PS3 Review: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7



While Hogwarts might have changed into a darker, more dangerous place in the movies after the finale of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the reality is that, gameplay-wise, things haven’t changed much at all in the follow-up to the superb LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. Developer Traveller’s Tales have adopted an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to their block-busting family game franchise, refining and tweaking them with subtle brush strokes rather than major evolutionary alterations. If you’re burnt out on LEGO games, then LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 likely won’t turn that around, but for fans, it’s the series’ best entry yet, recapturing the magic of LEGO Hogwarts and expanding on it with just enough new added bells and whistles to keep it feeling as fresh and addictive as ever.

Following on from LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, the sequel picks up from the fifth movie and covers the plot of The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2 (despite the ‘Years 5-7′ name, the game covers four years, with The Deathly Hallows split into two seperate years/stories here, just like the films it follows). Sinister Lord Voldemort has returned, but with Harry as the only surviving witness, the Ministry of Magic choose to adopt a ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ attitude, wilfully ignoring the resurrection of The Dark Lord and writing it off as a childish hoax. Hogwarts is quickly becoming a dangerous place for more reasons than just Voldemort, though, as authoritarian monster Dolores Umbridge is put in charge, running the school with a curriculum of cruelty and corporal punishment. Harry and friends have no choice but to work alone as they gear up for war, assembling an underground army of resistance as they prepare to destroy He Who Shall Not Be Named, once and for all.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
If you’ve played a LEGO game before, then not much will seem unfamiliar to you here. You’ll still explore expansive areas ripped straight from the movies, smashing everything around you until they explode LEGO studs for you to collect. You’ll still use your arsenal of magical abilities to levitate objects, build things and interact with pretty much everything you can see to get them to cough up studs or to complete mission objectives. Puzzles are still a matter of switching between the characters at your disposal and using their unique abilities in unison to finish the level (Arthur Weasley proves useless at pulling heavy levers but a dab hand at fixing broken machinery, for example, or you might need Hermione to use her cat Crookshanks to explore a pipe in a situation where pet-free Harry wouldn’t be much help). You can still team up with a friend for some drop-in, drop-out dynamic split-screen co-op to break bricks and solve puzzles together. On the face of it, there’s not much revolutionary or surprising about the latest LEGO game, but what is surprising is just how immediately fun and intensely addictive the block-smashing formula still is after ten games.

Still impressive is just how naturally and organically each level flows into the next through the hub of Hogwarts. The game pretty much instantly presents you with the perfect blend of free-roam platform exploration and structured progression. Whenever you’re in the Hogwarts hub, you can wander off wherever you like to explore the school, buy characters, spells and extras at Diagon Alley or hunt for hidden collectibles as you smash everything in sight. The next level is never out of sight though; ghosts roam Hogwarts and a trail of translucent studs leave a trail to follow to the next part of the story to ensure you’re never lost as you explore (and with extra detail and locations added to the familiar areas from Years 1-4, there’s even more to find and tinker with). New abilities are again learned during lessons, and an especially great touch is how you access Hogwarts later in the game where Harry, Ron and Hermione spent much of the films on the run, living in the wilderness. Opening up the Marauder’s Map shows you the movements of students back at the school and switches you to control Ginny, Seamus and Neville there, while inspecting the ‘Wanted’ posters for Harry & Co. around Hogwarts sends you back to their tent hideout. It’s simple, incredibly clever and wonderfully elegant and typifies how beautifully and seamlessly the world of Hoqwarts is interwoven into the game’s progression and exploration.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
Similarly, the LEGO series still has the most inviting and rewarding replay system of any game in memory. The further you play, the more hidden characters you unlock for purchase at Madam Malkin’s, many with their own unique magical abilities. Some areas and objects might need the strength of a burly character like Hagrid or Dudley Dursley to pull some handles, or the dark magic powers of an evil character to interact with them, so playing levels again in ‘Free Play’ mode or exploring Hogwarts with extra characters in your entourage allows you to access entire areas and collectibles that were previously out of reach. It’s a fantastic, fluid system that invites further addictive exploration of the entire game and rewards it with a huge amount of hidden content (after completing the game and doing a tonne of exploring and replaying levels, I’d still only seen 46% of what the game had to offer).

