I never wanted to like Watch Dogs (2014). However, the idea of a game where players traverse an open-world-Grand-Theft-Auto-Assassin’s-Creed-hybrid that allows you to hack any electronic and connected devices was fascinating, to say the least. In the end, I ended up falling in love with the game. Its sequel, Watch Dogs 2 (2016), offered even more. Players could make use of any number of vehicles, weapons, gadgets and weapons whilst exploring a huge virtual rendition of San Francisco. It beautifully took the best elements of the first game and married them with wackier and lighter elements to create the perfect marriage of memes and darker real-life issues. With the dawn of a new console generation, Ubisoft saw fit for another sequel in the Watch Dogs universe, and rightfully so. Watch Dogs: Legion proves the repetitive nature of open-world games can be built upon and improved. With that in mind, however, the third game from the French company does have a few things holding it back.
Watch Dogs 2 was a wonderful game that showcased Ubisoft’s ability to learn from past mistakes. Watch Dogs: Legion, on the other hand, seems to have doubled down on the lighter and zanier elements introduced in the second game, with a much larger emphasis on exactly how wacky things can become. The strangest thing of all, however, is how it all weirdly makes sense in the mess that is real life at the moment in 2020! From Watch Dogs: Legion’s opening minutes, which parodies Mathew Vaughn’s excellent Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), through to the post-Brexit social commentary cleverly hidden away throughout its utilitarian setting, the game resembles real life in much the same way its predecessor did.
Watch Dogs 2 put players in the shoes of a young adult named Marcus Holloway. He was a relatable protagonist in an otherwise bleak world, supported by a huge cast of characters. Conversely, Watch Dogs: Legion lets players be whoever they want, so long as those characters exist in the world of the game. Canonically, Watch Dogs: Legion take place many years after Watch Dogs, and Watch Dogs 2. In it, Albion, a utilitarian organisation, is slowly reaping the benefits of seeding its agents into as many governing bodies as possible. DedSec, the hacktivist group Aiden Pierce and Marcus Holloway brought into the modern day, has once again been shut down by Zero Day, a mysterious rival group of hackers. Following the demise of DedSec’s main operative, Dalton Wolfe, some time passes and Albion’s grasp on London and its citizens has grown tenfold. Thanks to a new DedSec hopeful who has not given up on the promise of a free state (the first chosen player-character), DedSec must slowly rebuild itself and uncover the mysteries of Zero-day and their involvement with Albion.
Over the last several years, I have really grown to love Watch Dogs 2. I have especially enjoyed consuming every morsel of information on the game since release. In much the same way, Watch Dogs: Legion is showing extremely promising prospects for future engrossment. The reason for this largely comes down to how different and unique Watch Dogs: Legion handles its story. Characters, for instance, while written thoroughly, look and sound different based solely on random number generation (RNG). From the onset, players can choose a DedSec operative with a basic set of skills. Once DedSec is up and running again, players can then go out into London and profile pretty much any Non-Playable Character (NPC). Once done, NPCs can be turned into “Now Playable Characters” by adding them to the roster of potential recruits.
Some characters, such as rival faction agents (Albion security and Police Officers), cannot be recruited directly. Adding them to the roster enables a new Deep Profiling ability, where players can go through a few hoops, such as saving their loved ones or helping out with personal rivalries, to have them become friendly. Once friendly, players must start their relevant recruitment missions so they can be added to the team on a permanent basis. Throughout the campaign, players will need to go through the steps of recruiting mandatory characters like construction workers who can summon Cargo Drones or Police Officers who can reduce arrest times.
The inherent skills available via certain characters plays a large role in how players compose their teams of DedSec agents. Summoning a Cargo Drone as a construction worker, for instance, makes traversing cordoned off areas a breeze. Shortening arrest times as an officer, allows operatives to get out of jail sooner in the event they have been caught while out on a mission. Similarly, some operatives will also have ties to factions; complete with unique uniforms. Courtesy of this rather unique method of play, I highly recommend players unlock Deep Profiling as soon as possible, and get an Albion Security Guard in their ranks. Walking around secure Albion facilities without the need to sneak around is, quite honestly, one of the most over-powered, yet potentially easily overlooked, abilities in the game.
The way the operative system intertwines with the overworld is magnificent. One of Watch Dogs 2’s most impressive aspects was its wonderfully rich and vibrant world. Watch Dogs: Legion takes this a step further with NPCs that have schedules. While I assume most NPCs spawn in and out of existence given a certain range, any NPC profiles added to the list of potential recruits will automatically get a schedule and a timetable of their everyday needs. These NPCs can then be followed and observed doing everything in their power to abide by the schedule. Want to recruit a surgeon to the team? Wait for them at their workplace to talk to them. Need to catch their spouse in the act of cheating? Find out what their schedule is, and catch them red-handed while out on a date, or hack into their workplace computer and download their private emails!
On top of NPCs that make London feel like a living entity, the setting itself is incredibly detailed. While not exactly a “next-gen” experience, Watch Dogs: Legion is on par with modern titles. London is massive, and while not scaled perfectly, comes off about as big as it is in real life. The setting for the game is an alternative near-future where interconnected computers systems and electronics all work together to share information. CtOS is an operating system that took the world by storm in Watch Dogs (2014) and made a return in the sequel. While it is not as prominent in Watch Dogs: Legion, the implication is that CtOS is as much a part of life as breathing and walking. This evolution in canonical world-building is great to see and one that makes sense in the overarching narrative. What makes less sense, however, is Ubisoft’s insistence on adding all kinds of memes that are very specific to the period surrounding the game’s development period.
