London Calling: Hands-on with Watch Dogs: Legion Online
Grab some friends and hit the streets of London in this cooperative Watch Dogs experience.
If Ubisoft has become known for one thing, it would be its open-world titles. Just last year, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Immortals: Fenyx Rising, and Watch Dogs: Legion were all delivered globally, and while Ubisoft has plans for a whole bunch more open-world projects (Far Cry 6 for example), the latter of the listed three has one more trick up its sleeve - an online mode. Watch Dogs: Legion Online is basically the Watch Dogs equivalent of Grand Theft Auto Online, and ahead of its launch day we clocked in a few hours to see how the mode stacks up in the grand scheme of things.
The Online mode itself is a standalone experience, but you will need a copy of Watch Dogs: Legion to access it. If you've played the main game, the added knowledge of gameplay mechanics and the map of London will be helpful, but it isn't crucial in any sense. You can get into the Online mode from the main menu, where you will then be tasked with creating your own DedSec cell to fight back against the once-again rising tide of Albion outposts. This will mean you have to start from rock-bottom, plucking a plethora of operatives from the streets to fill your ranks.
The base style of Watch Dogs: Legion Online is very similar to the main campaign, except this time, you are not alone in your fight. There will be other players roaming the streets, each with their own DedSec cell and set of operatives, and you can buddy up to complete matchmade missions, City Events, or even just work together to cause havoc in the London streets.
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In terms of gameplay mechanics, there really isn't anything new to report: The Online mode is pretty much just a cooperative version of Watch Dogs: Legion. You can treat the sandbox like your personal playground, hack the world, recruit anyone, even play solo for a bunch of the Online experience. And to make things even better, the game itself seems to run equally as well as Watch Dogs: Legion does. The world still looks amazing, filled with vibrant colours and packed out streets, and on top of that, the servers seem to work great - I found very few issues with lagging or disconnecting across my time playing.
The real difference however, comes in the co-op missions available. From what I saw, there were three activities to queue into; Co-op Missions with a two-player minimum; the more challenging Tactical Ops for at least three-players; and the Spiderbot Arena PvP mode. The Co-op Missions playlist was basically a bunch of small levels piled into one continuous activity to make for a couple of hours of entertaining story-themed missions. Tactical Ops is the more hardcore version of this that asks you to be much more coordinated as a group to take down a boss-like foe at the end of it all. Spiderbot Arena on the other hand is a small PvP activity that pits lethal Spiderbots against one another in a free-for-all across a small map - It's pretty much what you're imagining it to be.
As I alluded to earlier, you can take to the streets alone to complete a bunch of Solo Activities as well - although these do seem to be very one-dimensional. They involve freeing a captive, delivering a package, hacking someone's phone, or a variety of other things, but the point is they never take long to complete and don't feel all that rewarding or exciting either. City Events on the other hand are sort of Watch Dogs: Legion Online's equivalent of Destiny 2's Public Events, and see an objective pop-up on the map where players can meet to complete an activity. Our experience with City Events involved destroying an incredibly tanky enemy that was causing trouble for one reason or another, and they were fun to complete.
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The style of progression for the Online mode comes in its seasonal design and with its battle pass system. You don't level up per-se, instead you earn reputation that goes toward levelling up your battle pass to unlock rewards such as skins, Influence, Eto, and various other items. Influence is a necessary currency to recruit new operatives or to acquire new upgrades, whereas Eto is a currency used to purchase cosmetics from the in-game store. At the end of every season (of which there is expected to be around four per year), a new battle pass will come into effect and the grind will start all over again.
The most unusual part about Watch Dogs: Legion Online however, comes in how the operative system works. With it being an online mode, having one character to play as and level would have suited great - as is the case in Grand Theft Auto Online - but, instead it uses the same system as the main game, which means you lack a defined individual to focus your efforts into. Personally, I like having a character that is mine alone to level and progress with, and missing that did feel unusual and pulled from the immersion. Strangely, that isn't even the most peculiar part, as in the Online your operatives can't die like in the main game. Instead they will be arrested, or simply unavailable for use for some time, but the point is, you recruit them and they will remain as part of your crew forever, which kind of defeats the point of the risk-reward recruiting system in the campaign in the first place.
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From my time with the Online mode, one thought kept cropping into my mind - would this have been better with a Ghost Recon: Wildlands / Breakpoint or a The Division design? The reflection of Grand Theft Auto Online works fine, but Watch Dogs: Legion with its recruitable characters excels in its cooperative gameplay. With a larger focus on simply cooperative play over a sandbox-y online experience, this online mode may have cemented itself as something truly special. I'm not saying it's bad or isn't fun to play, but being able to explore the Watch Dogs: Legion main game as a cooperative mode probably would suit this experience a little better.
For what it's worth, Watch Dogs: Legion Online is looking to be a fine addition to an already enjoyable game. I would however, still say that this seems to be a by-product to the main campaign, and that players will likely be disappointed if they are hoping for an entirely new Watch Dogs experience. There seemed to be a lot of good parts to look forward to, but at the same time, I still struggle to see the basis for longevity built into this live-service mode as it currently stands.