Game Review: Hogwarts Legacy

[Content warning: anti-Semitism, transphobia, politics]

[Note from the future: I wrote the majority of this review shortly after playing this game, which was a while ago. I’m sick right now, and have a policy of working on things that aren’t my main writing while feeling sick, so decided to read this over and finish it up. It is not at all timely. Also, I was in this case too lazy to sprinkle images in for variety, so every time you get to a new section, google “Hogwarts Legacy screenshots”, look at a random one, and then come back here.]

My time with Hogwarts Legacy is at an end, or at least nearing an end. There are sidequests left to wrap up, some of which I’ll do, and there’s a ton of collectible stuff that I have absolutely no intention of doing, but I’m more or less at a place where I feel like I can give overall thoughts on it. Spoilers follow, but I consider the story one of the weakest points, and won’t be spoiling anything I consider major.

A Gradual Descent in Quality

I tend to keep a close eye on how much I like a thing as I play/watch it, since that helps to bail me out of playing something for the sake of playing something, or playing because I want to get to the end. In the past, when I didn’t have this system, I would keep on playing things for months even though I wasn’t really enjoying them, because I’m a creature of a patterns and habits.

The first five or so hours with Hogwarts Legacy were definitely the best for me. There’s so much loving attention and detail put into Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, along with various bits of the rest of the world, and I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. I tend to like open world games when they’re chock full of things to stumble upon and look at, and Legacy delivered in spades at the start, always with something new to race over to. It was a 9/10 feeling.

Hours five through, say, twenty were also good, but it was more an 8/10 feeling. I’ll talk about some of my issues with this part of the game, but the cracks were starting to show, and it was becoming clear that all the love and attention put into the two main areas hadn’t been put into every other area. I’ve played plenty of open world games before, I didn’t expect the same level of attention given to every part, but I kept getting asked to leave the castle, to go into the Forbidden forest, or worse, what I’ll call the Greater Hogwarts Area, and all that stuff wasn’t necessarily copy-pasted, but there were a lot of reused assets, and a lack of the same wonderous feeling that suffused so much of the early game.

Past hour twenty, and through much of the end game, I was feeling much more 7/10 about it all. So much of what you’re doing is stuff I didn’t find all that interesting, and while I enjoyed the combat, it didn’t end up being all that different from Arkham Asylum, though with a few innovations that I did appreciate. The cracks were wide open. The final set piece was uninspired and a slog to get through, made worse by the fact that it was leaning into aspects of the game where I felt the game was floundering. Worse, all the stuff that I enjoyed most just kind of … faded away.

I think overall, I land at 8/10 for the game overall. I’ve heard people say that the game is “mid”, and I think that it’s a bit better than that, but the rest of this review will mostly be about what the game does well and does poorly, where I think they ran into some problems with design, and overall gives my justification. A fair amount of why I score it so highly is because of those first hours.

The Blandest Man in the World

In Hogwarts Legacy, you get to choose who you’ll be playing as. You pick your appearance, your gender, and most importantly, your house, though there’s a disappointingly brief quiz so you can let the Sorting Hat pick for you, if you want to be more authentic about it. I made a character that looked like a more handsome version of what I looked like as a teenager, and was going to pick Ravenclaw as my house. You get to pick your name (which no one will ever refer to you by), so I picked my own.

First, there was a prologue to get through, and here’s where I think the cracks in their approach started to show.

We open in London, with our protagonist being picked up by Professor Fig, who’s apparently something of a mentor to us, and has helped teach us magic. There’s another guy, whose name I’ve forgotten, who gets in the carriage, which takes off into the sky.

It was while the professor and his contact were talking that I started to have Questions about who I was playing as. Hogwarts Legacy is (ostensibly) set in the 1890s. Our protagonist is starting as a fifth year, having not been in school for the previous four years, which we’re told is unusual.

But … why are am I starting in fifth year? The game didn’t tell me in those first few hours, and refused to ever address the subject. I had all kinds of theories, but none of them felt like they quite fit. The leading theory was that I was muggleborn and didn’t express any magic until later. Whatever magic is supposed to catch little muggleborn children, it failed when I was ten or eleven. But then, it was also possible that I was native to the wizarding world somehow, that I had been home schooled, or that they had thought I was a squib until sixteen, or that I had attended some European school somewhere. No one ever confirmed or denied the subject.

Who was I, before Hogwarts? Who are my parents? The game refuses to say. I never get a letter from my parents. I never return home for the holidays. I never mention any brothers or sisters, and no one ever asks me. I have no history, no culture. I think being a muggleborn who comes in ‘late’ is probably canonical, and there are hints that this is true, but then why not just say it?