While a little bit of the light-hearted wonder of Hogwarts is naturally lost in the jump from the early movies to the darker later films, which mostly take place away from the wizard school, Traveller’s Tales do replace it with a subtle visual upgrade and some new gameplay tricks to toy around with. Borrowed from LEGO Star Wars III‘s ability to cut pre-defined holes in walls and doors with your lightsaber, a new ability allows you to do the same with your wand. Wherever you see bright red objects or walls, equipping your Diffindo charm makes a dotted outlined shape appear on them, allowing you to cut it out by guiding the left analog stick around it, revealing entrances and objects. The Aquamenti charm causes a jet of water to spray from your wand, and can be used to extinguish flames, water plants into bloom, fill up tanks to gain studs and objects, hose down graffiti or fill up counterweights to make them lower and open doors. The Focus ability allows you to approach certain characters and shoot the cloud hovering over their heads, revealing the object they want you to hand over.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
New unique character abilities and special items have been added, too. Weasley Boxes are dotted around the levels, only accessible by members of the Weasley family, which contain fireworks to blow up objects or special shoes that allow characters to walk up special sections of walls. Ron’s Deluminator allows you to collect light from one lantern and use it to illuminate a different one, causing out-of-reach vines to recoil and recede or melting ice, and so forth. Pink platforms mark areas where Hermione can use her Mary Poppins style handbag to find an object that’ll prove useful. SpectreSpecs can be collected (from special The Quibbler newspaper dispensers – an awesome little touch for fans) and allow you to see and build objects that were previously invisible. None of the abilities reshape or change the familiar formula in any drastic way, but as a collective whole they’re great additions that add more toys to the LEGO playset and layer on some added puzzle gameplay diversity.

Like its predecessor, Years 5-7 is still far more focused on exploring, adventure, magic and puzzles than the combat of other LEGO games like Star Wars or Indiana Jones. But while the less action-oriented stance of the first game was perfectly suited to the wonder and whimsy of Hogwarts’ early years, it’s only natural that things change to fit the death and danger present in the later movies. There’s the usual boss fights that you encountered in the last game, where you’ll telekinetically catch thrown objects and toss them back at enemies (though the physics have been improved, and you can now spin and angle objects to toss them in different directions). New to the sequel are wand duels, which do a simple, but great job at injecting some variety into the series’ combat. When encountering certain Death Eater enemies, a duelling ring will appear on the ground, split into halves. Your opponent’s half of the ring will glow a certain colour and you’ll need to switch through your coloured spells to match and attack, causing an arc of magical lightning to blast from both your wands and meet in the middle. Hammering the ‘X’ button will push your magical force further towards them, eventually knocking them on their butt. The Protego charm is introduced here, too, serving as a handy shield that you can conjure to protect you while you switch to the correct spell. It’s a smart and fun addition that makes the major moments of combat feel more dramatic and involving than the familiar boss battles.
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
Following on from LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, which expanded on the series’ simple, cartoony aesthetic with a layer of gorgeous visuals, playing around with attractive scenery and some beautiful lighting effects, LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 jumps at the opportunity to refine and improve on the game’s signature look. Exploring underground tombs and darkened woods by the glowing light of your wand is eerily impressive thanks to some wonderful lighting effects, flashbacks are shown in stylish sepia filters and defending Dumbedore from hordes of shambling undead Inferi in Horcrux Cave gives you your first glimpse at what a LEGO zombie game might look like. The visual high point comes with the tale of the Deathly Hallows, where the game adopts a side-scrolling perspective and transforms into a broody and beautiful pop-up fairytale book more akin to the visual splendour of recent platformer Limbo than what you’re used to from LEGO games.

There are a few negligible problems that are pretty much nit-picky suggestions. I’d love it if, in single player mode, your AI companions could collect studs too, even if just the ones that hit their feet. And it’s a shame that the game doesn’t save your line-up of activated red block extras, which give you bonus unlockable perks like stud multipliers or gold brick detectors, and it’s a little irksome to have to jump into the menu and reactivate them every time you start up a game. A more concrete problem is that if you’re not familiar with the films, then the plot will be entirely lost on you and the game won’t be as much fun. The pseudo-silent movie spoofery of the cut scenes do a wonderful job at lampooning familiar scenes in clever and funny ways for fans, but the dialogue-free cinematics don’t even attempt to be understandable for newbies. Still, the LEGO games have always been loving odes to fans first and foremost, and it’s an issue that’s even harder to blame the game for (this is a sequel, after all, so you should be expected to be up to speed to an extent).
.
.

(Click image to enlarge)

.
.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 doesn’t revolutionise Traveller’s Tales’ brick-breaking formula, but it does tweak and refine it to its most perfect state yet, with a more varied array of gameplay toys at your disposal and more beautiful visuals layered on top of the deep, elegant and addictive game you knew and loved. God only knows how the series has managed to stay fresh after so many games, but LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 recaptures that magic yet again. It’s the best LEGO game to date and, even in a month overrun with big releases, it’ll keep kids and adults alike gleefully tied to their console for hours on end.

Rating:





LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is available to buy now on PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS, PSP and PC.
Click here to buy it from Amazon.co.uk.