In its long history as a franchise, Harry Potter’s video games have never really been a central part. The novels were hugely popular, as were the feature film adaptations, while the games were on a separate tier for die-hards who couldn’t get enough of the world. With Hogwarts Legacy, that paradigm may be about to shift.
The game is certainly the most full-throated effort to launch Harry Potter into the realm of video games, and it seems like it’s largely been a success. Hogwarts Legacy has performed well critically, and it seems to be moving a decent number of units as well.
Whereas most prior Harry Potter games shave you playing as the main character from the books or films, this one is also distinct in that regard. Set almost a century before the books, the game sees you playing as a fifth-year student who has joined Hogwarts late. It’s a big leap headfirst into the world of gaming, and one that probably would’ve been better served as a less interactive story.
In many respects, Hogwarts Legacy has imitated what you might expect from an expensive, tier-1 video game. It features fairly sophisticated mechanics, classes that you can attend to upgrade your magical abilities, and a fairly open world that includes Hogwarts and its grounds, as well as Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Given the game’s 1899 setting, it’s undoubtedly interesting to explore every corner of this world and note what may be different about it from the one you experience in the books and movies.
Ultimately, though, there’s nothing all that innovative about the actual gameplay in Hogwarts Legacy. What’s cool about the game is where it’s set, and the implications its story might have for the rest of the Harry Potter canon. The game’s narrative, which follows a fifth-year student who is able to wield a surprising form of magic that no one else knows about, is also more than fascinating enough to be consumed by a more traditional medium like a film or TV show.
In fact, the weakest part of that narrative is the way the game allows players to choose how it will end. While the game is not open world in the way that something like Red Dead Redemption 2 is, Hogwarts Legacy does offer you several different endings based on the choices that your character makes.
In some circumstances, those choices are interesting and speak to the various thematic ideas running through the original material. In this game, though, those choices feel like a kind of false promise — instead of one definitive ending, you get one of two options that aren’t actually as different as they might seem to be. Hogwarts Legacy is clearly sowing the seeds for a sequel, and that sequel will likely throw whatever choice you make at the end of the first game out the window. As a result, the stakes, such as they are, are even less significant than they might seem to be as you’re playing the game.
One of the best things about the universe of Harry Potter is that it has a clear structure. Each book or movie covers the course of a single year, and while almost all of them climax at the end of the term, they have plenty of space for other developments that are less directly related to the central story over the course of their arcs. While these digressions can be amusing, both the books and films also allow for the omission of everyday life. Harry goes through an entire year, and much of that year is just the monotony of going to school, even if that school happens to be for witches and wizards.
When you play Hogwarts Legacy, though, the daily grind is part of the point. Living and studying at Hogwarts may sound thrilling on paper, but it’s a bit of a letdown in reality. It turns out that school is just school, and while classes are not the totality of Hogwarts Legacy, they’re enough of the game that if you find them boring, you may have a problem.
Some people don’t play video games for story, and that’s totally fair. One of the things that makes them their own art form is that, if the gameplay is good enough, everything else is virtually irrelevant. No one picks up the latest Call of Duty because they care about why this platoon is going after those zombies.
If you buy a game called Hogwarts Legacy, though, one of the reasons you’ve picked it up is undoubtedly because of the connection you already have to the world it’s set in. It’s a game built on the backs of stories told in other mediums, and as such, there are very few people who pick up the game solely because of the game itself. They want to experience the world, and ideally, go on a journey as wonderful and fantastical as the one that Harry and his friends took.
Unfortunately, the decisions that the makers of Hogwarts Legacy made to adapt it to a video game format ultimately make the story weaker than it might have been otherwise. What made Harry Potter such a memorable adventure to the people of all ages who watched or read it were the way the characters interacted with the world around them. This was a story primarily interested in how its characters dealt with the world around them, and allowing players to have agency undercuts the strength of the characters in Hogwarts Legacy.
If you had been able to choose whether or not Harry got rid of the Elder Wand at the end of the seventh book, you would fundamentally undercut the thematic import of that choice for him as a character. By that same token, the decisions you make at the end of Hogwarts Legacy leave you with a muddled picture of the character you’ve been playing as throughout the game.
Hogwarts Legacy is easily the best Harry Potter video game ever made, but that doesn’t mean it should have been a video game at all. It’s an immersive look into a world that many people were yearning for, especially in light of the disappointing Fantastic Beasts series of movies that failed to fill the Potter-sized void in fans’ hearts.
And yes, the main Harry Potter movies that so many love are far from perfect. It can be hard in that format to get a full sense of the scope and wonder of this world, which is part of what makes Hogwarts Legacy so exciting for so many people. By playing the video game, you get the chance to look around Hogwarts yourself, totally unimpeded by whether Harry is focused on Cho Chang or one of Hermione’s boring subplots (sorry, Granger fans; she was mostly a pill throughout the entire franchise).
Ultimately, though, Hogwarts Legacy‘s story is weaker because of the decision to confine it to the gaming world. A movie wouldn’t have been ideal either, but a TV show, which allows room for its characters and setting to breathe, may have been an ideal fit for something as expansive as Hogwarts Legacy. That way, those who love this world would get to spend more time in it, and we would have gotten a story that felt a bit more complete and holistic.
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