Watch Dogs: Legion Review
After a delay that pushed the release from March of this year to October, Watch Dogs: Legion is finally releasing just weeks before the start of the next generation of gaming. Having completed both Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2, the third game in the series was quite anticipated by yours truly. Watch Dogs 2 showed a marked improvement in gameplay and atmosphere, and I expected Watch Dogs: Legion to achieve a similar improvement.
To quickly summarize Watch Dogs and Watch Dogs 2 to understand where Watch Dogs: Legion picks up, Watch Dogs puts you in the role of Aiden Pierce in Chicago, a city that utilized Blume Corporation’s CTOS (Central Operating System). Eventually, CTOS 2.0 is rolled out into other cities, including San Francisco where you play as Marcus Holloway in Watch Dogs 2. While both games have their own stories to tell, the games feature a constant struggle between hacking group DedSec and their enemies, including Blume. The games have an overarching theme in that technology is increasingly integrated into society, threatening data, privacy, and security by those who control it.
Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in the near future, set in London in a time where technological advances have put millions out of employment. After early in-game events which send members of London’s DedSec cell into hiding, state surveillance, private military, and organized crime have all strengthened their grasps on the city. Protests, crimes, abuses of power, and more take place on nearly every street corner. The narrative itself is interesting, touching on some issues that hit very close to home, but some of it is also a bit predictable. At the outset, players are tasked to “unfuck” the city of London as DedSec, though Watch Dogs: Legion takes a different approach than the first two games.
Rather than being assigned a main character in Watch Dogs: Legion, you play as whoever you would like to recruit. No, you aren’t creating your character, but deciding which generated character(s) you want to play as. At the start, you are provided with a choice of various characters to take on as your first recruit, before joining up with DedSec and provided the opportunity to recruit anyone else you choose off the streets. While the game does force you to recruit certain types of characters for some specific missions, you can just as easily dismiss them thereafter. DedSec’s AI, Bagley, also points out some suggested individuals for you to recruit, but you can just choose to ignore them.
At What Cost?
While the game essentially puts you in the role of DedSec, there are a couple key NPCs that play a role in DedSec as well, such as the aforementioned Bagley. You might wonder how the main story is affected without having a main character, and put quite simply, it is a bit harder to connect with the story and characters you control. Setting aside trying to reason why new recruits are suddenly trusted with dangerous and information sensitive missions, it is also a bit difficult determining who you are in the story. Though a character’s demographics, occupation, associates, and metadata can be found within a menu, these are randomly generated and do not necessarily match up with their recruitment quests, etc. Think of it as playing a random NPC in any game, except you can’t switch back to a main character.
That said, the “Play as Anyone” mechanic is great, especially when you put the story aside and decide to just mess around with scanning random passersby. The mechanic works like this: you identify a potential recruit, determine how to influence them into joining DedSec, and then complete a specific mission. This may vary depending on the character as well as their feelings toward DedSec, but they ultimately follow a very similar path. Some of the characters you can recruit have very interesting occupations, ranging from Anarchist, Hypnotist, Signals Intelligence Response Officer, and even a Spy. Some of the more unique professions have special abilities or equipment, like the Hypnotist who can switch a character’s allegiance, or the Spy who has a Spy Car that can fire missiles and turn invisible. All of the characters have customizable outfits, including masks, and if you enable permadeath, they can all die as well.
Aside from the shiny new “Play as Anyone” mechanic, Watch Dogs: Legion is a Ubisoft open-world game through and through. If you aren’t quite sure what that means, it boils down to a lot of things to do. Apart from the main quest and various side missions in recruiting characters, there are collectibles, upgrade points, and a general inability to run out of things to do. The game features your typical open-world navigation which includes running, cars, boats, and even construction drones with which to ride on. If you haven’t played Watch Dogs game before, a hacker group operating in a technologically advanced society means there is a lot of hacking to do. This ranges from hacking cars, distracting enemies, using a spiderbot to infiltrate a gang hideout, and much more. Players can unlock various equipment and upgrades throughout the game, equipping them on characters as they see fit. The equipment can play a big role in missions, and it is important to unlock them when you can.
Watch Dogs: Legion’s mission structures are generally the same, involving the need to infiltrate a specific location in order to complete whatever the objective may be. This is where the gameplay shines, depending on your character choice. Players can tackle these however they see fit through combat, stealth, or hacking. It doesn’t matter whether you shoot your way in from the front door or use a drone to help sneak in, as long as you complete the mission. However, proper recon and intelligence gathering will make these missions more survivable, which is important if you decide to play with permadeath enabled.
Watch Dogs: Legion simply looks good. Our review was conducted on an Xbox One X, so the next-gen versions should look even better, in theory. It looks and feels how a AAA game should look in 2020. Although there are some limitations given that it is an open-world game, it still looks relatively solid. Having never been to London myself, the game’s version looks and feels like it should, based on what I have seen through shows and movies. It should be noted that just like the open world, the UI has a lot going on. Maybe even too much. On the screen at any one time could be mission objectives, the mini map with various icons, indicators of enemies, your equipment and/or equipment wheel, your hacking target, scanned connection paths, and the gameplay itself. While you eventually learn to tune some things out, there is a lot to look at which can be overwhelming, especially at the start.
Likewise, the audio itself assists in making Watch Dogs: Legion feel authentic to London. From the music selection, the voice acting, and the various talk show radios, the audio makes the world feel alive, especially fitting its setting and atmosphere. The only knock I can give related to audio, is that some of the lip-syncing did not quite match up with the generated character, just another hurdle without having a main character.
Watch Dogs: Legion will be largely characterized by its “Play as Anyone” mechanic, and for good reason. The mechanic itself is very interesting, especially with how it connects characters to others in the world that you might run into. Unfortunately, this mechanic takes away from the main story as it replaces having a main character, disconnecting you somewhat from the narrative. It’s hard not to characterize Watch Dogs: Legion as “Ubisoft open-world game with hacking”, but that’s what it is. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but I believe that more could have been done with the new mechanics without taking away from other portions. Overall, Watch Dogs: Legion is a fun game with a nifty new mechanic that can be utilized in different ways in the future.
*** An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher ***
- “Play as Anyone” mechanic is interesting
- Hacking puzzles are fun
- A lot to do
- London feels authentic
- “Play as Anyone” mechanic hurts the story
- Typical open-world style game
- Cluttered UI