Many, many games have used this approach before, and sometimes, I feel like it works. In Subnautica, you play as Ryley Robinson, and I would forgive you for not knowing that’s your name, because I had to look it up too. Your character in Subnautica pretty much doesn’t speak, has virtually no personality, no history … and yet somehow this worked for me. I think the reason that it works less well in Hogwarts Legacy is that you’re interacting with other people, you have voice lines, you’re giving opinions, and you’re being asked what you think about things. I knew perfectly well what I thought, but I was stumped about what my character thought, especially given that a lot of voice lines happened without any input from me, and weren’t the things that I would have picked.

What I think the developers were trying to go for was a self-insert, and I think they mostly failed at that, though in ways that I think are a bit interesting.

The first and biggest thing is that the game gives you almost no choices. I could count on one hand the times the game gave me more than an either-or option, and the differences in outcomes from those choices are pretty much non-existent. Almost all dialogue the main character gives has been written so as to be pretty blandly inoffensive, which means that there’s very little in the way of personality. This is a huge problem, because a self-insert needs personality. If you’re saying that this guy is me, or at least my OC, then there needs to be some breadth in terms of what my options are, and the world needs to reflect that. The worst and laziest version of choice, some kind of Renegade/Paragon karmic system, is at least better than no choices at all.

I think the game would have done better to have a “real” main character, someone with a history and personality of their own, actual thoughts and desires … but they wanted to sell the “you can be at Hogwarts” fantasy.

The second major problem is that the game is afraid of blocking you from experiencing content, and doesn’t want you to distinguish your character in any real way. You don’t really have a ‘build’ of any kind, no proper skill tree to specialize, and in terms of how the quests and extras are structured, there’s no way that you can lose out. I was never presented with a quest where I had to make a meaningful choice between two sides. There’s no aspect of time management that would make me decide between goofing off with friends and doing well in my studies, no trade-offs in terms of whether I’m going to spend my nights in herbology or making out with Amit. The closest the game ever gets is the quest line between Sebastian Sallow and Ominis Gaunt, and I would have to play through it again to see whether or not your different choices actually matter there … but it felt like they didn’t, like we were just moving ahead regardless.

The blandness of the main character was one of the most significant problems for me, because virtually all my time was spent with this person. If it was meant to be a self-insert, it didn’t give me enough avenues of expression to actually insert myself. Instead, I was watching, at a remove, the actions of someone with the least interesting possible thoughts about the world, a man who speaks things that were approved by committee. The game is pretty liberal about its ‘chirps’, voice lines that happen in certain circumstances, and they really detract, especially because there aren’t enough of them. Even if they were more sparing, they say nothing because they’re not allowed to say anything.

Eventually, toward the end, I had decided that this guy was a sociopath who was only looking out for himself, and that everything he said was a soulless lie so that people would like him. While this did help me enjoy the game a bit more, I don’t count this in the game’s favor.

Open Worlds

I’ve played most of the Assassin’s Creed games, and one of my absolute favorite moments was in the Greek one when I came across a village that made salt. The entire salt-making process was laid out for me to see, the little pools where water evaporated, people hard at work using a rake thing to scoop the salt up, mounds of salt that were continuing to dry, amphoras filled with salt, this whole village who were engaged in industry. It was a little diorama, a demonstration I could walk through, all presented as though it was nothing special, not sign-posted, just a thing for me to come across and enjoy because I had decided to explore a bit. It wasn’t even a thing that got checked off on the map. That’s what keeps me coming back to open world games. It’s a sensation that’s hard to get anywhere else.

I’ve already said that I really liked the opening hours of the game, that Hogwarts and Hogsmeade have love, care, and attention put into them. The rest of the game … less so.

I’m going to put a lot of blame on the game’s decision to use what I’ll call the Greater Hogwarts Area. The game (rightly) leans on the best parts of the books and movies, all the loving details and moments of whimsy, as well as adding some of their own, but there’s so much area and not only would they have to come up with all kinds of new assets, they would need to match the style and character of the existing world. I have my complaints about the Potterverse, and will get into at least a few of those complaints later on, but I think one of the things that it’s successful at is nailing a certain tone and character.

There were flashes of interesting things, from time to time. I came across someone’s homemade quidditch arena, and had that same spark of joy that I’d had when I stumbled across the Greek salt mines. I spent some minutes marveling at the love and detail, and yes, it would have been nice to see some people playing there, or to be able to interact with it, but I still got that sense of exploration. I was seeing something new, something that I could easily have missed. It was a reward for taking a walk through the woods, which I think these games need to have.

As far as open world “interaction exhibits” go, there’s a fair amount of variety, enough so that I think I might miss one:

  • “Merlin Puzzles” are usually pretty simple, though there are a number of different types, and I did appreciate that they didn’t hold my hand too much, letting me figure it out on my own. Most of them aren’t ‘puzzles’ except in the sense that you’re not told the exact parameters.
  • Balloons to pop, always in sets of five.
  • Astronomy, done at night, which comes with a line-up-the-stars minigame.
  • Beast capturing.
  • Bandit battles.
  • Miniboss battles.
  • Battle arenas.
  • Field Guide Pages, which are basically just ‘hey, look at this thing’.
  • Side quests.
  • Treasures and other collectibles.
  • Sites of ancient magic, which are less cool than they sound.

