Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Release Date: October 29, 2020
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD – Available Here
The modern age of the internet has led to many great technological advancements for humanity but also has brought about a number of setbacks and new ways for countries and individuals with nefarious plans to hurt and interfere with others. The Watch Dogs series has always followed the fact that, with future technological advancements, hackers will be the new player in the underground and with Watch Dogs: Legion, these hackers now are more numerous than ever as they fight to return freedom to the people of London. With a number of new ambitious mechanics, a brand new setting, and some elements that ring all too true today, is Watch Dogs: Legion worth diving into?
In the near-future with far more advanced technology, the hacktivists of DedSec have found themselves all but wiped completely off the map. Blamed for a massive terrorist attack that killed countless people and destroyed many parts of the city, DedSec and other resistance members have been rounded up and eliminated by the Albion armed forces that have taken over as the new police in London. With the fascist police force openly harassing and brutalizing civilians and worse going on behind the scenes with gangs and other criminal masterminds filling the power vacuum all while working with the true mastermind of the bombings, an unknown hacking group known as Zero Day, it is up to the people of London to rise up and take back their city.
With the last few DedSec members remaining in hiding, one spark brings the group back to life as their powerful and snarky AI Bagley begins a recruitment effort that allows for any character to be brought into the fold and this is both a strength and weakness when it comes to Watch Dogs: Legion’s narrative. The permanent characters that serve as allies are fairly standard for a game such as this and don’t really stand out too much except for Bagley who works great as a sarcastic British AI companion and as for the enemy factions, they are clearly better written as a whole compared to the player’s team which works rather well considering the dark swings the story’s tone takes during many missions.
In fact, players will find themselves taking on story missions that involve just about every “ism” that one can think of ranging from nationalism, classism, and more all while being xenophobic in nature by treating immigrants as people who are less than human. These dark story missions really lay out how horrible things can become when an authoritarian regime goes unchallenged, especially when technology allows for constant drone surveillance and immediate access into almost everyone’s private lives through extensive monitoring systems. The smaller ins-and-outs of certain aspects of the story and locations players explore are also described through various text and audio log collectibles that can reveal the sinister nature of even a simple looking location. The heavier themes work well in giving the story urgency but due to the game’s open world nature as well as the fact that there is no central main character, these elements can come across a bit odd and lose impact as a result.
While previous entries in the Watch Dogs series have had main characters that had various narrative strengths of their own, Watch Dogs: Legion lacks that element as none of the characters players recruit will play a major role into the story other than occasionally chiming in during cutscenes or being found roaming the streets of London. There is no personal interaction from them and even when recruits do talk to one another the dialogue often makes it sound like they are having separate conversations entirely. It is also worth noting that it is entirely possible to enter missions with absurdly dressed characters, such as a living statue, during a horrifically themed mission, ruining the tone entirely. The idea that anyone can be a hero is certainly a solid one and works well enough for the narrative of Watch Dogs: Legion but without a strong enough core cast to support this change it feels like a step back as a whole.
The biggest element to Watch Dogs: Legion is the fact that players can recruit literally anyone that they run across on the streets of London. Well, almost anyone but those who can’t be recruited are usually at the fault of the player. While walking around town players can quickly pull up a rundown of any character and find out what their profession is, if their profession gives them a personal vehicle or uniform, any special skills they might have, and even if they have a personal weapon they like to wield. Many civilians can be recruited by approaching them and taking on a simple task ranging from beating down some thugs, stealing a vehicle, or deleting files off a server but some take a bit more effort. Those who have a bit of a distaste for DedSec will require an extra mission or two to potentially recruit with their final mission playing into the first but if you have, let’s say beaten down or run them over or even potentially killed someone they knew, then they will refuse to join no matter what. On the other hand, players may even run into their fellow operatives out on the street living their normal lives, being arrested, or even see them being kidnapped and needing to be saved or risk losing them.
With such a large variety of characters to use, players will be able to tackle nearly every challenge in different ways. While nearly every character has the ability to hack cameras to surveil an area, set traps to eliminate enemies, open doors, and disable motion sensors there are characters that can use the high amount of weaponry they have equipped to simply gun down everything in their path, characters that can use their work uniforms such as a hospital worker or even a gang member to walk through a location to avoid being detected, or even characters that can summon a large cargo drone that they can then climb on and fly over any obstacles in their path and above the rooftops.
