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In the quarter century or so since fans first fell in love with the Harry Potter franchise, there have been no shortage of opportunities to interact with the series’ iconic characters and locations from behind a gamepad. But while faithful followers of “The Boy Who Lived” have enjoyed everything from the early book-based action-adventures and brick-busting Lego entries to a title entirely dedicated to Quidditch, they’ve never been able to fully live out their Wizarding World fantasies in an immersive, cinematic, interactive experience.

Hogwarts Legacy — recently released for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and gaming PCs and coming to Switch later this year — aims to finally fulfill this wish, putting witch and wizard wannabes under the robes of a customizable character and unleashing them in a sprawling, open-world action role-playing adventure to rival anything Harry, Ron and Hermione ever tackled in the books or on the big screen.

But does this wickedly anticipated, long-in-the-making game deliver on that promise, offering an experience as refreshing as a Butterbeer? Or does it leave a bad taste in your mouth like the grossest of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans? Let’s hop on our brooms and find out.

The Wizarding World game fans have always wanted

While a few flaws occasionally sap it of its magic, Hogwarts Legacy is, by and large, the immersion-ratcheting Wizarding World game fans have long been waiting for.

Editor’s Note: Hogwarts Legacy is based on the Harry Potter franchise, whose creator J.K. Rowling is known for making harmful transphobic comments. While Rowling wasn’t involved in the development of the game, we felt it’s important to highlight her connection to it to help you make your decision.

What we liked about it

Overflowing fan service

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For the series’ most passionate fans, Hogwarts Legacy will justify its admission price the second they set foot in the titular school. The game’s story, taking place about 100 years prior to the events of the books and films, finds players wielding the wand of an original character — a fifth-year student they customize cosmetically. But the earlier time period and lack of a familiar protagonist don’t come at the cost of presenting the most fully realized version of Hogwarts ever committed to any medium.

Not limited by a book’s descriptions or film’s scenes, Hogwarts Legacy’s take on the enchanted place of learning is a massive, detail-drenched playground just begging to be explored. It’s packed with the expected gameplay elements — from main missions and side quests to optional challenges, myriad collectibles and countless character interactions — but it’s also brimming with secrets, surprises, call-outs, nods and Easter eggs.

Tons of familiar locations and events, such as the Grand Hall and Sorting Ceremony, are accounted for and beautifully realized. As are subtler inclusions, such as the moving paintings, pesky poltergeists and so many other fan-focused touches you’ll encounter at every turn. But it’s the unknown elements — the environments, encounters and interactions previously left off the page and limited to our imaginations — that make this the definitive Hogwarts experience. For every well-established nook, there’s a new cranny just waiting to be discovered.

While the purest of Potterheads may have trouble pulling themselves from the school’s hallowed halls, they’ll want to make their way to other familiar areas, such as Hogsmeade and the Forbidden Forest. Like Hogwarts, these areas not only enjoy the fullest realizations they’ve ever seen, but they’re also fully explorable, filled with critical objectives and optional gameplay, and packed with opportunities to author your own Potter-like adventures.

More than a Potter paint job

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If you’ve played any number of open-world action RPGs over the last few years, Hogwarts Legacy’s formula will feel comfortably familiar. Like recent releases, Horizon Forbidden West and Gotham Knights — or any of the last three Assassin’s Creed entries — it contains a massive map filled to the brim and beyond with activities to keep you busy. But while its inclusion of combat, crafting, questing, collectibles, character progression systems, puzzles and other expected elements might read like a rote genre checklist, none of it feels phoned in or thoughtlessly implemented.

On the contrary, rather than simply grafting gameplay onto a nostalgia-stinging presentation, Hogwarts Legacy organically weaves the aforementioned interactions, activities and challenges into its well-established universe. Early in the game, you can tackle a quest involving the fetching of five lost books. It’s an objective that could easily result in a time-filling errand, but it instead leverages its rich universe to become something more. The quest-giver is a quirky student who, while trying to cast a load-lightening spell, accidentally grants her books the gift of flight. This leads you to the stunning Hogwarts library, where you’ll hunt and capture the winged tomes with deft use of the Accio spell.

It’s a minor side quest, but it’s also a meaningful representation of the game’s larger ability to consistently turn the potentially mundane into the, er, magical. Other examples include the stat-based gear system, which doesn’t apply boosts to the usual chest plates and helmets but might find you benefiting from a damage buff while wearing a very Potter-like striped scarf or enjoying some extra defense thanks to a smart pair of spectacles.

It doesn’t hurt that developer Avalanche Software was thrown some softballs, like integrating resource gathering and crafting — two genre staples — into Hogwarts Legacy’s Herbology and Potions classes. Similarly, the universe’s Floo magic is an obvious stand-in for fast-travel. But the studio also deserves credit for deftly delivering on these obvious interpretations. While traversing the massive world by broom or creature mount is a no-brainer, it also could’ve been a mechanical nightmare. But it’s handled so wonderfully in Hogwarts Legacy, delivering one of the game’s most immersive, joyful experiences.

