Watch Dogs: Legion is the third release of the Watch Dogs series from publisher Ubisoft, where it looks to build on the gradual improvements the series has seen since its inception. The premise of the game finds players in the middle of a near-future, police-state of London, trying to take back the city from a militarized corporation, Albion, as well as a rogue hacker group, Zero Day, and various other groups. The series has always revolved around one central theme, hacktivism. The technology in each game has progressed with each release, so much so that in Watch Dogs: Legion, the entirety of London is controlled by it. Things like self-driving cars and AI-powered drones roam through the boroughs of the city.
Where Legion tries to differentiate itself from the previous titles is where it is the most ambitious. The game sells the idea of being able to play as anyone. Any person you see, you can recruit to your team of hackers, DedSec. Each character in the game has their own traits, equipment, schedule, and likes/dislikes. Some of the characters are more useful than others, and some are better utilized in certain situations. For instance, a MI-6 spy who is trained in the John Wick style of gun-fu is a much better character to use than a 80 year-old retiree who can barely walk, while a police officer would be a better character to use in infiltrating police zones than a construction worker.
The game makes it so that you can tackle situations however you want with whoever you want, and I applaud that aspect of the game. I absolutely loved recruiting the randomly generated characters for their differences. I found a 75 year-old man who was surprisingly spry for his age, he could do martial arts and had a grenade launcher in his arsenal. I eventually found out he had a granddaughter, and I recruited her to the resistance too, though she was much less useful.
However, where this game fails for me is the repetitiveness of its interactions with those characters. I can look past a character having a weird voice that does not match their age or face, because that just makes the game humorous. What I cannot look over is how unvaried the dialogue and character missions are. I often found myself listening to the same phrases coming from different voices as I worked on recruiting my hacker group full of weirdos, misfits, and elderly people. Their missions were also only varied so much to where I did the same recruitment mission back-to-back, as I hacked into the National Health Services to find some stolen kidneys or something. I found myself going back to the same locations quite a bit, doing the same stealth tactics, often faster and more efficient than the last time because of how many times I had to go back to do such similar tasks. The missions themselves are fine though, and I appreciate the stories that some of them tell, but you can clearly see they aren’t as well-designed as the main story missions.
Speaking of the story, I thought it was serviceable. It’s not some groundbreaking, game changing narrative that pushes any boundaries. It often sits within those boundaries without trying anything particularly new. The only thing that makes the story different is that you can experience it with anyone you choose. Though, I believe it is hard to tell a well-designed story through ten or so characters’ eyes. It’s not like Game of Thrones where each character has their own intricacies and experiences to share. The story is the exact same no matter who you play as, and because it is tailored to do so, there is no nuance in how you play. There is no reason to experience it more than once because it misses on the emotion, it misses on the attachment to a central character that most stories bring. That doesn’t mean than the next game should drop the “play as anyone” gimmick, because that is not the case. Ubisoft should be proud of the system they built for it and build onto it for future use. Hopefully, they can take the system and add elements to it so players can truly tell their many characters apart and become truly attached to one or more of them.
The character system also plays into the game mechanics. The protagonists all handle well, mostly the same, but well. The Watch Dog series has never really been strong in melee/hand-to-hand combat, and it is abundantly apparent in Legion. Some of the characters do indeed fight differently, but they’re simplified down to a few moves that get old quickly. The gunplay is much better that this, it is easy to aim and simple to maneuver with. Driving is fine but not too spectacular. In fact, most of the basic game mechanics are the exact same as the first two games.
A big thing with the character system is that you can make it so your characters can die permanently. While I have been lucky enough to not have this happen to me yet, it is nice to see that there is some sort of pressure put onto the player, and they can’t just jump off buildings and pop up by the hospital like nothing happened. But if that is too difficult to handle, you can always turn it off. You may have some characters die randomly though, due to the “Doomed” trait, which can be very funny. Your characters can be hospitalized or arrested as well, and depending on their or other characters’ traits, can vary in length.
A big letdown in game mechanics for me is the fact that Ubisoft removed some of the most fun and amusing hacks from the first two games. In the second game, the player could call the police and even some gangs on random NPCs, which often turned to complete and utter chaos. In both the first two games, players could hack into NPC’s phones and listen to their conversations, read their texts, and even take money from their bank accounts. Another odd omission is the music player from the previous games. You can no longer make a playlist on your in-game phone and listen to it whenever you want. In fact, you can no longer interact with your character’s phone, or its implant equivalent, whatsoever.
Where this game shines the brightest is in its world-building and graphical prowess. London, like Chicago and San Francisco before it, looks and feels lived in. While I haven’t noticed the little random events that would pop-up in the first two games (like a woman smashing her cheating husbands car with a bat or an NPC running over someone and then getting chased by the police), the game still does a good job making London feel like a real city and as close to its real-life counterpart as possible. This is helped by the fact that every single Londoner has a schedule they follow, they live their AI lives regardless if you interact with them or not.
The game is also extremely gorgeous and the best the series has ever looked. Ray-tracing makes the game pop, and brings a life-like feel to reflections and lighting effects. Though, to experience the game this way, you’ll have to have a next-gen console or a beefed-up PC. I’m running this game on an RTX 2080ti and my setup is pushed to the absolute max on ultra settings.
Watch Dogs: Legion is a fantastic sandbox, much like its predecessors, and the ability to play as any character in the game cranks that aspect of the game up to 10 and rips the nob off. But because of the character system, the game gets awfully repetitive in its dialogue, mission structure, and gameplay mechanics. The game tells a decent story, but with no emotional connection to it, it often leaves you feeling disconnected and unsympathetic to the cause the game wants you to care about. While the gameplay is fun, the repetitiveness and the nonsensical omissions of game-defining mechanics from previous titles makes Watch Dogs: Legion feel more like a horizontal movement with a fresh coat of paint rather than real improvement on the gameplay loop the series offers.
This begs the question, should you pay $60, potentially $70, for this game if you are on a budget? That’s up to you. If you’re a fan of the first two games, or like open-world sandboxes, I think this game is for you. But if you were looking forward to innovative improvements, or the beginning of what a next-gen experience is, then I would suggest you wait for a price-drop.