No matter how players approach a situation the stealth and combat mechanics are fairly well developed in Watch Dogs: Legion. Players can sneak around and use a variety of skills to help avoid raising suspicion such as attracting guards to other locations, stunning them with a temporary hack, and of course performing a stealth takedown. Most of the time when the player enters combat things will initially start as a brawl with an easy to understand and utilize melee mechanics but should the player have a firearm out, then things will instantly escalate. The firearms themselves can feel a bit rough at times as they don’t quite carry the impact that one would hope when firing at enemies even when using a character with a powerful personal weapon.
Hacking drones are another major factor in Watch Dogs: Legion as they can be used in a number of ways. Drones are almost always flying around and they range from simple news and parcel carrying ones to those that pursue criminals, counter terrorism drones with high powered weaponry, and slightly weaker riot drones. Players can eventually gain the ability to not only disable these drones but even take them over and use them to take down other enemies instead. This can range from simply scouting an area out with a quick moving news drone that can stun enemies with a flash of light to tearing through them with missiles and machine gun fire.
Having all these tools at the player’s disposal can occasionally make things feel one-sided but the player’s characters are far from invulnerable and depending on whether or not players are playing with “perma-death” mode can play a major role in how risky things can feel. While players can have their characters wounded or arrested, making them unavailable for use for a period of time, on a standard mode and still suffer setbacks from characters that have various “doomed” traits players with perma-death mode may find their current favorite character dead and gone if they make a mistake. It is unfortunate that perma-death mode must be activated at the start of the game and if it is ever deactivated it is impossible to turn it back on again. While this is likely done so players can’t try to disable it when they find themselves in a bad situation, an easier fix of simply reloading the mission or area when adjusted would have been a far better choice.
All in all players will find the world of Watch Dogs: Legion quite an intriguing one with plenty of side-activities to due, ranging from racing through the streets to deliver packaging, kicking around a soccer ball, and playing darts, most of the time players will be spent taking over boroughs, recruiting new characters, gathering Tech Points scattered throughout the city to unlock upgrades for the entire team, and of course taking on the story. Things can begin to feel a bit repetitive unfortunately once players make their way further into the game as recruiting characters can see the player returning to a location they’ve already seen or cleared out before and simply taking down the same foes once more and while it is certainly fun using a bee-keeper to take down a gang of thugs or a paintball gun to stun everyone, some more variety would have been nice. This is only hampered by the fact that, while players earn money for doing almost any task in the game, there is nothing really worth spending it on. The only real use for money is to customize the appearance of the character’s by purchasing clothes or applying some rather ugly looking gun skins to certain firearms and some decent skins to various personal vehicles, making it mostly useless.
It is also worth noting that, at least at the moment, Watch Dogs: Legion is a bit rough around the edges. More than a few times various NPCs have glitched out either during a firefight or simply when walking down the street and the amount of times that the game has crashed to the Home screen has been rather miserable. These crashes happen fairly frequently and seem to appear out of nowhere though a robust auto-save system helps at least during free-roam.
Visuals & Audio
Watch Dogs: Legion is an incredibly gorgeous game to look at and seeing the old buildings of London that everyone is familiar with emblazoned with neo-tech billboards, automated cars driving around, and drones zipping through the skies makes for a real unique feeling experience. The various districts of London all have their own unique style to them and a lot of attention is paid to make sure that most of the city looks as amazing as possible, even the interior locations. As for the character models the story characters are highly detailed while the randomly generated characters are unique enough in their own ways but can occasionally be a bit odd looking as a result.
In a rather interesting twist, the voice acting for Watch Dogs: Legion can be a bit hit and miss primarily due to the game’s recruitment system. The core storyline characters are all presented perfectly fine with solid voice work from each character and the sarcastic AI Bagley has been given a great voice as that is what players will hear the most, but more than a few times players may end up recruiting or encountering an NPC that sounds incredibly off compared to their design. This isn’t too much of an issue on its own but considering recruited characters can chime in on bits of dialogue throughout the game, it can be rather jarring when one of these oddly modulated voices chimes in. As for the game’s soundtrack, there is a wide-array of genres that players will be able to listen to whenever they are driving around though don’t expect too many hit songs to be on these playlists, though what is on offer is still rather enjoyable especially considering the game’s techno-theme.
Watch Dogs: Legion‘s biggest selling feature is the ability to play as everyone and while that certainly has created an interesting experience where anyone can and will be a hero at the player’s hands once they are recruited, it also puts a damper on the story as none of the characters really grow or even have any solid meaning to them outside of the flimsy core cast of story characters. That being said, the story’s theme is still quite strong and hits a bit close to home given the state of the world these days and with plenty of ways to tackle anything thrown in their path, players will find this latest outing with DedSec one that, while rough around the edges, is perhaps the most interesting entry in the series thanks to the sheer amount of variety available at every turn.