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In context: Denuvo is an anti-tamper technology and DRM solution often adopted by large game publishers (and sometimes by indie studios) to protect their latest titles against piracy. There's someone, however, who has apparently made cracking this powerful DRM their life's mission.
Game cracker "Empress" has once again achieved the impossible. After a brief beta period managed through her Telegram channel, the notorious hacker has released a "cracked" version of Hogwarts Legacy. The new action RPG set in Harry Potter's wizarding world was released just a couple of weeks ago, and it likely won't suffer much as publisher Warner Bros. has already sold more than 12 million copies (on PC, PS5 and Xbox).
Empress' ability to crack Denuvo on the latest DRM-protected games is a remarkable achievement. The cracker explains that Hogwarts Legacy is protected by "Denuvo v17" plus Steam's own (mild) DRM. The "NFO" file accompanying the cracked release (no download link is provided, of course) is extremely opinionated as per tradition, as Empress is seemingly fully supporting author J. K. Rowling as a "real woman" against what she describes as the "woke system."
Despite questionable opinions and foul language, Empress' technical skills are among the best in the "scene."
As a Reddit user put it, being able to crack Denuvo today is essentially "insane." Empress is just a single developer against an entire team of professionals, she has (or should have) no access to Denuvo source code, and yet can seemingly defeat the DRM and anti-tampering technology in just a couple weeks.
Before being banned from Reddit, Empress had expressed some frustration against the complexity she found in the latest Denuvo versions. For this reason, the anti-DRM cracker decided to change her habits by reserving a considerable amount of her time to defeating the much maligned Denuvo tech on the latest games coming on PC.
Denuvo is also often accused of affecting game performance negatively (and known for receiving bad press for various reasons). One YouTuber had compared the Steam version of the game and the Empress release on a low-end gaming system (Core i7-7700, GeForce GTX 1060 6GB, 16GB of RAM), and found the cracked release to provide higher frame rates, however this was later corrected as the comparison was invalid. The "slower" Steam version was running with the Steam overlay turned on, which was impacting performance. In a later re-test it's shown that DRM does not seem to affect performance.
Hogwarts Legacy has been widely praised for the amazing gameplay, but gamers on the PC platform have complained about stuttering since day one, even on high-end systems. A patch released on February 14 was meant to alleviate some of this, with the notes specifically mentioning "shader type compilation optimization," but this hasn't worked for everyone. To learn more about shader compilation and why it causes stuttering, read our explainer here.
Update (Feb 25): The original story wrongfully reported that Denuvo DRM had a negative impact on Hogwarts Legacy's performance. There is, after all, no free performance gain when the DRM is removed from the game.