Hogwarts Legacy Isn’t the Dream Harry Potter Game Because It Fails as an RPG
Hogwarts Legacy fails to reach its full potential because it isn't committed to being the RPG it needed to be.
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.
Ever since it was announced, Hogwarts Legacy has been burdened with the expectation of delivering a kind of dream game for Harry Potter and Wizarding World fans. After years of smaller Harry Potter video game adaptations of varying quality, Hogwarts Legacy was supposed to be the game that would finally allow us to create a student, attend Hogwarts, and make our own adventure.
In many ways, Hogwarts Legacy delivers an incredible experience that exceeds some of those expectations. However, it ultimately fails to offer that “dream” game experience because of the many surprising ways the game fails as an RPG.
Hogwarts Legacy Has a Main Character Problem
One of the first things you’ll do in Hogwarts Legacy is create your character. The game doesn’t feature the most robust character creation system out there, but it more than does the job. Besides, this is meant to be your Hogwarts adventure. Your Hogwarts adventure wouldn’t be as much fun if you didn’t get to play as your own character.
However, that’s not exactly what Hogwarts Legacy offers. You’re actually playing as a fifth-year student who is only just now attending Hogwarts. That’s certainly unusual enough, but it turns out that your character also has the rare ability to see and use a secret form of ancient magic and seems to be a person of great interest to many of the prominent people you’ll encounter. You can determine their name and looks, but those options often feel like window dressing on a character that isn’t entirely your own and is closer to being of the developers’ design.
While the Hogwarts Legacy team has only offered passing explanations for why you start the game as a fifth-year student, it’s easy enough to assume why that decision was made. Not only does a fifth-year student naturally have more access to certain parts of the Wizarding World lore (taking their O.W.L.S., visiting Hogsmeade, etc.), but they’re able to learn more complicated and interesting spells. Playing as a first-year student would have presented several gameplay hurdles.
The problem is that Hogwarts Legacy struggles to adequately address the inherent awkwardness of starting Hogwarts as a fifth-year. Most of the ways they do try to address that strange situation involve treating your character as if they’ve been there all along. Your character makes friends with ease right away, they’re going on world-spanning adventures on their first or second day, and they stumble upon some of Hogwarts’ biggest secrets in record time.
The biggest issue with that setup, though, is your character’s power level. You would think that a student joining Hogwarts in their fifth year would be far behind on everything. Your character is different, though. They’re incredible at pretty much everything and they’re able to learn it all pretty much right away. There’s no such thing as slowly getting better at spells as you use them (outside of Talent Points that offer basic ability upgrades), and Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t do the thing most other RPGs do by forcing you to be good at some things and worse at others. You’re not really building your own Hogwarts student; you’re furthering the agenda of this character that the game needs to exist.
There are story explanations for your character’s power level, but they don’t address the core problem of having to play as a “chosen one” regardless of what kind of character you really want to be. Actually, being the chosen one isn’t inherently the problem. Harry was a classic example of the chosen one archetype, and he wasn’t the best at everything or someone who fits in so easily with so many different people. A big part of what made the Harry Potter character so compelling was that he was constantly being challenged and constantly had to overcome a series of hurdles that often showed how his main character status was a blessing and a curse.
Meanwhile, your character is much closer to the cliche fan fiction writer avatar that everyone knows, loves, and respects. Maybe that’s what some are looking for, but having such limited control over the growth of a character that is positioned as your avatar in this world goes against one of the core tenants of the entire role-playing genre.
I recognize that there was no easy solution to this problem. Creating a game (or series of games) that let you live out a full seven-year journey through Hogwarts would have been a logistical nightmare. Maybe the game could have offered a Mass Effect-esque “catch-up” intro that let you make key decisions during flashback sequences to your first four years, but that obviously wouldn’t have pleased everyone either.
As it stands, though, I rarely felt like I was actually crafting my own Hogwarts student or meaningfully shaping their adventure beyond that character creation screen. That problem was exacerbated by another of the game’s major role-playing issues.
