Hogwarts Legacy is an open-world action-RPG developed by Avalanche Software and published by Warner Brothers Games under their Portkey Games label. Set in the Wizarding World in 1890, roughly a century before the Potter films and 47 years before the events depicted in the Fantastic Beasts films, Hogwarts Legacy aims to turn the Wizarding World into an open-world sandbox. Depicting one of the most turbulent periods in the lore. I’m happy to report that it succeeds in nearly every aspect. While it has a few accessibility shortcomings which this article will elaborate on, it gets accessibility right when it counts the most. The player controls a custom-made student who receives a late admittance to Hogwarts as a fifth-year student due to a mysterious ability to manipulate a long-hidden form of ancient magic.
Booting up and jumping in
At first boot, players will notice that navigation of menus is done with a reticle similar to the ones found in both Far Cry 6 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. This becomes a barrier when you realize that there is no option to use a traditional menu interface. Coupled with the fact that the touchpad can’t be deactivated and the reticle moves away from your selection at the slightest touch of the pad, this is a fairly significant and frustrating oversight.
Menus include the typical sound and visual options. The Gameplay and Controls menus allow for adjusting of various aspects of the interface, and in a very atypical design choice is also tied to the accessibility menu. The accessibility menu allows players to adjust difficulty, aiming toggle and spell-cast toggle. It also includes color-blind filters for protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia. Mini-map transparency and pathfinding assistance along with subtitle size and background opacity are also available.
Combat, puzzles, Life at Hogwarts
Hogwarts Legacy’s combat and exploration is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of recent memory, however, even with that said, there are a few systems in place that keep me from wholeheartedly recommending this game to disabled gamers. Most notably those with motor-function impairments. The largest of those barriers is found in the combat.
In Hogwarts Legacy, the basic wand attack is bound to R2, and is done by tapping it. While holding it and tapping a face-button unleashes more powerful ones. Simultaneously pressing two buttons may prove a challenge for motor-impaired players. It is likely to cause fatigue, and it is a system used constantly.
Color coded spells
Spells use a color-coded system that is used to break enemy shields. During combat enemies will erect color-coded magical shields which must be broken by a spell of the same color. This system is also used in most puzzles, containing the symbol or color of the spell required to complete it. It’s enough to promote critical thought, but never becomes tedious. Puzzles generally never consist of too much more than moving a platform into place, or using the elements to power something.
However, controls aren’t customizable in any capacity. The grips of the Levioso and Wingardium Leviosa spells, used to levitate inanimate objects, can be set to a toggle. But the opening of the spell-diamond can’t. Activation of the diamond itself can’t be altered and requires even more dexterity once multiple diamonds are unlocked by completing goals associated with certain spells and magical plants.
These objectives are generally combat oriented and require afflicting an enemy with a specified spell or plant. This requires holding L1 and using the right stick. It’s odd this menu can’t be set to toggle. When a spell needs to be replaced, opening the menu is required. Highlighting the desired spell and holding R2 while pressing the desired button is needed. Having to hold the trigger seems redundant since the diamonds are open when displayed here. Not having to pull R2 would solve the minor inconvenience of accidentally hitting the touchpad, moving the cursor, when trying to reach a face-button.
The last thing is that a lot of the dexterity barriers that stem from the spell system are fixed or alleviated by playing on the story difficulty. Enemies do such reduced damage that spells can be cast without fear of losing. However it is a shame that certain accessibility features are tied to difficulty instead of being able to manually tweak them.
This is a barrier because the ability to skip certain mini-games like the fine-motor intensive lock-picking, which requires holding both sticks in the correct position to spin two gears, shouldn’t be tied to the difficulty setting chosen by players. In the event that a player excels at combat but lacks the dexterity to manipulate both sticks, a system like the one found in the most recent Tomb Raider where difficulty of individual aspects can be tweaked instead of the title as a whole would remedy this.
Flight, whether on broom or mount, requires both sticks. It isn’t a barrier because it’s not required outside of all but two missions. Only one is obligatory and it has no fail-state. Only a few puzzles have hidden timers, and these are sparse. Story difficulty also disables the QTEs associated with capturing magical beasts.
Finding your way
Early on in the adventure, the student receives a field guide. This magical book serves as the game’s journal mechanic, tracking overall progress and quests. It even allows players to set waypoints for easier traversal. At the push of a button, the book will emit a magical spark that will show a trail leading to the marked location. This was implemented to help players not get lost. Since so many late-game missions require finding a person or hidden object within a highlighted area and the spark stops working completely when you’re in the objectives vicinity, it never takes a player all the way and quickly becomes useless.
The Revelio charm is meant to rectify this by highlighting interactive objects. But it falters due to sometimes highlighting objects you’ve already touched. This leads to hours spent wandering an area trying to find what you haven’t interacted with. However, the player-character does give useful hints periodically if stuck during puzzles.
The Audible and Visual Magic
On the visual side of things, there shouldn’t be too many barriers. Color-coded spells don’t present too much of a barrier because there are color-blind options for most types as mentioned above. The Revelio charm does an excellent job highlighting objects. Its range increases greatly if the right skill is purchased. Enemies and objects that can be attacked or manipulated by spells are traced in a white outline. Most of these involve making a platform float so players can reach a ledge. Or arranging objects in a particular order, or as in one quest using bones to create an archway.
Late levels introduce portal mechanics where certain objects only appear on specific sides of a colored portal. They must be placed correctly to form a new platform which allows passage. The necessary object is always outlined when in proximity. Puzzles involving guiding moths with light also exist, since they automatically gravitate to the light spell, finding them isn’t hard.
Subtitles here not only have speaker-tags but size and background opacity can all be changed via slider. Furthermore, subtitles not only display dialog, but describe environmental sounds, exertions of force from characters, explosions, and other effects.
One of my favorite features that players will find useful and I hope to see in other games in general is the option to target off-camera foes. Essentially what this feature does is enable players to hit targets at a distance. Even if they aren’t physically visible on the screen. If you can see a target’s health meter, and you fire you will not miss.
There are no audio barriers and the overuse of the “find the small object in a huge area” objective is the only real barrier in this category.
Wrapping Things Up
Hogwarts Legacy is easily the most ambitious video game ever created using the Wizarding World license. It has all the charm and whimsy one should expect. The darker themes of grief and loss coupled with an era of the Wizarding World never seen before and all-new characters will keep new-comers and avid fans alike invested.