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If you’re someone who puts any stock into annual award ceremonies within the games industry, you’ll probably be aware that the nominees for Geoff Keighley’s Game of the Year awards have been announced.
By and large, the categories from year to year tend to highlight the best games of the year in each bracket, and while not everyone will agree on a winner, most will agree that the group of nominees represents the cream of the crop.
That’s usually how the story goes, but occasionally, there will be an omission that shocks and bewilders the gaming collective, and this year, the conspiracy theorists are taking to the internet in their droves to try and make sense of why Avalance Studios’ open-world epic Hogwarts Legacy hasn’t received a single nomination at the awards.
Despite being one of the most trending games of the year, and earning the accolade of the highest-selling game of the year at this moment, the title was snubbed across all categories, and many believe that this is down to the controversy around the game ties to J.K. Rowling’s work and the proposed boycott of the title upon its release.
Well, I’m here to set the record straight and say that the Game of the Year panel was right. Hogwarts Legacy doesn’t deserve a nomination, and here’s why.
Putting Rumors to Bed
Okay, so let’s talk about the potential snubbing of this game. To simplify this theory so as to not breathe any life into it, some people believe that due to the Transphobic comments and opinions upheld by Harry Potter’s author and creator, J.K. Rowling, The Game Awards are aiming to avoid giving Hogwarts Legacy publicity, in an attempt to support trans gamers and indeed the Trans community.
It’s an argument that boils down to, ‘The Game Awards are too woke.’
Well, here’s my counterpoint. How many times within the AAA gaming scene have you seen a major developer, a top-tier content creator, a major publisher sacrifice a money-making opportunity to actively support a minority community?
And better yet, if they were going to do that, don’t you think they would have publicized this to reap the rewards of standing up for the little guy?
In this instance, the awards could have included the game to promote a high-selling game and enjoy the PR and interest that it draws, or equally, they could have taken a stand and earned brownie points with the LGBTQIA+ community.
In the end, they have done neither, and that can only mean one thing. The panel clearly doesn’t believe that Hogwarts Legacy is a game worthy of a nomination.
It’s not a matter of principle; it’s not a political move. It’s a matter of opinion, and if you really look deep, you probably knew that was the case anyway.
Popular Vs. Objectively Good
Now that the elephant in the room is addressed and the anti-woke brigade has clicked away, let’s discuss what it means to celebrate a popular game. A game can be popular for so many reasons. It can be popular based on merit, such as past game of the year award winners like Elden Ring, It Takes Two, and The Last of Us Part II.
A game can also be popular based on how readily available it is, with Free-to-play games like Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite, and Apex Legends springing to mind. A game can even be popular based on how terrible it is, with recent games like Skull Island: Rise of Kong and Lord of the Rings: Gollum catching the eye of gamers out of morbid curiosity.
What I am getting at here is that there are more factors than quality at play here, and in the case of Hogwarts Legacy, we have to take into account that a large portion of this game’s success directly correlates with the success and the undying love Potter fans have for the books and films within the Franchise.
I know that I myself had to wrestle with my journalistic integrity when reviewing the game, because the little kid that grew up playing the old Harry Potter licensed games was essentially given all he could have ever wished for when this game was released in February.
In short, this game is wish fulfillment, fan service to the max, and as lovingly true to the source material as it could be. But, the question remains: does that equate to an award-winning game?
Everyone’s A Critic
Before we get into discussing the game and stripping it for parts, I think it’s best to look at the review scores for Hogwarts Legacy.
If you take a look at the Metacritic score for this game it managed to attain a very respectable 85/100. Which in most years would have been a nailed-on GOTY Nominee. The problem for Hogwarts Legacy this year is that, it’s 2023, and 2023 has been a monster year for games.
We had two games this year that managed to get an average of 96/100 in the form of Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Baldurs Gate 3. Not to mention that, excluding all games with the same score, there are 57 games with higher aggregate scores than Hogwarts Legacy.
So, if critics’ scores are anything to go by. And on a Game Award Panel made up of industry officials and critics, they are. This goes some way to explaining why Hogwarts Legacy isn’t getting a look-in.
The post-pandemic wave of games came this year in full force, and when push came to shove, Hogwarts Legacy was critically outclassed.
What Was Potentially Award-Worthy About Hogwarts Legacy?
Okay, so let’s put scores to one side and give this wizarding wonder a fair shake. What was good about the game? Well, In my review, I actually had a lot of good things to say about the game in truth.
I thought the game was visually outstanding, the score was a wonderful re-imagining of John Williams’ orchestral work for the films, and the initial hours of gameplay were intriguing as all hell. As I said, the game promised to be complete and utter Potter-fan wish fulfillment.