Hogwarts Legacy‘s Greatest Magic Trick Is the Illusion of Choice
Outside of creating your character, the first major decision you have to make in Hogwarts Legacy is which house to join. While I knew the game would ultimately let me make that decision, I still expected to take some kind of in-game quiz that would help me determine which house I may be best suited for. Quizzes like that have existed online for years, and RPGs like the Fallout series utilize their own kinds of quizzes to help you determine what kind of character you might want to be in their worlds.
Instead, Hogwarts Legacy asked me two basic questions about my character (one that didn’t affect the sorting at all) and then let me pick my house. Ok, that was a little anti-climactic, but surely my choice of house would have a meaningful impact on the rest of the game, right?
Not exactly. Outside of a unique quest and a few cosmetics (your common room, robes, etc.), your choice of house has no real impact on the game whatsoever. You don’t gain any statistical advantages or disadvantages, you get to interact with most of the same characters in the same ways, and there’s not even a hint of a seemingly obvious “factions” system that asks you to balance your relationship between the various houses, students, or professors.
That lack of benefits and consequences extends to many other aspects of the game. You are constantly presented with the illusion of being able to make a choice but the choices themselves rarely impact anything more significant than the next line of dialog. Even your choice of wand proves to be mostly meaningless (which is both lore-friendly and mechanically dull). There are a couple of decisions in the late game that will have a bigger impact on your adventure, but they largely feel like a fairly cheap way for the developers to technically claim that your choices can affect the game’s ending.
Combined with the main character problems noted above, your inability to consistently make meaningful decisions leaves you feeling like you’re playing someone else’s story rather than your own. It’s fine if that’s what the developers ultimately decided to go for, but those choices are clearly meant to make the game’s role-playing feel deeper than it is. Once you realize how meaningless most of those choices are, though, the game actually starts to feel a little smaller than it did before.
While that lack of substantial choices obviously impacts your ability to truly make your own character, watch them grow, and form dynamic relationships with the game’s (often otherwise interesting) collection of NPCs, that lack of genuinely compelling choices also negatively impacts the Hogwarts Legacy RPG experience in some truly bizarre ways.
Hogwarts Legacy Desperately Needs a Proper Morality System
Though pretty minor in the grand scope of Hogwarts Legacy controversies, some players were surprised to learn that the game would allow you to use the “Unforgivable Curses” (including the killing curse, Avada Kedavra). That revelation naturally led many fans to assume that Hogwarts Legacy would allow you to play as an evil character.
However, in an interview with GamesRadar, Hogwarts Legacy lead designer Kelly Murphy clarified that the game doesn’t feature a traditional good or evil morality system. Murphy then stated that each player “chooses whether or not to learn” the Unforgivable Curses and that “the world does react to their use.” Ultimately, though, the developers felt that punishing the player in any way for using those curses would be “too judgmental on the game maker’s part.”
That’s a lovely sentiment that quickly falls apart when you actually play the game. Yes, you can choose whether to learn those curses or not, but the choice ultimately comes down to “Would you like to know some extra, very powerful spells or not?” Certain narrative aspects of the game will change if you choose to learn those spells, but most of those changes are minor dialog differences. Some characters will acknowledge that you know and have used those curses, but few of them (even professors) will express anything more substantial than minor disappointment.
By choosing not to implement slightly more traditional morality mechanics in the name of not wanting to punish players, the game still ends up punishing players. It’s just that the only players who are punished are those who choose not to be evil (or at least kind of a jerk) from time to time.
Try as I might, I can’t recall a single decision in Hogwarts Legacy that offers any kind of benefit or unique experience for choosing the noblest option available to you (aside from an ending-based decision). The only incentive to be decent is to not briefly upset some NPCs. Meanwhile, those who choose to be evil will end up with more money, more spells, additional dialog sequences, and will still not alienate any major characters unless they choose to do so during specific scenes.