Part of the fun of open world games is just stopping to look at things and do another little minigame, and overall, I thought that it was enough for me, though I’m not going to come anywhere close to getting through all of what they’re offering. That’s about par for the course for me when it comes to open world games. I don’t think I’ve done 100% of any of them, even the ones that I really enjoyed.

“There’s too much copy-pasted stuff” isn’t a unique criticism of open world games, but in this case … I guess I’m not sure why they decided to do it this way. Were people clamoring for the Greater Hogwarts Area? This is all stuff that’s not in the books or movies. Harry and friends go to Hogsmeade, sure, but they don’t go out camping in the countryside, and never visit one of the little villages, unless maybe we count the seventh book, and no one was clamoring for the ‘camping in the woods during the seventh book’ experience. The stuff that the game does best is not the open world stuff, and it’s kind of a head-scratcher, because while there are bits and pieces that feel good, and flying around on the broomstick is genuinely fun, it feels like it’s tacked on.

Being Delinquent

The game is called “Hogwarts Legacy”, but as the game goes on, you see less and less of Hogwarts. You get a single abbreviated lesson in every class you take, and classes after that are a montage, which you get once or maybe twice. After that, going to class is just something you’re meant to assume is happening in between your adventures in the countryside.

But … why do this? I genuinely don’t get what the thought process was here. So much love and care went into Hogwarts, and then at a certain point you’re just not going to classes anymore, you’re off killing bandits in the wilderness or solving puzzles that Merlin left for some reason. The game starts off as being a somewhat weak Hogwarts simulator, and then transitions more and more into Assassin’s Creed, and I like Assassin’s Creed (sometimes in spite of myself), and overall like this game’s combat and physics systems, but … it’s mystifying to me that the titular Hogwarts seems to fade away.

I will probably make a separate blog post about what my ideal wizarding school game would be like, and possibly have already started such a blog post, but it was definitely a disappointment to realize that Hogwarts was going to become a backdrop, my relationships with the other students relegated to side quests for a few specific people and my relationships with teachers almost non-existent.

(The brief version is that I would have wanted a game with fleshed out minigames for each class and/or discipline, and some stats for my character so I could actually specialize and have to make some choices about who I was going to be and what I was going to do with my time. I want a wizarding school where I can have different outcomes depending on whether I’m a master herbologist or an expert potion-brewer, whether I’ve spent my time socializing with everyone I meet or buckling down to study. The recent I Was a Teenage Exocolonist was pretty good in that regard, though much more VN than I typically enjoy. That said, I do try to enjoy games as they present themselves to me rather than continually wishing that I had my own ideal version of the thing.)

I’m very hesitant to use the phrase ‘ludonarrative dissonance’, because I think it just comes with gaming as a whole and is overused as a concept, but holy heck does it get bad in this game. In a lot of ways it’s worse than other open world games, because you’re ostensibly a fifth year student, yet you’re going up full-grown dark wizards, sometimes ten or twenty of them at once, and not only are you out-casting them, dodging or reflecting all their things, you’re outright killing them. As with most open-world games, the body count ends up being staggering, and while you can sometimes take a stealthy approach, you’re also forced into combat on a large number of occasions. This leads your supposed self-insert to seem like a complete sociopath, papered over on with a few thin lines about how those people deserved it.

The open world is like a cancer on the game, a malignant one that grows steadily over time. It’s got all the problems of open world games, and the magical whimsy that the game has shown fades away in the Greater Hogwarts Area, especially since there are so many goddamned poachers, dark wizards, and goblin loyalists. By volume, the world is 99% people who want to kill you, and while it was fine from a gameplay perspective, I kept thinking to myself “who asked for this?”

Main Character Syndrome

I had a lot of problems with the main plot of the game, which has relatively little to do with Hogwarts and in some ways is an extended and pointless fetch quest that does nothing interesting or new with the source material. A lot of those problems stem from the main character, who I’ve said before is bland, but worse than being bland, he’s a complete Mary Sue.

These problems start with the introduction of “ancient magic”, which only the main character has, which allows for incredible feats of spellcasting, must be kept secret for some reason, et cetera. That’s right, the main character is a double wizard and Chosen One, gifted in a way that Harry Potter himself was not, set apart from his peers and granted magic beyond that of a normal wizard (and to be clear, Harry Potter is extremely special by wizard standards, the Boy Who Lived). If this were a piece of fanfic I was reading, I probably would have put it down. When it gets to the point where you’re doing ‘trials’ for the four ‘Keepers’ I definitely would have put it down. It’s tepid, uninspired junk that I barely remember, all of it centering around a bland-by-design main character who starts completely overpowered despite this being their first year in Hogwarts, and only grows more powerful with time. There’s also an extremely unnatural way that you start about half the side quests, which is some form of ‘excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear you muttering about some problem, can I help?’