However, after those initial hours past, the cracks began to show, and I will get to that. But if we look at the positives, the only categories I could potentially see this game slipping into on merit would be ‘Best Art Design’, and ‘Best Score and Music’.
So I ask you this. With so much source material to work with, and the fact that the game is essentially working off a blueprint to create a game that looks and sounds like the Harry Potter movies in a bid to entice fans to buy this game. Would it be fair to nominate this game ahead of titles with their own completely unique art styles and OSTs? In my eyes, absolutely not.
Now, I can hear all of you armchair critics screaming at the screen right now. ‘What About Best Action/Adventure Game?’ I hear you cry. Well, I’m just getting to that.
Ubisoft Is That You?
If you know me, you’ll know that I have always had beef with the Ubisoft model. While it was revolutionary back in the late 2000s, leading to some genuinely thrilling adventure games, the formula of checking off map markers, unlocking portions of the map, and clearing bases has become a stale, lazy, and uninspiring plague on the RPG scene. I get that some couldn’t be without them, but I certainly could.
I mention this formula because when you get over the initial joy of exploring Hogwarts Castle for the first time, being assigned your house, attending your first classes, and taking a stroll around Hogsmeade, you begin to realize that Hogwarts Legacy is exactly that. A formulaic, by the books Ubisoft model game.
Outside of the main quest, your time will be spent flying around the periphery of Hogwarts, finding collectibles, clearing dungeons, and, if you’re lucky, partaking in a fun side mission. However, the main issue that many run into with this game is, if you took the Harry Potter IP out of the equation, would you really be all that interested in the core gameplay of this game?
The combat is serviceable, getting around on your broom feels fine, and admittedly, there are some great side missions. Particularly the Sebastian Sallow ones. But when you take a step back and look at this game for what it is, it feels empty.
I remember about a month before this game was released, many were sticking the boot into another open-world Ubisoft formula game called Forspoken. A game I also reviewed, and with the power of hindsight, outside of the HP bias, I struggle to see too many tangible differences between the two.
The quests were generic and uneventful. The combat was serviceable, the voice acting was pretty poor, the map was barren and lifeless, populated with collectibles and filler quests. In fact, the only difference in my eyes is that Forspoken had better movement mechanics, so at least getting from A to B was fun.
In short, Hogwarts Legacy is a game that flatters to deceive, and while it’s one of the more palatable Ubi-style games around, it’s not a groundbreaking, jaw-dropping masterpiece, and at the end of the day, that’s what wins awards.
Comparing To Competition
Then, to round this all off, we have to compare the game to the other nominees in the Action/Adventure category, because even if this game isn’t objectively good, it doesn’t mean that the others are. So here are the nominees for that category. We have:
- Alan Wake 2
- Marvel’s Spiderman 2
- Resident Evil 4
- Star Wars: Jedi Survivor
- Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Of those five, three are pretty untouchable. You can disagree if you like, but I reckon I’m in the majority here. Alan Wake is one of the most complete Survival Horror/Action Adventure Games I have ever played.
Marvel’s Spiderman 2 is about as technically accomplished and cinematic as an adventure game can be, and Tears of the Kingdom is an improvement on Breath of the Wild, which many thought was impossible, making that an achievement in itself.
So that leaves the Resident Evil 4 Remake and Jedi Survivor. In truth, while I can see the argument that a remake shouldn’t trump a brand new IP, Resident Evil 4 really goes out of its way as a remake to offer new content, improved combat, better bosses, close ties to Resident Evil 2 in a reworked narrative and the game even has some replay value.
There is a reason that this game was awarded tens from plenty of major publications, and I think it earns its place here.
And then there was one. Stars Wars: Jedi Survivor. Honestly, if this game was a slightly improved version of Fallen Order, I would have probably agreed that Hogwarts Legacy pipped this one, but in reality, Jedi Survivor is a vastly improved game with much better platforming and exploration, better world design, a killer story, and slightly improved combat.
It’s still not soul-like in any way, but it’s more varied, at least. It does enough to earn its place here for me, and that, of course, means that, based on merit, there’s no place here for Hogwarts Legacy.
Not because the Awards are cruel, not because there is an agenda against the game. It’s just because it’s an average game. Plain and simple.
So there you have it folks, my take on why Hogwarts Legacy, despite having great sales figures and some interesting attributes, doesn’t deserve a place among the other Game of the Year nominees.
I would love to hear what you think about all of this, so please be sure to leave a comment. As always, thanks for reading RPG Informer.