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Hogwarts Legacy Review: So Much Controversy For Such An Underwhelming Experience

EDITORS' RATING : 7 / 10
Pros
  • Engaging narrative and cinematics
  • Beautifully crafted version of Hogwarts and surrounding areas to explore
Cons
  • An average adventure game experience that doesn't bring anything new to the table
  • Glitches can take you out of the moment
  • Can't escape the shadow of its creator

A PS5 code was provided to ZaaZ for this review. "Hogwarts Legacy" launches on February 10, 2023, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Is there a single video game title that's been marred in greater controversy than "Hogwarts Legacy?" The political discourse surrounding "Mortal Kombat" in 1992 is certainly up there. The conversation that swirled around run-and-gun titles like "Duke Nukem" and "DOOM" following the Columbine High School shooting is as well. More recent controversies have focused on hostile workplaces throughout the industry — most notably at Activision Blizzard — as well as developer "crunch," which was especially prevalent with "Cyberpunk 2077."

But, from "Hogwarts Legacy's" former lead designer to J.K. Rowling's anti-trans Twitter activity (and a PLETHORA of other things), arguably, the controversies and resulting discourse surrounding the latest entry in the "Harry Potter" universe takes the cake in the modern era of major video game releases.

When it comes to the release, and ultimately, reception of "Hogwarts Legacy," one thing is clear: this isn't a black-and-white situation. That's easily an oversimplification, but just about every murky shade of gray is present with this particular release. At the same time, the "Harry Potter" IP — whether that be via books, film, video games, or amusement parks — arguably transcends its creator. It will never rid itself of these shadows completely, of course.

For the final thought as to whether or not you should pick up "Hogwarts Legacy," head to the last section of this review. Otherwise, here's what ZaaZ's experience of the game was like, presented as cut-and-dry as possible: "Hogwarts Legacy" feels like an expected "Harry Potter" experience that ultimately boils down to an underwhelming game.

Return to Hogwarts

"Hogwarts Legacy" is an action-packed adventure game set in the wizarding world of "Harry Potter." The game takes place 100 years before the events of the original books that started it all, offering players a unique opportunity to explore a different, yet very familiar and inviting era in the world of magic. The game follows the journey of the 15-year-old player protagonist who has just arrived at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a gifted fifth-year student. After developing their initial magical abilities — along with an up-close-and-personal encounter with a deadly dragon — they embark on a thrilling journey filled with spells, mystery, wondrous creatures, and the dark arts.

One of the highlights of the game is the beautifully crafted version of Hogwarts and its surrounding areas. The castle and its many magical elements have been expertly designed, accurately capturing the magic of the beloved universe. The in-depth details of the castle and world in general are impressive and offer a fully immersive experience. As the newest student at the school, you'll have the chance to explore the iconic castle, interact with its many magical elements, and uncover its secrets.

We've played this type of game before

In addition to exploring the grounds of Hogwarts, you will also engage in combat as you cast spells and battle against various creatures and other enemies. The combat system is easy to pick up, and goes hand-in-hand with the oddly satisfying process of learning new spells, which comes in the form of pattern-following and timed button-hitting sequences.

It's easy to feel like a true witch or wizard as you cast spells upon your enemies, although the difficulty level leaves quite a bit to be desired. Although attack and defensive spells can be strung together in an impressively fluid manner, most enemies (or mobs of them) can be taken out pretty easily by spamming the same casted spells.

"Hogwarts Legacy" also has its fair share of technical hiccups that completely ruin the immersive experience. Camera angles can be annoyingly finicky, especially during combat. There are plenty of moments where the game's animations seem to glitch out — a frequent one being the delayed cutscene that takes place well after you've arrive at your intended waypoint. Most of these issues are minor and can be overlooked (and will likely be fixed in a future update), but they do take you out of the moment.

A cinematic experience, but there are other options out there

Undoubtedly, the best feature of "Hogwarts Legacy" is its cinematic element, particularly in the way of its cutscenes and engaging dialogue. From the beginning, the game masterfully combines the magic of the wizarding world with stunning graphics and excellent voice acting, immersing you fully in the story. The cutscenes are particularly noteworthy, as they offer a captivating blend of drama, magic, and intrigue that brings the world of Hogwarts to life.

However, it's important to note that other games also provide a similar experience without even a hint of the controversy that surrounds "Hogwarts Legacy." For instance, "The Academy: The First Riddle" offers a similar experience in that the game takes place in a magical school where players can explore the grounds and solve puzzles while developing relationships with other students and professors as they uncover the secrets of the school. Sounds familiar, right? These other "Harry Potter"-esque types of games may not have the budgetary backing of something like "Hogwarts Legacy," but they do offer players a chance to experience the magic and mystery of a "wizarding world" while avoiding any potential ethical pitfalls.

Good, but not very surprising

If you grew up an avid fan of Harry Potter and basked in all of the wonders that came along with his world, it's completely fair to wrestle with the decision of whether or not to pick up "Hogwarts Legacy." It's also 100% ok to move on from being super into a particular fictional world. But when playing this game, it's hard to escape the feeling that the fans deserve better in so many ways.

At the very least, grappling with the decision to play the game is plenty fair. Is cherry-picking the ways in which we show support for different values and causes the right way to go about it, though? That's ultimately a larger conversation, and shouldn't be driven by any critic's subjective review of a video game.

Whether or not it ever gets a pass to rest on its own laurels, separated from any of its controversies, "Hogwarts Legacy" is a game that "Harry Potter" fans would enjoy. Are you missing out if you don't play it? Not really. GOTY it is not (have you played "Season: A Letter to the Future" yet?). 

"Hogwarts Legacy's" fun gameplay elements and visually charged cinematics are what anyone would, and should expect from a "Harry Potter" game. It certainly isn't a game-changer.

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