that make you stop, think, and experiment, and they did it in a way that feels true to the larger world they were trying to create.
You could call my fondness for the game’s traditional adventure elements a symptom of so many other games abandoning such concepts, and I couldn’t blame you. Honestly, you’re probably right. However, I think that there are some ways that Hogwarts Legacy breaks (or at least treads) relatively new ground by simply adhering to tropes that we haven’t seen quite so much of quite as recently.
That Old Familiar Feeling
I was actually going to compare Hogwarts Legacy to classic Legend of Zelda games in the headline of this article, but that didn’t feel entirely accurate. Those games are ultimately going for different things, and each ultimately does some things better, and some things worse, than the other. We’ve never seen a Zelda game that looks as good as Hogwarts Legacy, and Hogwarts Legacy has a long way to go before it can match the best Zelda dungeons.
Still, that comparison kept leaping to mind when I thought of the best parts of my time with Hogwarts Legacy. Maybe it’s because Hogwarts Legacy ultimately relies on that same Zelda-like combo of action, puzzles, and intelligently gated exploration at least as much as it relies on certain open-world conventions. Maybe it’s because the game depends as much on music, memorable visual design, and secrets to enhance the scope of its adventure. And yes, maybe I’m just desperate enough for a traditional Zelda-like game that I’m starting to see them wherever I look.
In the end, though, I think that comparison can most easily be attributed to a feeling. Games like Zelda and Hogwarts Legacy have this way of offering those fabled journeys of a thousand miles where almost every step feels like a true part of a grander quest rather than a sometimes aimless and burdensome part of just getting to your destination.
There are certainly negative things to be said about Hogwarts Legacy, and we’ll be saying some of them soon enough. If there is anything other open-world developers should take from it, though, it’s the realization that we are at a turning point where the scope of such games will be measured by the sense of adventure in even the smallest parts of them rather than the number of quests, the number of collectibles, or the dimensions of a digital map alone.