Do you remember that part in the Harry Potter books or movies where Harry strolls into a fortified camp, draws his wand, and then whips an explosive barrel into a group of illegal poachers, instantly barbequing all five in the blast radius? Me neither, which is why I was a little shocked by my wizard's bloodlust in Hogwarts Legacy.
Note: Minor Hogwarts Legacy spoilers below.
Seriously, I'm an exceptionally deadly 15-year-old. Depending on who you ask, Harry Potter himself only had to kill once or twice throughout his entire Hogwarts career. I'm snuffing out half a dozen lives on the way to Potions class and I don't know how to feel about it. My nearly triple digit bodycount isn't entirely the fault of my character (Wizardboy Spellsalot), but it's not not his fault either.
The truth is, in most cases, it's them or me. Seemingly every living thing in the wizarding world, from poachers and giant spiders to mobster wizards and rebel goblins, wishes my mid-puberty magician dead. Fighting back is definitely in order, and wizzing magic bolts back and forth like I'm in a rainbow-colored active warzone is lots of fun, I just didn't expect every other new spell I learn to be another way to murder someone. I just mastered a particularly nasty spell, Confringo, which is essentially a fireball that hits so hard that everything I've blasted with it so far is now a pile of ash. I haven't even unlocked the canonically evil spells—the unforgivable curses (opens in new tab) that apparently you're not punished for using.
At first I wondered if enemies were simply getting knocked out or teleporting away to safety, but there's nothing ambiguous about it. Defeated enemies dematerialize into nothing or become a lifeless ragdoll until despawning.
The most brutal moves in my arsenal are, by far, the "ancient magic" ultimate finishers that only your special Hogwarts Legacy protagonist can perform. Using one of these burns a chunk of ancient magic meter and usually kills the target in a single blow. You never know which one you're going to get—sometimes you open the sky and summon a bolt of lightning, other times you whip a body against the ground very hard until they're dead, and occasionally you shrink a giant spider into a smaller one, levitate under your foot and then step on it.
For how much E-rated fun I've had in Hogwarts Legacy (brewing potions, racing brooms, organizing furniture), I was caught off guard by how much killing there is. We know why violence is fun in games—there's a clarity to eliminating pieces off the board, and the impact and physicality of flinging spells across a forest mean more when you're fighting something truly dangerous. There is a non-lethal option, you can dispatch enemies with Petrificus Totalus if you manage to sneak up behind them, but you're unlikely to clear a camp before a fight breaks out. I'm not sure Hogwarts Legacy's rhythmic duels would be as gratifying if I walked Harry's pacifist path of spamming the disarming spell "Expelliarmus" and stun spell "Stupefy" 36 times over eight movies.
This is probably a good time to clear up exactly what sort of open world game Hogwarts Legacy is, as of my first 16 hours: It's sort of like The Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2 in that there's lots of talking, crafting, puzzle solving, treasure hunting, and horse riding (er, broom flying). There's a fair bit of combat too, though not as much as I expected. At least half of the main quests I've checked off so far had little or no combat, but the killing is dialing up as I get further in the story. One comforting thought: Hogwarts itself has proved to be a bastion. I've only had to do violence within school grounds a few times, and those were all practice duels with students. It's not until you step outside the gates that all bets are freaking off.
I thought Hogwarts was a disastrously unsafe place for children in the time of the movies, but with all of the goblins and trolls patrolling the grounds, now I'm wondering how these kids survived the 19th century.