Hogwarts Legacy preview – The right game, at the wrong time

Hogwarts Legacy is a gorgeous adventure with hefty, satisfying combat – but it arrives in difficult circumstances.
hogwarts legacy game preview

Hogwarts Legacy is on the cusp of arrival on 10 February 2023, with the most unfortunate timing. When it began development, it was likely the Harry Potter video game adaptation long-time fans had dreamed of, with a vast open world, engaging spell-based combat, unique lore, an array of diverse characters, and the ability to embody your own original witch or wizard.

Unfortunately, in the years since Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment established the Hogwarts Legacy development team, the Harry Potter franchise has taken a turn in its public perception – thanks to author J.K. Rowling’s continued, loud discrimination against transgender people.

Read: Hogwarts Legacy game strives for player freedom and inclusion – Interview

Harry Potter and the Wizarding World in 2023

What began as misinformed rhetoric from Rowling implying the rights of transgender people and their desire to be respected somehow infringed on the rights of cisgender women, has quickly morphed into openly derogatory, public comments made about the transgender community, and a refusal to walk back harm.

Since 2020, Rowling has gone from questioning the definition of women to referring to transgender people as ‘penised individuals‘ liable to initiate rape. She has also frequently posted anti-trans articles on Twitter, self-identified as a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), and frequently targeted fans attempting to explain the harm she’s caused, in an attempt to have them ‘dogpiled’ by her rabid fanbase.

Despite frequent requests from the trans community to leave them alone, Rowling continues to double down on her beliefs, tainting the legacy of Harry Potter, a favourite childhood story of many. When questioned how she sleeps at night, knowing she’s alienated her entire fanbase, her official, smug response was: ‘I read my most recent royalty cheques and find the pain goes away pretty quickly.’

This is largely why Hogwarts Legacy is in an extremely difficult, unenviable position. While developed in earnest, during the height of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts fever, it now exists in the ‘after’ – a period defined only by Rowling’s unfortunate, ignorant views and refusal to acknowledge just how much harm her rants have caused.

Those keen to engage with the game need to reckon with this harm – whether that means removing their support entirely, separating the creation from Rowling (who had no direct involvement in development, though does benefit financially from sales), or choosing to support alternative causes.

Those wishing to contribute to more worthwhile endeavours should consider donating to The Equality Project and other essential charity groups that are currently working to support transgender individuals in Australia, or The National Centre for Transgender Equality, if based in the US. While this won’t reduce Rowling’s impact, it will aid transgender individuals in need.

The stance of the Hogwarts Legacy development team

hogwarts legacy game preview
Image: Avalanche Software / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

For the part of Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, both have taken minor steps away from Rowling’s views, in an effort to distance the project from her sphere of harm. The Q&A section of Hogwarts Legacy‘s website makes clear that she has not been involved with the project, although her Wizarding World team did act as intermediaries for lore creation and story guidelines.

Read: Everything we know about Hogwarts Legacy

In 2021, in response to Rowling’s beliefs, Avalanche confirmed that transgender characters can be created in the game, so that everyone can embody their chosen self. This is present in the creation menu of the game, which allows you to select ‘Witch’ or ‘Wizard’ status regardless of gender identity and appearance.

Characters are simply created, with no reference for gender beyond the Witch or Wizard binary.

Despite these welcome steps, it’s hard to engage with Hogwarts Legacy beyond the shadow Rowling casts. In a recent publisher-led preview, we were able to get hands-on with three unique gameplay segments totalling 1.5 hours – and while we came away impressed by everything the game has to offer, from exploration to combat, it remains difficult to separate the game from its origins. At the very least, they should be noted in coverage of the title.

Hogwarts Legacy: Gameplay preview impressions

Our preview of Hogwarts Legacy began with a brief foray into the custom character creator, which contains a vast array of masculine and feminine faces – but no real reverence for gender. You can choose the face shape, voice, eye colour, hair colour, hairstyle, name, and the witch or wizard designation of your hero, with this final step determining only your dormitory placement.

There is no face morph system available, but there are plenty of facial options that should suit your preference. According to Avalanche Software, the primary goal of this character creator is to give players the freedom to choose their gender and appearance as they desire.

hogwarts legacy
Image: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Avalanche Software

Messaging around the game from Avalanche has so far focussed on inclusion and the power of representation, in a subtle pushback against Rowling’s influence – without ‘crossing the line’, so to speak. Whatever the reason for the looseness of the character creator, it’s very welcome.

Following a brief cinematic and introductory sequence, which can’t be discussed in this preview, our gameplay session continued with a trip to Hogwarts – its sweeping grounds, surrounding Quidditch field, inner courtyards, and towering halls. The grounds are beautiful, and rendered in loving detail, with colourful plants and grasses decorating ivy-covered buildings.