By contrast, I’ve enjoyed most of the character stuff that wasn’t attached to the main character in some way. The Sebastian/Ominis storyline is one of the best, but even just the extended versions of conversations you have with teachers can be illuminating and add a lot of depths and richness to the world. I was a bit sour on Poppy’s ‘save the animals’ questline until it got to a minor twist, and then I thought … you know what, I actually appreciate this. There’s not all that much in the way of this more character intensive side content, but most of it is pretty good, with thought and care going into it, and I just wish that the main character could have been one of these other people.


I’m going to lump a lot of stuff under this, because there aren’t particular strands connecting all the things that I want to talk about when it comes to gameplay.

For the most part, the combat is surprisingly good. It iterates on Arkham Asylum, in that you get prompts to block certain spells, then other prompts to dodge attacks that can’t be blocked. There are two new wrinkles, one of them being that you can assign different spells to your slots, the other being that enemies can have shields that need to be countered with specific ‘schools’ of spells, done with a color-matching system e.g. purple to purple, red to red. Part of the goal of combat is to ‘combo’ and ‘juggle’, using a spell to raise an enemy into the air, then keep them there with different combinations of casts.

The game has relatively few spells, twenty-six in total, and not all of them are combat spells. I kind of wonder why it’s not more, given that other spells are castable by enemies, but I don’t think it ever hurt the experience for me. I’ve seen some comparison to Elden Ring’s spell count, but a lot of Elden Ring’s spells are redundant with each other, or reskins. The spells in Legacy also change as you spend talent points, which results in different effects, something that Elden Ring would definitely have done as several different spells instead. I could have used more variety, but I think that for me, this is a “more content would have been better” feeling, and I don’t necessarily think that it would have changed combat or the game all that much.

I have a few minor gripes, and a few other places where I can’t imagine why they made certain design decisions, or just disagree with how they did it. I think that animals should have their own contextual controls so that they don’t overlap with combat spells, I think that certain utility spells should be automatic, I think the Alohomora lock-picking mini-game needs to be scrapped or have some way to be automatic so I don’t end up doing it an obscene amount of times, etc. None of this was make or break for me, but when I end up getting repeatedly annoyed by certain things, I wonder why they were left in. It’s extremely possible that some of these will be fixed within the next year, especially the ones I don’t think are all that controversial. [Note from the future: I don’t have enough investment in this game to go check this for the sake of this review.]

There are other problems with the gameplay that go a bit deeper, and would be more difficult to fix.


The term “goot” is taken from Monty Zander, short for “garbage loot”, a system in game design where you reward the player with loot that they don’t want, which they are then forced to sell to vendors at periodic intervals in exchange for money, which they then trade for things that they do want.

It sucks in pretty much every game that does it, including this one, but this implementation is even worse than normal. The biggest sticking point for me is that you have limited inventory slots, which means that you need to keep making these trips to the merchants in order to hold more of the main thing that you get from chests, enemies, etc. It’s super immersion breaking, and it’s not fun.

Worse, the clothes have lots of unique styles but don’t have unique stats. There is, in fact, a single stat for every piece of gear, so there’s almost no question about whether to upgrade, and as I’ve said, you don’t really have the option to have a “build”. The goot system descends from Diablo, but Diablo-like games had actual variety to them, set items, legendaries, uniques, slotted runes and gems, etc. Here, it’s just a random roll to see whether it’s better or worse than your current gear, and if it’s worse you’re automatically going to sell it, and if it’s better, you’re automatically going to equip it. There are a few wrinkles to this, here and there, but that’s basically it. It’s not fun.

One of the things the game suffers from is a lack of rewards, and I think this is somewhat common in modern games. That isn’t to say that you don’t get rewards, since you do, frequently, it’s that you don’t get a wide variety of rewards, and when the game wants to congratulate you with a job well done, it doesn’t have enough levers to do that. The goot system gives lots of rewards, but they’re all clothes, and remain uninteresting. I really would like to see game designers take a look at everything they could upgrade on a character and parcel those upgrades out, but this game definitely squishes everything down to a single axis and then slowly moves you along it.

There are three exceptions to rewards being goot or money in this game, at least that I can recall. One is the ancient magic meter, which can have a pip added to it. Another is the inventory limit, which can be increased. And the final one is health and a few other things, that come with experience. That’s about it though. Everything else is goot, or money, which comes from selling goot.

Well, there is a fourth exception, but it’s a part of the game that left me very dissatisfied.

The Room of Requirement

The game has what I felt was a pretty good introduction to the Room of Requirement, where I went with Deputy Headmistress Weasley through all the crap leftover from students who had come before. It was a callback to the Room’s function in the books, and was fairly interesting, even if I did run into the same formation of stacked chairs a few too many times.

