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‘Hogwarts Legacy:’ please don’t mess this up

In September of 2020, a new video game based on the Harry Potter series “Hogwarts Legacy” was announced and released a teaser trailer. For two years, news about the game has been relatively quiet. That is, until March 17, when the gameplay trailer was released. 


For those who do not know, a teaser trailer for a video game is usually a cinematic, or a short video that showcases the world of the game, but doesn’t necessarily show actual gameplay. Other times, a gameplay trailer does show actual gameplay in its current form. Usually the game is still in development at this stage, which means that many of the features showcased may not make it to the final cut of the game. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing, because the game has time to edit its imperfections, but also has the chance to lose some really cool elements as well.


“Hogwarts Legacy” is set well before the time of Harry Potter, and as such, the player will be attending the wizarding school in the 1800s. While the player will still go through iconic moments from the book and movies franchise like being sorted into a house, the major difference is that the player will be enrolling as a fifth year student. Usually, Hogwarts students start out as first year students, when they are 11 years old. In this case, the player will be 15 years old. This is probably a good choice because it allows the game to be geared more towards themes that appeal to teens and young adults rather than young kids. For example, in the books and movies, Harry Potter’s fifth year takes place in “Order of the Phoenix,” which is noticeably darker in contrast to the first four books. The trailer teases these darker elements by showing the magical beasts known as Thestrals, which can only be seen by people who have seen death, now implying that the player has seen death. The trailer also suggests that the player can learn darker magic and shows an avatar casting the killing curse. This is clear evidence that there will be a morality system to the game, and that it could have a darker narrative. 


Since the game is set in the 1800s, we won’t get to see many of the iconic characters from the franchise. However, the trailer specifically states that some familiar faces will appear. For example, the gameplay trailer shows a few of the characters like Nearly Headless Nick and what could be Peeves the Poltergeist, two of the ghosts that haunt Hogwarts. Peeves is especially interesting, as he does not appear in the movies, which suggests that this version of Hogwarts is based more on the books than the films. 


One of the coolest aspects of the gameplay trailer was that the player could explore iconic locations like the Room of Requirement and the nearby town of Hogsmeade, but it also showed areas less explored in the films and books. For example, all four house common rooms were shown in the trailer, rather than just the Gryffindor common room we saw in the books and movies. 


Gameplay wise, the main narrative will revolve around a Goblin rebellion. As such, the trailer featured a lot of combat in which the player used a variety of spells to defeat goblins and dark wizards. However, when I think of the Harry Potter franchise, combat is not really what comes to mind. Instead, my idea of a Hogwarts game involves exploration, mysteries, puzzles and social interaction rather than a first person shooter. Thankfully, the trailer also showcased different mechanics like potion brewing, taming magical beasts, learning new spells and broomstick riding, although a Quidditch element was not confirmed. I can’t really imagine a Harry Potter game without that. Of particular note is beast class, where you learn how to keep magical creatures and later can create a magical home for all your critters in the Room of Requirement.


Another aspect of gameplay is relationships with other students. The trailer revealed three such characters: Natsai Onai, Poppy Sweeting and Sebastian Sallow. Each character has a different personality and after learning more about their stories, they can join the player on their adventures. Having interesting and compelling supporting characters will be an essential part of what makes or breaks this game. Without these interesting characters, it just won’t feel like a Hogwarts game.


Based on the trailer, the world of Hogwarts looks beautiful. There seems to be changing seasons and amazing lighting effects that really bring the whimsical nature of Hogwarts to life. However, while the graphics look amazing, it’s too early to say if these are the final graphics, or if the game will run well on certain systems with such amazing graphics. There is one element of the graphics that I would like to see changed and that is the player character’s appearance which is trapped in the uncanny valley. When a video game characters’ appearance is in the “uncanny valley,” that means it is meant to look as realistic as possible but comes off as creepy or robotic. While the environment looks magical and breathtaking, the characters within it could use some work in avoiding that creepy look.


The gameplay trailer for “Hogwarts Legacy” shows that this game has the potential to be the Harry Potter game fans have been wanting for years. If the game winds up being more combat focused and less about the magical setting or the characters remain wooden and creepy then it may not live up to expectations set up by the trailer. However, from what the trailer highlights, we may well be in for a game that lets us live our own Harry Potter story. Here’s to hoping that the development team at Avalanche Software gets it right. Good luck to them, and please don’t mess this up.

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