As much as I have taken to praising Watch Dogs 2, there is no denying how badly the world surrounding Marcus and his companions aged. Watch Dogs: Legion follows a similar structure, with an entire setting and premise-based on actual real-world political issues. Brexit is a very real political issue, and adding historical events to games is not necessary a bad thing to do. However, I cannot help but feel like the game is a bit too on the nose in this regard. Thankfully, cutscenes are not riddled with memes the same way they were in previous games. Sadly, the dumb mask the character called “Wrench” wore in 2 is a staple Ubisoft decided to go with for all characters this time around. Fortunately, it makes a tiny bit more sense now. When any of the operatives enter a restricted area, or pull out a weapon, or are involved in an altercation, they will automatically equip a mask to hide their identity. While I am not a fan of the silly masks, I do appreciate why Ubisoft went the extra mile and gave the masks a real reason for existing.
Since masks are such an integral part of the game and lore, Watch Dogs: Legion continues on the tradition of shops. There are a plethora of stores littered about London, with entire streets and markets filled with them. These shops sell nothing but clothing. Some shops specialise in selling trainers, while others only do coats. There are also franchises selling themed or country-specific clothing. Some shops even sell masks, which are only used for supposed illegal activities. What I find spectacularly neat is the fact that almost all shops sell face masks – normal masks operatives can wear while out and about. Watch Dogs: Legion even has three basic masks on offer for free – no doubt a result of the recent pandemic. This is a wonderful touch I feel more games should implement.
Points of Interest also make a return in Watch Dogs: Legion. London is a huge locale and players who have never been to the actual city abroad will surely want to explore and find out more in this digital creation. In this sense, players can see all the greats like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Trespassing on said sites will sometimes reward players with extra collectables, such as in-universe podcast snippets, interviews, and newspaper clippings. These will often flesh out the world of Legion and explain how certain areas have been changed by in-game happenings. This is a nice way of rewarding urban explorers while also integrating the lore of the game.
Another addition from Watch Dogs 2 that makes a return is none other than the plethora of weapons DedSec operatives can use. Watch Dogs was a sneaky game where Aiden Pierce only shot people when he needed to. Marcus, similarly, opted to use drones and hacking, but always had a collection of weapons on-hand in case things did not go as planned. In Watch Dogs: Legion, players can tackle things however they want. Whether that means walking into facility guns blazing, or trying a tactical route, Legion allows for it. Granted, when players do opt for a more aggressive approach, the game will steadily award the behaviour with a wanted level system similar to Grand Theft Auto. Every level of this system will meet players with an extra level of resistance and authority. Needless to say, when an operative falls in battle, they will either die, or go to jail depending on a few factors. These include whether they are susceptible to dying more easily, how young they are, and more. This is why it is imperative to recruit operatives with shorter jail times, or those who are not prone to die spontaneously. An operative who could die at any moment got me in trouble during a very high-stakes mission, so beware.
If gates and barriers require security codes or cards, operatives will need to rely on drones and other means to gain access. Ubisoft has cleverly designed little maze-like tunnels and vents which drones can traverse with ease. The spiderbot is a little eight-legged -freak-drone that can hack into and interact with objects. It will work on most switches and interact-able objects that normally require physical contact. Security drones, press drones, and others are flying variants that cannot do much more than taking pictures or help operatives solve security puzzles. I particularly like this aspect of the game since it dives heavily into how Watch Dogs are all about while keeping London looking largely as it should on the outside.
Unfortunately, our pre-release access to Watch Dogs: Legion did not include live access to the multiplayer servers. However, it is said to be like Watch Dogs 2, where players can invade other player games seamlessly and attempt to hack and retrieve data. Watch Dogs 2 also included cooperative missions where two or more operatives could work together to perform a heist. There is also a bounty hunter mode where invaders can hunt down operatives who wreak too much havoc in their open worlds. If anything major changes, we will update this review with relevant information.
Watch Dogs: Legion will not feel new or unique to anyone familiar with Watch Dogs 2. However, its open-world is leagues improved over previous titles with thousands of unique NPCs who have special skills that make them perfect DedSec candidates. The memes are still very much alive, and will sadly result in the game showing its age much quicker than Watch Dogs 1 ever will. In addition, the entire premise of the game is based around what we assume life would be like if Brexit finally pulls through, thus potentially showing its age even more.
Watch Dogs: Legion is proof of just how invested Ubisoft is in this incredibly interesting and evolving franchise. The title is ultimately incredibly unique and not overly complicated. It does not take itself too seriously, and allows for gamers to both enjoy and become engrossed in the world it builds. Although some weird issues do detract from the overall experience, such as the weird masks and unnecessary memes, these are all an integral part of the premise. So much so, that the game would feel empty and void without them and, weirdly, when thrown into the mix pot that is Watch Dogs: Legion, everything works together beautifully. Although the game may not be the sequel fans of Watch Dogs 2 have asked for, it certainly showcases what Ubisoft is capable of when allowed to have a bit of creative fun with an established franchise.
|Time Played||<20 Hours|
|Acquistion||Review code courtesy of Ubisoft|