The problem came when it became clear that I was supposed to use this room for growing herbs, making potions, and caring for creatures. Instead of spending time in the school, I was spending time in an extradimensional space that I was the master of. While I think the Room probably wasn’t a bad idea on its own, the fact is that it takes away from Hogwarts, isolating you in this realm that you are the lonely master of. If I had to go down to the greenhouse to gather from my plants, I could have students and a professor to talk to there, something that would deepen my connection to others. If doing potions meant being under the watchful eye of Professor Sharp, maybe it would have endeared me to him, or at least given me something to latch onto. Instead, the Room of Requirement felt like it was overtaking all the most interesting aspects of the game, and became a place where a lot of gameplay took place, with all the bland customization of the laziest videogames. It was another of the ways in which the game abandoned the “Hogwarts” part of “Hogwarts Legacy”.

Shitlib Politics

There are two main antagonists in the game, Rookwood (a dark wizard who leads the human faction) and Ranrok (who leads the ‘loyalist’ goblins). Rookwood is basically just an irredeemable jackass with absolutely no depth, but Ranrok is part of the wizarding world’s goblin minority, and … well.

Early on in the game, I came across a goblin in a village. He was extremely upset because his artwork had been stolen by some other goblins, part of Ranrok’s group, who considered him a collaborator or whatever. He was just trying to get by, you see, and had set up shop in a human village to sell his paintings. It was to be my job to get them back. But he says to me (this is not a direct quote, but I’m not going back to play the game again to get it exactly right.):

“Goblins have long been treated a second class citizens by wizards, but violence isn’t the answer! We need to have a dialogue!”

Immediately I thought to myself, ‘Alright, so what is the solution? Is it actually just talking to people? Is that something that I’m going to be able to do, to solve this whole thing through diplomacy, get equal rights for goblinkind through non-violent activism?’ But I’m not dumb enough to think that would actually happen in this game, and in fact, there’s never any opportunity to help the goblins at all. You can help individual goblins suffering from individual injustices, but there’s never any movement on the ‘get goblins better treatment’ front, and that pisses me off.

Over the course of my playtime, I heard from multiple people, goblin and human alike, that Ranrok was ‘going too far’ or ‘shouldn’t have resorted to violence’, but … come on! Why are you making your game like this? Why is there a clear and obvious problem, which everyone agrees is a problem, which we’re not able to actually do anything about? It’s like making a game about global warming where you’re spending 99% of the time fighting ecoterrorists, admitting that they have a point, but disagreeing with their methods or endgame. And in the end, the game concludes with the planet still on fire with the main character patting themselves on the back for having stopped the ecoterrorists.

Hogwarts Legacy is not at all unique in this. The first season of Legend of Korra did pretty much the same thing. Lots of shows, games, books, and movies do it. I think the reason for it is at least partly that a Villain With A Point is more interesting, but the problem is that whatever they have a point about tends to get left by the wayside, paid lip service, if that. And if you went with “alright, that guy nearly committed genocide, but he really did open our eyes” then I think people might rightly scratch their heads about what your moral is. I think it’s a writing failure, and it’s one that the Harry Potter books committed and have been criticized for.

In part, the game does not seem to understand discrimination, nor want to engage with it in any meaningful way except to say that it’s bad. This is a very standard position, but it still makes me give a loud sigh.

We learn fairly late in that Ranrok, the main bad guy, used to love wizards and was super interested in them. Then one day when a wizard dropped his wand Ranrok went to pick it up, just to be helpful. The wizard, seeing a goblin with wand in hand, beat Ranrok to within an inch of his life. And I’m like … okay, who is this guy? Where is he? Can I kill him? But no, this is some random man who assaulted an innocent goblin, and the people you meet aren’t like that, because if they were, you’d have to do something about it.

The game has plenty of somewhat bland diversity in it, though again, I didn’t find the character writing all that bad, and some of it was at least good in snippets, if not good in practice as part of the actual ‘game’. I definitely got the sense that someone, somewhere, had a diversity quota to fill, but they did a reasonably good job of papering that over. I think diversity quotas in media are a constraint that a skilled writer can work with, something that doesn’t necessarily need to make a work worse. So you get a Japanese flying instructor, an Indian teacher of Astronomy, Chinese teacher for Beasts, Ugandan Divination instructor, etc.

This did leave me scratching my head trying to work out the worldbuilding implications of this. Why is the Hogwarts of this era so ethnically diverse? Why do so many of them come from outside of England or Scotland? This was never quite clear in the game, but I decided that either some previous headmaster had wanted to increase the school’s profile by hiring from outside, or that wizard society was just more mingled than the muggle countries due to their better travel options. That’s not really in line with how things are presented in the books or movies, but … whatever. I guess I can live with some questions about how it ties in with canon, or make up my own theories to explain it that aren’t supported by the game.

