Harry Potter

Hogwarts Legacy's Opening is Ridiculous and Morbid All At Once

RIP to the sideburns guy.

hogwarts legacy flame fire
WB Games

I named my Hogwarts Legacy character Cornelius Grumblefarts expecting the game would deliver a pretty frivolous Wizarding World experience, but I was shocked to quickly discover that the game is, in fact, hardcore and ridiculous. We all remember Harry Potter as a lighthearted affair, but we also forget that the last three books are grim AF.

As a reformed Potterhead who paid little attention to the Hogwarts Legacy hype cycle, I went into the experience with pretty neutral expectations and little to no information about its plot. Almost immediately, my bullshit detector began firing off. You’re admitted to Hogwarts as a fifth-year? You get some kind of special dispensation to practice underage magic? Basic rules of the Harry Potter universe are broken for the sake of making a video game plot hook “work,” but it does plop you right into a situation with two bumbling old wizards with silly names as plucky orchestral music plays in the background. In short: At least it has the right vibes.

Very quickly, things take a horrific turn in a way that had my jaw on the floor. Spoilers ahead.

Your mentor Professor Eleazor Fig has chill grandpa vibes and his pal George Osric from the Ministry of Magic is like a bumbling cop with sideburns that simply do not work for him. They’re a goofy, striking pair with a lot of charm, like if the Muppets Statler and Waldorf were less grouchy. When they hop into a carriage that flies off with no horses, I shouted “Thestrals!” at the TV. These horrifying bat-like horses are invisible to the naked eye — unless you’ve seen someone die. I couldn’t see them because I’ve never seen death. But I should have recognized the foreshadowing when the camera deliberately focused on the invisible steeds before the carriage launches into the sky on its way to Hogwarts. The moment felt like showy fan service and made me wonder how many players might be confused about how the carriage flew.

More BS: Fig and Osric openly discuss details of a growing conspiracy in front of Cornelius Grumblefarts involving a goblin rebellion and the untimely death of Fig’s wife some months ago, something they were afraid to do in public but unafraid of doing in front of a strange teen with a silly name. Why doesn’t Fig seem more sad about his wife’s death? Why did she send a weird trinket to Osric at the Ministry instead of Fig at Hogwarts, a place that time and again has proven the safer of the two?

That’s when it happens: A massive black dragon bites the carriage in half, and with another mighty chomp, Osric is killed. Only then do the five Thestrals pulling the carts materialize into view, which dispels any hopes that he might’ve survived. Then the dragon blasts the cart with its fire breath. The carriage driver Apparates away, but are the Thestrals all killed? The player character and Fig skydive for a bit and then teleport away via Portkey (the trinket Osric gave to them) for the game to truly begin.

Can you see the Thestrals?

WB Games

Frankly, it’s impressive that the five-minute sequence crams in so many Wizarding World references and such an action-packed and shocking set piece, but the bit about Thestrals strikes me as a brilliant use of this world’s mechanics. It teaches us something through visual cues without overtly spelling it out.

I imagine the whole opening cinematic may be hard to keep up with for all but the most diehard of fans, but it also takes some wild deviations from what we know of Harry Potter canon. Professor Fig points out moments later that dragons simply do not attack humans randomly like this, which implies some measure of foul play (spoiler: it’s true). The sequence also plants the seed of “ancient magic” as a focus for the game’s story.

Cornelius Grumblefarts can see and interact with the “ancient magic” glow that unlocked the trinket to access the Portkey inside, which is what makes him the special protagonist here. (Though it was glancingly referenced in the Harry Potter books, this ultra-powerful and largely forgotten form of magic was used to build Hogwarts and is what makes the hides of dragons impervious.)

I really didn’t expect a AAA video game based on a book series largely written for kids to open on such a gruesome death like this. And while some of the plot machinations feel inorganic and totally manufactured for the same of the story, it’s refreshing that Hogwarts Legacy is able to surprise me with a more mature tone while still capturing the whimsical vibes of the Wizards World.

Maybe I should have taken this whole character creation thing more seriously.

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