Watching the State of Play presentation for Hogwarts Legacy a week ago, I thought I may have been gazing into the Mirror of Erised, completely entranced by what Avalanche Software seems to have accomplished.
An immaculate rendition of Hogwarts and the surrounding Wizarding World, including places not previously brought to life in the films. An original, customizable witch or wizard with a mysterious past. The full spate of magic courses, including Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Herbology. And, my personal favorite, new and returning fantastic beasts that can be encountered and tamed.
All of these aspects seem to be combined with fluid combat and an interesting, original story in a universe that has been well-trodden since the late ‘90s. As I found myself gasping and muttering “wow” under my breath, a part of my brain felt something. A part separate from the part that grew up loving Harry Potter and his stories (I owe quite a bit of my love of reading to those novels). A kind of uneasiness about what the finished product might be. Flashes of my excitement for previous blockbuster games that came out in a less-than-stellar condition crossed my mind.
What follows will be my opinion of the Hogwarts Legacy presentation, and what I think about the potential of the game overall.
A Stylish Spellcaster
There were several points in the presentation that gave us a look at what actual combat in Hogwarts Legacy looks like. Long gone are the third-person shooter trappings of the last few movie tie-ins. They are replaced by what appears to be an ultra-stylish, free-flow combat system that has you flinging spells that stun and disorient in addition to doing damage.
The player character spins around and flicks their wand in response to multiple attackers in different directions, casting spells and deflecting incoming curses with the same deftness that was shown in the films. What wasn’t shown in the movies, however, was the extent of the violence that can be inflicted on others with magic.
Combat looks absolutely brutal. Quick shots showed the player character stealing an armored warrior’s massive sword and flinging it back, causing the warrior to shatter. Another showed a pretty malicious attack for someone wearing a Gryffindor cloak, where a goblin was lifted into the air and repeatedly smashed into the ground. This appears to have been a finishing move of some kind, so maybe you can’t just go around beating enemies to a pulp and making them wish you had just said: “Avada Kedavra”, though that is also an option in this game.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I worry that the fights in this might just be too violent considering the source material. For some reason, seeing a 15-year-old throw people around and light them on fire made me feel uneasy. I do understand that there is a “good or bad” wizard system at play that may be influenced by things like this.
The Persona-fication Of Hogwarts
The core of Hogwarts Legacy appears to be the time you spend in the titular school taking classes, interacting with fellow students, and exploring the grounds. The way these mechanics were presented might seem awfully familiar to anyone who has played a Persona game. These systems seem like a no-brainer for a series that centers around a place of learning whether it’s magical or mundane, and I wonder why it took them so long to reach this realization.
The actual structure of how and when you attend classes wasn’t clear from what was shown, but you will learn new skills just by attending these classes. For instance, your Defense Against the Dark Arts class will teach you spells for in-class duels and outside encounters, and your Herbology class will let you use Mandrakes in combat.
You’ll also be able to develop relationships and team up with other students in a similar fashion to Persona’s S-Link system. A few of these characters were shown. I hope there are more than those three, but each of their stories appears to be fairly deep and engaging.
I think this is where the game will shine, even if everything around it falls apart. Getting the full Hogwarts education experience looks like it will be magical for people like me who grew up imagining what it would be like to exist in that world. Persona has proven that the formula works, and it is still fairly novel considering how old the series is. The last time I played a game outside of Persona that used an S-Link-like system was Attack on Titan 2, and it was also great there.
The Entire Wizarding World
The biggest pull for the game when it was first shown was the exploration of areas outside of Hogwarts. The presentation went on to say that there are small villages that “pepper the countryside”, that there are many dungeons, and Hogsmeade is also available for exploration. What wasn’t made clear was how this would all be set up.
Will we be getting one massive open map in the vein of Death Stranding, where you can fly anywhere either by broom or hippogriff? Or will it be many smaller maps that are only accessible after a loading screen? The fact that this wasn’t mentioned makes me suspicious, since PS5 seems to be the lead console on this and Sony loves to push the “ultra-fast loading” and “seamless worlds” that the PS5 is capable of.
The presentation understandably doesn’t show any loading screens, but it does show several pathways on the school grounds as well as flying over cliffs and into the small villages previously mentioned. It could go either way, but I’m thinking that the actual experience of exploring the wizarding world will be less than what they are presenting it as, either as a technical limitation or a lack of time to get it right.
There is so much that I wasn’t able to cover about Hogwarts Legacy. On top of what I outlined, the game also includes a Witcher-Esque potion system, Beasts class, multiple upgrade trees, and actual, for-real base building within the room of requirement. This is where my anxiety comes from.
We’ve seen overly-ambitious projects come and go, disappointing the fans they overly hyped. Cyberpunk 2077 comes to mind as a recent example, which is only just now approaching a state of being good after being released two years ago.
I hope Hogwarts Legacy is released as a solid, complete product, but I just can’t help but feel that it’s all just a bit too much. Avalanche could be conjuring up an illusion of the perfect Wizarding World game, or they could be crafting an actual magical experience for newcomers and fans alike.
Unfortunately, we won’t know until Holiday 2022 when the game is currently scheduled to release. It’s been delayed once already, and the current climate of the industry isn’t conducive to meeting deadlines.
Mike has been playing video games since he was able to hold a controller, having been fascinated by Sonic 2 on his mom’s Sega Genesis. That fascination and passion for the art form has grown exponentially nearly 30 years later, and he doesn’t see that fading away anytime soon.