(The best thing would be for the world to be built from the ground up to have ethnic diversity. It’s a tangent from this review, but I think diversity is a good thing to include and be conscious of. The problem is that so much of modern culture is simply rehashing old culture, and that means diversity stuff needs to be awkwardly retconned in, or sometimes, beloved characters ‘need’ to be changed. I think there’s a lot of stuff I really want to see with alternate characters: I love distaff characters, and changing a character’s race then exploring how that impacts the same general history and personality sounds awesome. But the problem is that there’s a tension between ‘explore differences’ and ‘show off the character everyone knows and loves’, and almost every case I’ve seen leans way too far toward ‘change the character and then that change doesn’t have any impact on them in the slightest’.)

For the most part I thought that the ways the game did representation were Good, Actually. To the extent I got real backstory on any of these people, that backstory was less about their ethnicity than it was about who they were as people. That said, I’m a Midwestern white guy, so don’t have terribly strong opinions or knowledge on the matter. I haven’t heard secondhand that Twitter was complaining about any of it, which I assume I would have if there was a lot to complain about, given how much other complaining I saw.

The Jew Stuff

There have been a lot of charges that this game is anti-Semitic. I’m not Jewish, but some of those arguments seem a bit iffy to me.

To start with, the strongest argument seems to be that goblins in general are anti-Semitic caricatures, or were used as such, or have a long history of being tied to that kind of propaganda. When you decide to make your goblins bankers, you’re trading in that association, knowingly or not, and that’s not something that you should do. When you further make the goblins one of the main enemies in your game, and set the player on the course of squashing a rebellion, when you make the Jew-analogs genocidal, you’re just being anti-Semitic.

I generally agree with this, but I don’t know if they were being anti-Semitic on purpose, and I also think that culture is doing some or most of the heavy lifting there. Something funny I’ve noticed is that Rowling’s goblins are never actually described as greedy or scheming, but people who see parallels to the Jews tend to read that into them. I’ve read more than one think piece on the subject, and ‘greedy, scheming goblins’ has featured often, despite that not being how goblins are characterized in the books, movies, or this game. Rowling’s goblins are secretive but honorable, they have their own understanding of property as ultimately belonging to the person who made it, and they’re artisans known for the quality of their work. When Rowling doesn’t like a character you will know it. There’s very little subtlety to the writing, which might be because they’re ostensibly childrens’ books, but I’ve heard similar things about her detective books, which I haven’t read.

I guess I compare Rowling’s goblins to e.g. Watto from Star Wars, which seems much more built from anti-Semitic tropes, and which doesn’t seem to garner the same level of blowback. Watto is a schemer, a slaver, greedy to his core, and speaks with what’s arguably a Yiddish accent. Alternately, there are the goblins from Warcraft, which are obsessed with money and have a thick New York accent. These both seem worse to me, but I don’t feel like they’ve gotten much Discourse.

One of the difficult things about writing is that you shouldn’t just be considering what you put on the page, you should be considering what the reader will read, and that will be informed by their entire memeplex. With that in mind, if I were writing some kind of story set in that world, I would downplay the goblin stuff, not mentioning it if possible, not unless I was going to go in-depth on it in a way that made clear I understood some of the real-world cultural stuff that people were going to bring into their reading. It’s not really so much about not offending people (though I do think there’s no good reason to offend people if you can help it) as it is telling a story that reads as you intend it.

So with that said, I’ve heard a number of hot takes on this game that claim it’s ‘dripping in anti-Semitism’, and aside from the above arguments … I just don’t see it.

To start with, the depiction of goblins in the game is actually pretty sympathetic. You never get betrayed by a goblin, they never scheme against you, never screw you out of money, never really do anything that might be cause for offense, never have a misunderstanding with you over some cultural difference … they’re second class citizens, everyone says, and everyone agrees that this is wrong. There are a number of quests featuring goblins that aren’t part of the rebellion, and they mostly talk about the ill treatment they’ve received from either wizards or from Ranrok’s side. I never got the sense that the game thought goblins were lesser creatures. Heck, the game really seems to go out of its way to not have other people say that goblins are lesser creatures, which, if you’re going to have discrimination be a part of your game, you might have wanted to include. It’s toothless prejudice, really, which I think is a bad depiction and might have come from the authors worrying that people might think they endorsed those views, especially since they knew that people were going to read the goblins as being Jews (unless the writers were morons, which is a definite possibility). The goblins aren’t shown as greedy or scheming, your trust in them is never betrayed, etc. As a picture of discrimination, prejudice, and rebellion, it falls incredibly flat, but it falls flat in the ways that I would expect of someone trying to hit the issue with all the weight of a feather.

Some of the stuff I’ve seen circulating on Twitter feels like a real stretch to me. There’s a particular image that I’m going to include here:

The goblin horn in question

According to Twitter, this goblin horn bears a close resemblance to a shofar, a Jewish religious instrument traditionally made of a ram’s horn. The year 1612 for the goblin rebellion coincides with the start of the ‘Fettmilch Rebellion’, and the cheese, gorgonzola, is specifically a non-kosher cheese. This is given as proof of anti-Semitism, a little anti-Semite Easter egg.

