When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published in 2000 I picked up the book on launch day and by about four o’clock the next morning I’d finished it! I did the same for at least two of the subsequent titles (I think Order of the Phoenix was too long to read in one sitting) and though the Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t my favourite franchise it’s always been enjoyable. As a Brit there’s also a vague sense of pride over a property like Harry Potter – in an entertainment landscape so dominated by Hollywood and the United States, I’m glad that a British franchise has achieved such acclaim and a worldwide following.
I didn’t plan to cover today’s PlayStation 5 event. They announced their pricing – which is identical to the Xbox Series X at $499/£449 in case you were wondering – but unless that had been a huge surprise in either direction I had no plans to follow the online presentation. However, one announcement changed that: Hogwarts Legacy.
Hogwarts Legacy is due for release in 2021, and despite debuting at PlayStation’s event will also be coming to PC, Xbox Series X, and the two current-gen systems too. It’s an action-adventure game set in an open world based on the famous school introduced in JK Rowling’s books, but in a whole new era: the 1800s.
I absolutely love this premise. Taking an established world but telling a new story with new characters is something every franchise will eventually have to do in order to truly succeed. Though there have been attempts – such as the Fantastic Beasts film – to tell stories in the Wizarding World beyond Harry Potter and Voldemort, the franchise is still very much “Harry Potter.” Moving beyond those familiar characters is a great thing, as it will give fans of the setting an original and wholly different experience. As I wrote recently, this is something that the Star Wars franchise needs to do too!
There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the game, and I don’t like to jump on the hype train too soon, but this will be the first game set in Harry Potter’s world to tell an original story and the first to deliberately exclude the main characters from the books. That’s significant, and I’m really hopeful right now that what results will be a great game.
As I watched the trailer I was struck by a couple of similarities to a favourite game of mine from the early 2000s – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Not only did that game take an established fictional setting and tell a story set generations before the original story, it also featured a light side/dark side system, which – unless I’ve misunderstood the marketing – Hogwarts Legacy may be offering too. We know that within the Wizarding World there exists such a thing as dark magic, and it seems as though the new game will allow players at least some degree of choice regarding whether to stay in the light or to follow a darker path. That worked exceptionally well in Knights of the Old Republic, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t succeed here too!
The Harry Potter books – and the films and games they were adapted to – were the story of a select few characters. Harry Potter himself is arguably a somewhat bland “everyman” type, but even so, playing one of the older Harry Potter games still felt like taking control of this character and living his story. Hogwarts Legacy claims to offer players the chance to “be at the centre of [their] own adventure,” and for fans of the franchise I can hardly think of anything more exciting!
In a way, I can understand why some may feel a little disappointed at the 19th Century setting. One part of the Harry Potter stories is the division between the real world where us muggles reside and the magical world beyond. While for the most part the action was away from the muggle world in all previous stories, part of what made them relatable was the idea that everything could really be happening right now. Taking a big step back in time changes that dynamic at least a little, and while that can be a good thing that opens up many new opportunities, it also denies players the opportunity to take their young wizard into today’s world. I don’t think that has to be a problem – games like Red Dead Redemption II have done great things with an 1800s setting – but it is worth noting.
Attending Hogwarts should be a lot of fun! But one aspect any game set in a school has to get right is making lessons feel enjoyable and natural parts of the story. Spending a lot of time in a classroom or having to follow a schedule could work if those levels offer players enough to do, but there’s always a risk that fictional school classes can end up feeling like a bit of a drag or an obligation, especially if the tasks are mundane. On the basis of the limited marketing material released so far, Hogwarts Legacy is billing itself as a game that offers players a lot of choice and freedom, and hopefully they’ve found a way to make school lessons gel with that. If the player character is a student – as seems to be the case – having total free roam of the school all the time with no obligation to attend lessons wouldn’t work for story reasons, and I think getting this balance right will be crucial to the game’s success.
Familiar elements from the films seem to be returning. Hogwarts itself looks to be very much in line with its film depiction, and toward the end of the trailer there was even the familiar musical sting – Hedwig’s Theme – that accompanied the films. The first film in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 2001, so it’s not unfair to say after almost twenty years that an entire generation of kids grew up with this portrayal of the Wizarding World. Playing on that nostalgia should win support for Hogwarts Legacy, and the visual style seemed to be very much in line with the films across the board.
It’s been a while since I was so excited for a game that was only just announced, and even longer since I was even vaguely interested in anything set in the Wizarding World (sorry Fantastic Beasts!) This has been a strong start for Hogwarts Legacy – let’s hope it can live up to the hype!
Hogwarts Legacy will be released on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X in 2021. Hogwarts Legacy is the copyright of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Portkey Games. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.