Running through a massive factory parking lot and vaulting over a semi, drones falling out of the sky and security booms crashing down. The darkness of night blinking away every three meters as street lamps pass overhead. Distinct security chatter over the radio foretells a shoot-out as soon as corner ahead is turned. I was dumb, I forgot to look at the map before I attempted – and failed – to hack a high profile tower. I reach the corner and pull out the little automatic rifle I had unlocked earlier. Multiple guards, a massive drone, and much more on the way. With no way out, I resign my fate and start thinking of which DedSec operative I will be switching to as soon as this is over… only for those thoughts to diminish as a vehicle speeds through all of the guards in front of me, a fellow Agent in its cockpit yelling over Discord for me to get into the “damn car”. We laugh as I mention how I took a stupid turn during the last mission and rightfully got myself into this predicament. This is not the usual Watch Dogs Legion experience. It is Watch Dogs Legion Online Mode.
Watch Dogs Legion is based in post-Brexit England, with millions of potential DedSec recruits fresh for the picking. In Legion, players must build up an army of hackers – all of whom have different backgrounds and ages, and a keen sense of hacking into security cameras, turrets, and drones – all in the name of expressive freedom and privacy. It really is a good game with a great single-player campaign held back by a few little grievances. Now the game is getting a breath of fresh air thanks to the upcoming Online Mode that Ubisoft Toronto have promised for some time. The mode, which has already been delayed once, is finally closing in on a final build set to release on 9 March 2021, and even the early release build I played seems to have been polished beyond rational belief.
Polish is only a small part of the story, especially if you have to consider all of the many facets that Ubisoft Toronto had to. When a game with a great single-player game is given a multiplayer mode, many things immediately worry me. Firstly, open-world games, while attributed well to online modes, tend to fall short when their subject matter is translated to the online world; this is especially the case when missions have specifically been written for single players only. The second worry is how open-world games need to be designed with multiplayer in mind – which is why both Grand Theft Auto V Online and Red Dead Online are separate entities from their respective main titles.
Fortunately, it looks like Ubisoft had the Online Mode in mind from day one. From the bit I played of an early build, I can vouch that there will be very little to worry about when the new update releases. Simply put: it runs extremely well; especially from an early build perspective. To their credit, Ubisoft implored everyone with early access to go through a few checks before playing. The usual things like “turn off all background tasks” and “please check internet connection beforehand” all applied here. I went into the session without doing any of those things, and it worked out incredibly well.
Logging into the game and starting up a multiplayer session was easy enough. Instead of clicking on Continue (which takes players into a previous session), all that needs to be done is for the player to click on Multiplayer, then continuing through a fifteen to the twenty-minute tutorial mission. After this, the map opens up and a huge pop-up informs players of what they can expect in the brand-new game mode. From there, it is open-world shenanigans as per usual.
As promised, the Watch Dogs Legion Online Mode constitutes a handful of mission types, and a whole lot of missions to go with it. The game informs players about tailor-made co-op experiences and player versus player modes right from the get-go. In the hands-on demonstration, we had instant access to all three of the promised game modes: Open World Activities, Tactical Ops, and Player Vs Player.
The Open World Activities are pretty much what one can expect from an open-world game. This is nothing new to players familiar with the single-player. Here you can simply enjoy the free-roaming, and get into a bunch of trouble. Tactical Ops, however, is what might make or break entire friendships. To initiate this mode, one player needs to select it from the map overview, then continue to tick the tiny little box that locks it into the current group only (or risk loading into a map filled with random players). From there, others must join in, and try breach an enemy outpost, steal some important documents, or shoot a bunch of baddies in the face. The Player versus Player mode is as straightforward as can be: players load into a map, and continue to hack (and… slap?) their way through an opposing team of players. Full disclaimer: I only loaded into a single PvP match, and it was pure chaos. Grenades were going off everywhere and I kept getting shot or run over. Needless to say, I did not spend a lot of time in this mode.
The beauty of all of these game modes, as different as they sound, is that the core gameplay remains the same. From hacking drones and turrets, through to sneaking up (or going in guns blazing) and taking out enemy guards, the gameplay is completely similar to the main game. The only real differences come in when upgrades and new gear need to be unlocked. In the single-player mode, these are unlocked through points found in the open world and gained through mission completion. The first thing to take note of is that all progress from the single-player campaign will not carry over into multiplayer. Players will need to unlock everything from the start. While still the same, however, the multiplayer equivalents are much more lenient and easy to come by. No unlocks are shared with others, however, so everyone will need to “earn their keep” so-to-speak.
Similarly, DedSec agents will have to be procured all over again. Players start with a basic agent, and then need to explore London and look into Non-Playable Character (NPC) data to see if they are good enough to turn into “Now Playable Characters”. Unlike the single-player portion, where every NPC you attempt to unlock has a side mission or certain objectives that need to be completed before they become playable, these multiplayer ones simply just agree to help DedSec. This is a massive breath of fresh air, as players do not need to go through a long-winded process to recruit an NPC they want. As soon as they have found their “John Wick”, all players can easily load into a Tactical Op or go “Pwn some N00bs” in PvP. It is as simple as that.
Multiplayer is both a boon and a curse; and Ubisoft have promised that there will be much more coming in the future. Even so it is, simply put, a great addition to the game. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes in Watch Dogs, and players have no more worries about going at it by themselves. Whether it is raiding a security outpost, or going on a long-winded personal mission to take a tour around the city with a bunch of stolen tanks, it is much more fun with friends… but is anything not more fun with friends? Ubisoft most assuredly made the right call with this one.