To start with, the 1612 goblin rebellion comes from the books (specifically Prisoner of Azkaban), not the game, and yes, I do believe that this year was more or less chosen from a hat. I cannot imagine that Rowling, who is a staunch defender of Israel, was deciding on a year and picked this relatively obscure bit of historical trivia as a wink and nod to the anti-Semites. I think in general, anti-Semites have an incredibly poor grasp on history and especially Jewish history, so I think a dog whistle here would mean pretty much nothing. Besides that, the Fettmilch Uprising was a rebellion against the Jews, and mostly happened in 1614. I think if you go take a look at Wikipedia’s timeline of antisemitism you can see that there are lots of years in which bad things happen to the Jews.

There’s a different goblin rebellion given a date in the game, 1752, but it doesn’t line up with anything, so people just ignore it.

So I think it’s likely that the horn is just a horn, rather than a shofar, and that the cheese is just a cheese. I’ve seen some comments suggesting that the cheese has special significance, that they could have left it at ‘cheese’ and not specifically said ‘gorgonzola’, but my guess is that they were thinking to themselves ‘what’s the funniest cheese’ and it was down to either that or gouda. ‘Gorgonzola’ wins out because it’s got ‘g’ and ‘z’ sounds. It’s a funny word, like kumquat.

That this is cited as the most anti-Semitic thing in the game is, to me, pretty damning of the weakness of the argument.

Also, based on the ways that games are actually made, this description was written by a single person and signed off on by a few others, so is evidence of basically nothing. Especially with all the other mostly-performative wokeness in the game, I don’t think that this was anti-Semitism intentionally put in with malice. Instead, it seems like unfortunate coincidence at best, and much more likely, Twitter and other places just jumping at shadows because they’re really eager for something to crow about.

The second major thing I see is that this is “Blood Libel: The Game”. The basis for this is that the goblins are trying to steal children for their rituals.

This is wrong in a couple of ways, and I think must be spread by people who haven’t played the game, seen the game played, or thought about what they were saying. First off, the goblins aren’t trying to steal children, they’re going after one specific “child”, the main character, who is around sixteen years old and who the game treats as being basically an adult for all intents and purposes, as pointed out above. Since you play as a mature fifth-year, I never once conceptualized myself as playing as a child, and I don’t think that I was ever meant to. Like a lot of works set in a school, the intent is not to show a child, it’s to show a fantasy of childhood where you have the freedoms of adulthood without the responsibilities.

Second, the goblins don’t really want you for a ritual. For most of the game, they’re just trying to kill you or get information from you to lead them to some buried ancient magic. There’s not a kidnapping plot, it’s mostly you sticking your nose in things and then fighting either goblins or humans because you’re working against them.

I mostly try to not pay attention to whatever is going on with Twitter, and assume that most of what I hear are exaggerations, rumors, or outright fabrications, but in this case I was trying to view the game critically and investigate whether any of this stuff was true. Turns out that, in my opinion, it’s mostly exaggeration, rumor, or fabrication. [Note from the future: Twitter has really gone to shit since this review, but I still don’t spend time there. It’s not really about Twitter, it’s about any online space where people are ragebaiting and virtue signaling, and that’s just structurally built into online discourse of any kind at this point.]

I will say that all this could have been avoided if they’d chosen not to do goblins in the first place. If people say ‘oh, those are rooted in anti-Semitic caricature’ and you choose to go ahead and do it anyway, of course they’re going to read into every little thing, and you’re probably going to wind up with something that looks bad no matter what you do. The obvious solution is just to not center your narrative around a goblin rebellion in the first place.

So maybe the writers were morons.

The Trans Stuff

JK Rowling is a TERF. I think there’s enough evidence for this that I won’t bring the receipts, but it’s one of the main things that she spends her time arguing about on Twitter, and something that she’s doubled down on about fifteen times by now (that’s 32,768!). She spends her time advocating against trans people in various ways, is a total asshole about it, and has only a very thin mask of ‘concern’, which slips frequently. She’s loud and outspoken on the subject, moreso than almost anyone else with her same level of prominence, not including politicians. She gives her money to the wrong people.

If you buy a copy of this game, as I did, some of that money might go to Rowling, and of the money that goes to her, some will allow her cultural relevance and some will be used to fund anti-trans causes. I agree that this is bad, and a good argument against buying this game. Put it firmly in the ‘cons’ column.

I bought the game anyway, because I wanted to play it. I gave money to the Trevor Project, which is maybe a stupid way to balance things out in terms of good and evil, but was enough to make me feel like whatever somewhat nebulous harm was being done to trans people through the purchase of this game, I was doing some nebulous good to cancel it out. I considered it something like a carbon offset, but for bigots.

