Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Hogwarts Legacy - An unpolitical review
I have now played 25 hours of Hogwarts Legacy. I completed 34% of the challenges, and 41% of the quests. So I am still a good distance from finishing the game, but am in far enough to have seen the large majority of the game systems and form an opinion about them. So, how is Hogwarts Legacy? In short, it is a good game, and you might want to buy it. But I guess, you want the long version.
The latest news about Hogwarts Legacy is that it outsold Elden Ring, which is quite an achievement. But that doesn't surprise me, because it speaks to the first major observation about the game: It is *very* accessible. In Elden Ring I mostly felt as if the game was designed for people a lot more hardcore than I am; in Hogwarts Legacy I feel as if it was designed for more casual gamers than me. Yes, I turned down the difficulty from normal to easy, but at easy the game is *really* easy for me, and that isn't even the lowest difficulty level. I could still turn it down a notch to "story mode". But the main point where I always feel that the game isn't designed for the more hardcore gamers is that it is far too easy to "game the game". For example, most loot comes from chest, and is random. Thus if you want a complete set of legendary gear, you don't have to do anything special, you simply savescum until you find it. And the chance of finding random legendary gear in a chest is high enough that it only takes you a few minutes of saving and reloading to get there. You can also respawn all the stuff you need by pressing a wait a few times while at a different location. For a MMORPG player, used to lots of limitations in order to prevent people from exploiting game systems, Hogwarts Legacy is astounding in doing away with all those limitations. If you want infinite money and xp quickly, there are ways to get there.
The difficulty setting affects a range of different things, including mini-games like nabbing beasts (if you do that a lot in order to get infinite money, you might want set difficulty to story mode temporarily to save time). But mainly it affects the speed of the enemies. In a combat system which revolves around pressing the right button at the right time, to dodge or attack, this difficulty system is really exactly what is needed to make combat accessible to people who *aren't* experts in souls-like action combat systems. More "serious" gamers can easily turn the difficulty up and have a challenge, if they want to. Overall the combat system is pretty good, with tons of different options. There is a large variety of spells, but also other tools like potions, or aggressive vegetables you can use. And no, I'm not making that last part up. The only critique that I have about the combat system is that it doesn't always feel very "Harry Potter"-like. I don't think the source material ever had Harry dodge-rolling.
Whatever difficulty you are playing at, you can modify the power of your character a lot with gear, gear upgrades, gear traits, and talents. None of these systems have been designed by true hardcore gamers, because they are all rather easy to push into overpowered territory. Take some points in stealth talents, and the stealth system becomes ridiculously overpowered: Backstabs are insta-kills on most mobs, and relatively easy to land. I took out whole goblin fortresses by stealth, without ever getting into regular combat. If you have a favorite spell, let's say Incendio, you can turn that one into an AoE spell with a talent point, and then boost its power by putting the same trait into every piece of gear you wear. It all stacks, making that one single spell an absolute powerhouse. Is all of this balanced? Certainly not; but it is a whole lot of fun.
The one thing where a gamer will be annoyed with Hogwarts Legacy is that the talent system doesn't have any sort of reset mechanic. You can't try out different builds. You can only take whatever build you believe in, or whatever talents you feel like, and go with it. Theoretically you can take a different build in your next playthrough, but that brings me to Hogwarts Legacy's biggest problem: Replayability is low. If you play the game again, making all choices different than in the previous playthrough, the game changes very little. You will still have 95% of identical dialogues, cut-scenes, and events, in mostly the same order. Availability of many side-quests is linked to your main-quest progress. And you can't ignore the main quest, you need it to unlock various game systems. Yes, you could try to explore all of Hogwarts as soon as you get there, but then you won't have the spells you'll actually need to gather all the collectibles and treasures. It is a lot more efficient to postpone your full exploration of the castle until you have the unlock spell, and that doesn't happen before fall, after the first keeper trial in the main story.
If I compare Hogwarts Legacy with Breath of the Wild, which for me is the reference of open world games, Hogwarts Legacy feels a lot more linear. Breath of the Wild has a main story, but that part of the game is relatively short, while the open world exploration is rather long. Hogwarts Legacy feels more like the other way around. That is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your preferences. The amount of content in Hogwarts Legacy is very large, so you can probably spend a hundred hours on your first playthrough before you have seen every quest and visited every interesting location. If I compare Hogwarts Legacy with Elden Ring instead, then Hogwarts Legacy is basically the Dark Souls game that everybody can play easily, basically the exact opposite design philosophy as the actual Dark Souls games.
I don't give review scores, but Hogwarts Legacy isn't a 10 out of 10 game. But it is a very good game, which offers quite a lot of entertainment for the 60 bucks price tag, and is very accessible. Recommended!