Spell-casting combat

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Just as mixing a Wiggenweld concoction in Potions class translates perfectly to crafting your typical med pack, learning spells and other combat skills as part of the Hogwarts curriculum makes for the ideal marriage of gameplay and source material. The classes strike the perfect balance between leaning into the license’s signature charm but also outfitting you with butt-kicking abilities. As in the books and films, fans are treated to eccentric professor introductions and personality-packed in-class antics, but these moments never overstay their welcome. Instead, they perfectly support your progression path, as you learn and upgrade spells and other skills.

Once on the battlefield, these magic abilities shine even brighter, both literally — shooting from your wand with eye-popping effects — and figuratively, supporting a deep, layered combat system that never had us wanting for more traditional weapons. While spells come in the expected elemental varieties, ably frying and freezing foes with a flick of the wrist, these powers barely scratch the surface of what’s possible once behind your wand. With dozens of spells, broken into various specializations — like Damage, Control, Force and Unforgivable Curses — there’s no shortage of ways to vanquish evil with style to spare.

And while many casts are reserved for non-combat purposes, such as puzzling and lock-picking, your arsenal’s still busting at the seams with wand-spawned skills that’ll benefit you when surrounded by unsavory sorts. Whether you’re facing a small goblin army, tackling a pair of towering trolls, thinning a cave’s arachnid population or simply teaching human adversaries some manners, you’re also encouraged to mix things up and experiment with your evolving bag of monster-slaying tricks.

Spamming favorite spells will only get you so far, so combining multiple magic types — and maybe tossing in the occasional Chinese Chomping Cabbage for good measure — is key to not only surviving but appreciating the depth of the enormously rewarding combat system. Powerful Ancient Magic, which also ties into the game’s central narrative mystery, adds yet another layer, essentially serving as supers that can turn the tables on even the most menacing mythical monsters.

What we didn’t like about it

The cost of ambition

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Hogwarts Legacy works as both a fan-servicing licensed game and an open-world action RPG, but it’s not without some cracks in the castle floor. Because its authenticity and attention to detail are often so strong and absorbing, areas lacking this level of care can feel underwhelming. Some of the spaces that fill out the map — stretches that aren’t specifically part of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade or the Forbidden Forest, for example — can feel sparse and more like generic fantasy environments than true Potter-level counterparts.

Repetition can also sully the experience late in the game, when enemy variety begins to run dry and combat encounters start to feel recycled. This occasional late-game tedium, combined with the more lackluster environments, had me wondering what a less ambitious, more contained Hogwarts Legacy might look like. Would it have worked better if it took place entirely on the school grounds, much the way Batman: Arkham Asylum unfolded within the borders of the titular psychiatric facility? The game’s scale and scope is undoubtedly impressive, but sometimes it feels like it shot for the stars when maybe it should’ve stopped at the moon.

Missing magic

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Some of the series’ signature magic is also missing from the supporting characters and, more so, your relationships with them. Strong friendships with peers — and even close bonds with professors and other adult characters — have always been as important to the franchise as its fantastic beasts. And while Hogwarts Legacy certainly aims for this, allowing you to interact with a large cast of colorful characters — some even surnamed Weasley and Black — the bonds and friendships forged rarely deliver the emotional depth of the source material’s. More often than not, you’ll feel like a lone-wolf hero with lots of close acquaintances but no real ride-or-die relationships.

It’s also hard to ignore major omissions, such as the absence of Diagon Alley and playable Quidditch, which seem like missed opportunities. It’s maybe not entirely fair to fault the developer for not including something, especially when these elements could arrive at a later date via downloadable content or in the inevitable sequel. Still, it’s difficult to hop on your broom and not imagine how cool it’d be to hit the figurative gas and hurl yourself toward a Golden Snitch.

Finally, while Hogwarts Legacy allows you to gather and care for a menagerie of magical creatures, the feature serves as more of a collectible petting zoo than meaningful gameplay inclusion. It’s certainly a welcome addition, one fans will surely appreciate, but I would’ve traded my most powerful wand for the opportunity to bond with (and battle alongside) a creature companion. On the plus side, you can pet every cat you encounter, an act made all the more comforting by the soothing “purr” emitting from the PS5’s DualSense controller.

Bottom line

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Minor flaws and wish lists aside, Hogwarts Legacy succeeds in delivering the Harry Potter game — minus the boy wizard — we’ve always wanted. It piles the fan service as high as the titular school’s tallest spire, then complements it with varied, compelling gameplay that’d do any action RPG proud.

And while that core gameplay experience impresses on its own merits, it also, crucially, is thoughtfully woven into the fabric of the beloved franchise. The result isn’t simply a solid action RPG with a pretty Potter paint job but an authentic, immersive, cinematic interactive experience that’ll have longtime fans raising frothy mugs of Butterbeer in celebration.