I did try to do some calculations on how much harm this was causing, but gave up mostly because of a lack of information. The deal that Rowling signed to allow this game to be made isn’t public knowledge, so there’s no way of knowing how much of a percent she gets from each sale of the game, if she didn’t just get the money up front. It’s also impossible to know how much of her vast fortune she’s devoting to anti-trans causes, especially trying to know by what percent. Spending $70 on this game does translate into $X given to anti-trans causes, which in turn causes some amount of harm to trans people, I accept this, but … is it on the order of tens of dollars, or a handful of cents? I really have no idea, haven’t seen a good analysis, and don’t know where to start given most of the information isn’t public.

Is the game itself transphobic? I can say pretty conclusively that it’s not. On character creation, you can choose to be either male or female, then decide whether you want to be in the male or female dorms. It’s rooted in gender binary, but not in a way that I find all that exceptional, and is kind of weird in terms of both lore and worldbuilding, but whatever. You can’t pick your pronouns, you’re just referred to with singular ‘they’ no matter what you choose for a gender, which I found lazy and off-putting since you’re the only character anyone does that with. If I had known that was what the game was going to go with, I would have chosen to play as someone with a more ambiguous gender instead of being male. Instead, it’s kind of like they’re misgendering you? They didn’t want to have to include rerecordings of voice lines to handle gender, I get that, but … blegh. It feels lifeless and awkward.

There’s a trans character in the game, Sirona Ryan, the innkeeper at the Three Broomsticks, and that’s also whatever, pretty much the same level of representation as anything else in the game. I was paying close attention, and didn’t see anything untoward there, it was just a standard sympathetic portrayal. Was it performative, included on the basis of being able to say ‘we’ve got a trans character, we’re not anti-trans’? Yes, almost certainly. It’s still more trans representation that you see in most big budget games, movies, television shows, etc. It’s bland and inoffensive, lacking depth, but that’s most of how the game handles diversity. Nothing that would get anyone’s hackles up, unless they hate trans people.

I do enjoy the image of someone buying the game out of spite only to find that it’s got that in it, part of the main quest and unavoidable. For all that I’ve seen morons crowing about how the success of the game proves that wokeness has been defeated, it’s very woke, at least as I understand people to use the term.

There’s been a lot of vitriol about this game, directed toward both Rowling and people who play it. I think a lot of that, maybe as much as ‘most’, is bad slacktivism combined with people feeling like they have the moral authority to be awful, which is always a dangerous thing, and something that the internet is prone to. I think it’s awful praxis, but I guess I’ve never thought that we have to be creatures of perfect utility at all times. Certainly I think that it’s bad for trans causes, which I care about. My own support for a person’s rights aren’t conditional on whether or not they’re being an asshole, but I don’t think that’s true for everyone. I got spoiled on the game, which bothered me for about five minutes, but mostly made me think ‘wow that’s obnoxious’. I get it, kind of, and a lot of it was just memes, but it struck me as being pretty stupid, in the way that a lot of internet activism and dunking on people is. I used to be more into politics before realizing that it was making me angry all the time, but this thing had all the hallmarks of people going overboard because it was a fun thing to do.

If you want to play the game, even after this somewhat tepid review, my suggestion is to buy used, pirate, or failing that, donate money to e.g. Trevor Project, Mermaids, or some other org of your choice. I have no idea whether the carbon offset analogy is a sound one, and it’s certainly not my normal mode of dealing with the ethically fraught sources of the various products that I consume, but maybe it’s better than nothing.


I’m old enough that I didn’t ‘grow up’ on Harry Potter. I read the first two books when I was in high school, then read the rest as they were coming out. I enjoyed the series, overall, but it’s not dripping in nostalgia for me, and there are a number of places that it shows its cracks. There are certain parts of the books that I value highly, and others that make me shake my head. The shitlib politics of the series really get to me, as does Rowling’s black-and-white view of most people. Dolores Umbridge is a piece of shit and (arguably) gets raped by centaurs, and that says something about Rowling’s view of the world as a place with Good People and Horrible People. I don’t expect a children’s book to have a whole lot of nuance to it, I guess, but as an adult, I’ve always felt it reflects somewhat poorly on the author and their worldview. I have a sour take on Roald Dahl for that reason (and other reasons).

The attractive fantasy of Hogwarts is of being lifted out of your regular humdrum life and being told that you’re special. It’s a childhood that feels more like what we might have wanted childhood to be, even when we were children. All the boring stuff in school gets replaced with various kinds of dangerous magics, and you get to wander around with your friends, dodgy grumpy professors and learning ancient spells.

Aside from the first five hours, Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t really deliver what I wanted out of something that bills itself as a “Hogwarts Game”. For me, it fails in a lot of expected ways, especially when I hear “open world”, and pretty clearly abandons some of its core purpose for existing (which I would assume, from playing it, happened during production of the game rather than having been decided on at the outset).

During the course of writing this review, I think my rating went from an 8/10 to a 7/10. It left no lasting impression. I had no desire to return to it. I won’t be doing any DLC, and if they make another one, which they certainly will, I’m going to have to see some spectacular reviews in order to give it a chance. But spectacular reviews were what got me to give this one a chance, so maybe not even then.

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Game Review: Hogwarts Legacy

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