The Lego series of games hit a saturation point of sameness around the time Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 came out. While it was differentiated by the various spells and assorted teammates it didn’t stand out and I felt it had a number of serious flaws. A couple of years later we now have the final game (until an inevitable repackage of the two happens) that focuses on the final three years (and four movies) of the series. I am happy to say that Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is a far superior game to the original and while it still has some flaws it is a fun game for all ages.
Much like the original game Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 follows the movie plots pretty closely and has you running through the scenarios from those films as if they are individual games. You start in Harry’s 5th year (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) in the schoolyard near his home in the Muggle world. While Dudley is causing trouble for him they are attacked by Dementors and Harry defends himself with magic kicking off the trial scene from the movie. I won’t dig into the story too much as everyone knows the movies/books by now and knows what happens. The point is that this game sticks very closely to the movies events and fleshes them out with the adventure aspects in the game.
There is a strong exploration aspect to this series and this game in particular has you exploring London and Hogwarts extensively. The Hogwarts castle, Diagon Alley and a street in London are accessible pretty much anytime and that leads to one of my few problems with the series, no fast travel options. Exploring the sprawling Hogwarts is interesting at first but becomes a tedious chore when you have to walk from one end of the castle to the other in between each mission. Adding to the travel fatigue is the trips to Diagon Alley to obtain the bonus features like buying characters, spell variations and red brick extras. I have to hope that Traveller’s Tales can look at this one last flaw of their games and make it easier to get places and unlock extras. As it stands I barely unlocked anything and ended the game with millions of studs remaining unused.
The core gameplay is interesting and somewhat refined from previous Lego games which made the annoyance of walking from end to end much more bearable. The game is divided into firm story missions and what I can only call objective missions. Missions that advance the story follow the typical formula: Solve a problem, find the hidden items (some only obtainable in free-play with different characters) and try and get enough studs to get the ‘True Wizard’ bonus and an extra gold brick. The objective missions are looser and generally involve you learning a new spell or technique that you will use in the next story segment. These don’t have a ‘True Wizard’ component or secret items and were refreshing as I could turn my OCD off in these sections.
The action is quite varied thanks to different types of characters. Ron can open Weasley chests left by his brothers, Harry can unlock doors that need Parseltongue to decipher and Hermione has a magic bag that can be triggered and she unlocks book doors. On top of this there are a number of spells such as a water spray (aquamenti), one that unlocks red doors (Diffindo) and a mind reading one (Legilimens). All of the spells play a particular role and are used in quite interesting ways that add a great deal of variety to the levels. It would be nice if the world was more malleable so that there were different solutions to a problem (all puzzles have one way to be solved) but the sheer scale of scenarios makes up for that.
Another cool feature is the dueling system which is introduced early on. When you trigger an iconic wizard duel you face off one-on-one against your opponent and can generate a shield or side step within a ring. You have to match your spell to the color of spell used by your opponent and then button mash on the controller to beat them. These duels are interspersed in the game and are often integrated into complex boss battles. It is a well implemented, if simple, way to show the wizards battling each other dynamically.
Like all the current Lego games this one also features drop-in/dropout co-op feature that lets anyone join you at will. This game also does not tie the players together to one screen like the older Lego games, either player can go anywhere with the screen split diagonally and merging when they are close. It is an extremely elegant system and greatly eases the frustration factor especially when playing with kids. In my house my boys yell at each less than they did in older Lego games that forced you to stay on the same screen.
Tying together all of these gameplay styles are the lovely art and graphics generated by the game engine. Looking better than ever this entry in the Lego series is fairly stunning and truly brings this game into the current generation. The figures, environments and surroundings look amazing in all their Lego rendered glory with dynamic lighting and impressive fields of view adding a visceral feel to the game. A couple of segments have you flying over London and the visuals are top notch. There are also now loading screens and some cut scenes that use a hand drawn looking rendition of the figures and it is a very nice touch.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 has some issues, particularly in pacing and backtracking, but it is a terrific entrant in the Lego series and a ton of fun. The replay value for completionists is very high with scenarios that are enjoyable to replay especially with a co-op companion to tool around with. If the rewards were more convenient to unlock and there were some fast travel options I would not hesitate to say that this would be one of the best Lego games to date, as it stands it is terrific, but falls short of perfection.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PC, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360.