Maybe that’s part of the developer’s commentary on the world, but it’s a weak and frustrating decision from a role-playing perspective. Why bother to offer arbitrary morality-based choices at all if you’re not going to keep track of them in any real way? Why not have exclusive spells that are the equivalent of the Unforgivable Curses for those who make different decisions? For that matter, why not let the players who are willingly (and enthusiastically) choosing the path of darkness walk further down that road when it’s clear that so many want to do so?
The answers to those unanswered questions can likely be found in one of Hogwarts Legacy‘s worst RPG mechanics.
Hogwarts Legacy’s Gear System Is a Nightmare of Modern Game Design
One of the few ways that Hogwarts Legacy lets you impact your character’s gameplay growth is through the game’s gear system. You probably know the drill. As you play, you acquire new pieces of gear that gradually increases your power level. It’s a hallmark of the role-playing genre, and it’s a mechanic that has gradually made its way into more and more types of games.
Unfortunately, looting and equipping gear is a nightmare in Hogwarts Legacy. You are constantly acquiring new items, and many of them have little more to offer than a slight statistical bump. Because each piece of gear changes your appearance, though, you’ll often find yourself stuck in a menu changing the look of every equipable item via the game’s transmog system. Choose to ignore that transmog system, and you’ll soon find yourself running around in a nightgown, fedora, and pair of butterfly glasses like a recently freed house elf.
That transmog issue could be fixed with a simple patch that lets you create a universal visual preference for your gear, but the other problems are not so easily fixed. Acquiring new gear in an RPG is supposed to feel somewhat meaningful. Either the act of acquiring that item is significant, or the upgrades/abilities that piece offers will be substantial enough to change how you approach the game. Ideally, a good RPG offers plenty of both kinds of upgrades.
In Hogwarts Legacy, though, acquiring and equipping gear often feels arbitrary and mechanically frustrating. There is no reason you should be acquiring Legendary-level gear as early in the game as you do, and there is no reason you should be able to easily replace that Legendary gear because a common piece of gear offers an extra point of gear score. Until you get to the point of the game where you can take full advantage of the extra Trait slots that high-end Legendary gear offers, you’ll be constantly unequipping, equipping, and changing the looks of gear without giving a second thought to the items themselves. Those extra gear score points add up over the long run, but their immediate impact is painfully disproportionate to the amount of time you’ll spend managing your gear score.
Mind you, Hogwarts Legacy is not alone in this problem. Many modern games (even very good games like God of War Ragnarök) feature somewhat similar gear systems that are intended to invoke the thrilling sensation of acquiring new and better items. However, games like Hogwarts Legacy fail to make that process feel substantial from a gameplay or narrative standpoint. That base thrill of “new and shiny” fades pretty quickly when you realize that most of those upgrades are painfully familiar and kind of dull. Even the best items in the game don’t feel special, largely because they aren’t acquired in any special way and don’t have much to offer other than yet another bigger number that only has a minimal overall impact on the gameplay.
Sadly, the laziness of Hogwarts Legacy‘s gear system touches upon the biggest reason why it just doesn’t work as a proper RPG.
Hogwarts Legacy Is Role-Playing As a Role-Playing Game
I’ve enjoyed Hogwarts Legacy more than I ever thought I would based on the game’s previews. It’s a very, very good adventure game that also finds ways to refresh or re-imagine certain open-world tropes. For a game that had a lot to live up to even before J.K. Rowling poisoned the well, it does an incredible job of delivering on some of its biggest promises.
But it’s tough to consider Hogwarts Legacy that “dream” Harry Potter (or Wizarding World) game it was sometimes made out to be when it so often fails as an RPG. We’re unfortunately living through an era when RPG mechanics are lazily forced into games in order to push microtransactions or add artificial depth to an experience. Hogwarts Legacy thankfully avoids the former problem, but its attempts to pass itself off as a proper RPG leave much of the title feeling strangely cheap for a $70 Triple-A game that flaunts its blockbuster status in so many other areas.
It sadly seems like watered-down RPG mechanics are going to remain a part of Triple-A gaming for the foreseeable future. As long as they remain a largely accepted part of modern gaming, though, we’ll be left to wonder when we’ll finally see the return of major role-playing games that actually let us…well, role-play.