It’s been a long time coming, but Watch Dogs: Legion is here and pushes the franchise forward in an exciting new direction, away from genre conventions. Here’s our review of the PlayStation 4 version, while the game is also out on Xbox One and PC.
Watch Dogs: Legion was originally supposed to come out in March, but as we all went into self-quarantine the game went into a period of additional polish that ended up taking over half a year. It paid off in a number of ways though, and the October release date even made it eligible for this year’s trade show award – snagging ‘best action adventure’ at Gamescom 2020. Oddly enough, when the game appeared at the same show in 2019 it was beaten by Blacksad: Under The Skin – a game we wouldn’t even label as an action adventure to begin with.
We were happy to see the praise for Watch Dogs: Legion though, as we really enjoyed our hands on time with the game when we met with Ubisoft Toronto in a pre-covid world, and in terms of the delay we’re happy to see that the development team has managed to realize much of the vision they set out to achieve – which includes an extremely ambitious new take on the franchise and the genre as a whole. More on that soon.
Where the previous game in the franchise had San Francisco as its backdrop, you now find yourself (and Dedsec) in London, which – a bit like the real life version – isn’t doing too well. Its main problem isn’t a global pandemic though, because in the game it’s a fascist and oppressive government that’s causing trouble – branding Dedsec as a terrorist organisation responsible for recent bombings and leaving you to slowly fight back – uniting the people and exposing the truth.
Those last two elements are the core of Watch Dogs: Legion, and contain its game-changing new element: the ability to play as anyone in the city. This was announced for Legion early on, and was one of the big question marks surrounding the game, but it’s been as well implemented as we could have expected. You’ll mostly just run ops with a small core team of people, but you can recruit anyone you like to that team – keeping the “control anyone” mechanic somewhat manageable. You can swap out team members or replace ones who get caught, but in reality you’re likely to at some point find a roster you enjoy and stick with them.
Getting them on board isn’t just a case of possessing them though – their attitude towards Dedsec plays a large role here. You can sway their opinion by performing favors (through missions), or you can make your reputation more favorable within an entire district by getting said district under Dedsec’s control. There are other ways to recruit people as well, but expect a fair share of “hack a computer and solve a problem for them” missions while rounding up your team – which you’ll pick based on the stats, perks and attributes you can see for every single character walking around.
There’s an incredible amount of diversity in London’s population, and although clothes, faces, hairdos and other things do repeat, their mixture makes people feel unique and their various backgrounds and skills really set them apart from others. Some are expert drivers, others good at mele combat, some can distract guards – there’s a great mix and you’ll find it’s mimicked in the many ways in which you can approach each mission. In that sense, Legion’s a lot like Watch Dogs 2 in its mission design, but with a lot more variety in terms of the characters you approach them with.
The ‘play as anyone’ concept is a great strength, but at times it also hurts the game’s pacing from a narrative perspective. Having a single protagonist in Watch Dogs 2 helped players to identify with him, and although the struggles that Londoners face in Legion are often believable, it’s harder to identify with Dedsec as a movement on a personal level because there isn’t a clear personal tale you’re following.
What you do get, however, is a great new location to play in. A city that’s filled with iconic landmarks, London has been beautifully realized in the game, and anyone’s who ever been to the city will enjoy just cruising through it during some of the game’s calmer moments, when you’re not being chased or heading to an objective. Sure, with police brutality and crime being rampant the city has seen better days, but it’s gorgeous to look at and a showcase for ambitious this project has been.
It’s got more variation than the two previous Watch Dogs games even though some objectives still tend to repeat themselves, and it’s got a new mechanic that encourages tons and tons of experimentation or even repeat playthroughs. Playing on a current gen console you unfortunately also see the level of ambition in long load times, but it was a price I was happy to pay. Can’t wait for the post-release content that’s coming later.