This version of Hogwarts is a reimagined one, using the books as inspiration, rather than the films. The castle towers are massive, and continue into the distance as you explore every nook and cranny. Beyond the walls, the hills are sweeping and green, and populated by roaming students. Around a corner, you can find a living plant dragon that responds to spells by vomiting flowers.

It’s a space that feels inherently magical – particularly as it’s rendered on the PS5. There’s no discernible pop-in or diminished textures for faraway objects here, distant mountains flowing streams are clearly defined. While the hands-on tour of Hogwarts Legacy was guided strictly by representatives from Warner Bros. and PLAION – it’s likely we were restricted to exploring only the most ‘finished’ and well-rendered areas – there was just enough freedom to explore the grounds, marvelling at every intricate detail.

hogwarts legacy game preview
Image: Avalanche Software / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The inside of the grounds was just as impressive, with each brick and statue of Hogwarts’ main hall laid with clear care. Again, the inside presents a reimagined, 1800s-era version of the classic school. In the centre, a pouring fountain decorated by moving mermaids comes to life. On the walls, a variety of moving paintings sing to players, or ask them to solve mysteries.

A brief quest was presented in this gameplay segment, with one student asking the player character to discover why there’s a blank canvas on the wall. An investigation follows, leading you to a solution via spells, experimentation, and curiosity.

Down a dark hall, beyond the wonderfully floral Herbology lab, the game’s impressive combat was quickly brought into focus.

Duelling is a major part of Hogwarts Legacy, with many students engaged in the sport. While this makes for a tonally dissonant combat system – these are, after all, school-age children fighting with harsh and damaging magic – it’s hard to deny how good combat feels.

Unlike in other magic-focussed adventures, there’s a real heft to magic spells in the game. Hits are aided by DualSense controller vibrations on PS5, with each impact feeling genuinely shocking and powerful. While video games that adopt a melee combat system where each blow feels direct and satisfying, magic-based games typically struggle to make impact feel tactile, as impacts are usually detached from your character. Hogwarts Legacy has avoided this bugbear entirely, with a flowing combat system backed by a real sense of power.

Hits feel devastating, and getting the right flow combination lends a strong sense of satisfaction. With four spells assigned to the main wheel (as determined by the player), you can also weave powerful spells together, for harder-hitting, almost rhythmic attacks.

Image: Avalanche Software / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Duelling lessons within Hogwarts proved essential for the next segment of gameplay on show – a brief trip beyond the grounds to Horntail Hall, a secretive fighting arena where magical creature poachers exploit their catches in fights. To traverse this hall, players could choose their own approaches – stealth, via the use of invisibility magic, or wands-first for hard-hitting combat.

A mixture of both feels best, with this approach allowing for sneaking through highly-populated areas, and targeted attacks against enemy wizards. Even in more frantic scenarios, the game’s combat has an impressive flow. When attacks are imminent, you’re shown a halo that warns of danger, which allows you to quickly roll and dodge out of the way. Even when you’re surrounded, you can usually pull some tricks out of your bag, crushing enemy shields with powerful spells and zapping them with force-blasting attacks.

There’s a level of challenge in mastering these combinations – but it’s a very accessible system, and one that allows for a great deal of creativity and variety.

It’s easy to fall in love with this combat, and it combines with the deep exploration of Hogwarts Legacy to create an adventure that seems to sing with magic around every corner. Even within the bounds of a restrictive preview, the creativity and ingenuity of Hogwarts Legacy shined.

This is the game that long-time fans have waited several decades to see – an open-world adventure buoyed by modern technology advances, and a loving attention to detail. It pays brilliant homage to the world of Harry Potter, as it should be – but unfortunately, not as it currently is.

Hogwarts Legacy is a game with a severe case of ‘right place, wrong time’. It should be given the chance to breathe, and to exist as a standalone adventure that breathes new life into a beloved childhood franchise. Instead, its post-launch oxygen is likely to be sucked up by its connection to the Harry Potter source material, and creator J.K. Rowling’s transphobia.

Avalanche Software and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment have clearly poured a lot of time, labour, and love into this adventure, crafting a period tale filled with intrigue and hooks that should buoy it along its rumoured 35+ hour runtime. There are intricacies in this tale well worth exploring, and a level of detail that eclipses expectations. That said, there remains a long shadow over the game – one that it’s unlikely to escape, even with all the magic in its world.

Hogwarts Legacy is set to launch on 10 February 2023 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PC. It will land on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch at a later date.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.