Watch Dogs: Legion preview

It’s not coming out for another half year or so, but we recently got a great first glimpse at Watch Dogs: Legion. Here’s what we came away with.

What we know

A sequel to Watch Dogs 2, Legion is the third installment in the franchise. It’s currently being developed by Ubisoft Toronto, and scheduled for release in March of next year. Legion changes the setting of the game to London, though it’s more of a London-themed city than carbon copy of the real deal.

There is plenty to recognize though, with a ton of famous landmarks being included in the city. The layout of the map’s a little different, but the upside is that these familiar sights are (or at least feel) a lot closer together than and easier to get to than the real deal. You see… London traffic didn’t make it into the game, for instance. Hooray for that.

Story-wise, you’re still following the tale of the hacker collective DedSec, but this time their main goal is to fight back against the oppressive regime that’s governing the UK (and London in particular). Obviously that would lend itself to a game that just features a change of scenery, but Legion also bring another important novelty to the table: the ability to control virtually anyone in the city after recruiting them to your cause.

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What we saw

We met with people from the Canadian-based studio during Gamescom in Germany for a developed-aided hands on session with an early build of the game. Despite the early stage of the build, the game environment already functioned like an open world environment rather than a condensed slice of the full experience.

As a result, we played the demo much as we would the full game – only sometimes being alerted to the fact that we were leaving the demo environment. Other than that limitation, we were free to recruit characters, take on missions, divert from the obvious path if we wanted to – the kind of stuff you’re used to doing if you’re played a Watch Dogs before.

What we thought

Watch Dogs: Legion felt instantly familiar, both in terms of gameplay and visually. Watch Dogs 2 was already a gorgeous game, and Legion features London as a brand new way of showing off the foundations that the studio built for their previous game. A cool new feature was being able to see things from above by hacking a drone and standing/riding on top of it, but it’s incredibly slow and not the best way of getting around.

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But while Legion feels awfully familiar at first, it comes into its own when you start recruiting characters and expanding your roster. This is where Watch Dogs stops being about a single protagonist working for DedSec and starts highlighting the organization for the collective it is. Characters can’t just be recruited with the click of a button though, and how easy it is to recruit them to your cause depends on their attitude towards DedSec. If it’s unfavorable, you might be completing a bit of a mini campaign just to sway them and have a chance of recruiting them. Or have a friendly Watch Dogs developer next to you to just hack their attitude for you. A bit of “Watch Dogs Live”, I suppose.

Who you recruit matters in how you approach missions as well, as some characters might be stronger hackers while others rely on raw muscle. Although different approaches to missions were also possible in the first two games (since the protagonist would unite these traits), the new approach allows for them to be more emphasized – also being an archetype also means you do NOT have some of the other traits, forcing you into a certain playstyle more. It might feel constraining to some, but I think it’s going to greatly enhance how replayable this game is going to be – tackling the same or familiar missions with very different characters.

And while the game map isn’t a carbon copy of London, the map is absolutely huge. A good chunk was available during the demo, and just driving around and taking in the sights was a great way to spend time as well. In theory, you could do this while team members take on missions for you – but there’s another side to that as well. The characters in your roster who you’re not currently controlling live their own lives, and might get into serious trouble. This could cause you to lose them permanently, or could present a scenario where you send another team member in to save them.

Despite my initial deja vu, Legion is shaping up to be a more ambitious leap forward than Watch Dogs 2 was. London is a great new setting as well, with so many iconic buildings and so much history. We didn’t get to sample too much of the core narrative yet, but let’s hope they weave in a bit of Brexit humor. Looking forward to seeing more in the near future, as Legion arrives on the horizon after the festive season wraps up.

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