When Watch Dogs: Legion was revealed back during E3 2019, I was both curious and just a little bit worried. The game's promise to let you play as a hacker in a fully connected city was very appealing. However, one must not forget that a lot of people were disappointed by the first two entries in this growing franchise. Ubisoft has previously managed to improve its various franchises by taking on community feedback, so it's only natural that we're all up for giving Watch Dogs another shot with Legion, hoping to find what we expected when the IP first surfaced back in 2012.
After a delay and a timorous re-reveal, it was time to get our hands on the game and see what it has to offer and whether it has enough about it to seduce both reluctant players and those already signed up to the cause.
This new adventure takes place in a near-future and slightly dystopian version of London. You play as Dalton Wolfe but don't fool yourself as he's definitely not the main character in this particular story. In fact, the unique charm of Legion is that there is no main character, although we'll come back to that later. The first mission reintroduced us to some core mechanics and a few key characters, showing us life in the British capital and setting up the main reason for our coming adventures. This time, our overall motivation is not as personal as it has been in previous games. As we mentioned earlier, you don't play as one person but as a whole group, DedSec, a name that will definitely ring true if you played through the stories of Marcus and/or Aiden.
In Legion, the hacker group has been falsely accused of orchestrating a series of terrorist attacks and must unmask those responsible, a mysterious and particularly menacing enemy by the name of Zero Day. As well as protecting its endangered members, DedSec has to fight back against the abuses of an increasingly intrusive and dictatorial state. However, that's pretty much all I'm going tell you about the story so I don't spoil too much. The realisation of the world and the writing of its narrative and characters seems to be much better here than it was in the first two games, and I am genuinely curious to see how events unfold.
But let's get back to this game's defining feature: playing as a multitude of characters that we can enlist as we build a team that's composed of literally anyone in the game. This means that you can recruit any NPC you want, whether it is a retired grandma, a construction worker, a homeless person... anyone you might reasonably find in a city as big as London. Actually, calling them NPCs would be far too reductive and wouldn't do justice to the level of detail found in each person you come across in Legion. They all have their own lives, their own occupations that you will be able to investigate via a profile of each character gathered by the ctOS AI (a computer system designed to manage the city) or by sneaking up on them. This makes for a deep and realistic world and it strengthened my will to protect the liberty of all those I encountered.
Every potential recruit opens up a range of abilities and skills that are defined by their jobs and individual aptitudes. However, talking to them won't be enough on its own to inspire them to join you. After all, why would anyone in their right mind want to be part of a terrorist group that is being hunted down by the authorities? In order to rally them to your cause, you'll need to dive in their lives, help them with their problems, and show them where the true fight is.
During our hands-on session, we started as a team of four. Surprisingly enough, it was not as hard as we would have thought to get attached to every single one of them, this despite switching between them regularly - they all stood out in their own particular way. Whether it's thanks to variety in terms of the voice-acting, how distinctively they act while walking the streets, or even how they fight. I am extremely curious to see how this feeling of being able to recruit anyone will hold up in the finished game. The demo we played didn't let us meet a lot of potential recruits neither could we relaunch cutscenes to see if every NPC was acting uniquely or not.
Since every member of the group has their own abilities, you will need to regularly switch between them depending on the mission at hand. Fortunately, those transitions are smooth and loading times were minimal as I hopped between heads. Given how advanced the build that I played was, and the fact that the game was supposed to be released in March, a poor technical performance would have been worrying. Fun fact, every time you change your character, you will see the old one leaving the scene as an NPC, a nice detail that improved the feeling of immersion.
Concerning the hacking, an aspect common to all characters; I have to admit that I am a little disappointed. The formula has not really evolved much since the first game and it fails to deliver an authentic-feeling experience. I also admit that finding a good balance between coding and presenting the player with an accessible activity that feels like coding is a tough nut to crack. However, the hacking mechanics seen in the two first iterations of Watch Dogs were already ageing and don't really provide the feeling of trespassing. I want to feel like I'm intruding somewhere that I'm not meant to be and I don't always get that sense here.
That feeling also applies to infiltration and combat. When hidden from enemies, you will be able to knock them unconscious but also take them out from range. This way you can use your environment and turn it to your advantage, monitoring enemies, and setting up traps or distractions. Hacking will also allow you to take partial control of a particular guard's equipment, preventing them from calling for backup or dealing damage by electrocuting them with their own gear. Those core mechanics are easy to use in the middle of the gunfight but I'm pretty sure Ubisoft's creative talents could have come up with more innovative solutions. I hope that the characters' unique skills will provide lots of variety, as seen with my team's hooligan via his ability to recruit allies to fight in groups.
As with every Ubisoft game, main and secondary quests are supported by a lot of side activities, ranging from mini-games to collecting the items that are sprinkled over the city. Despite being in a lot, if not all of the publisher's games, these aspects aren't always well-received. That said, I think looking for collectibles in London will be far more pleasant than it was in Chicago or San Francisco. No Watch Dogs sandbox has ever offered an organic feel that compares to this; Londoners interact with each other and with the city, which makes for a credible and lively atmosphere. One example of this might be a building that we as a player can't access but that will still be opened to NPCs. To sum up, the city feels alive, which gives you the sense that you're interacting with an established ecosystem, not following markers around to complete a series of disconnected events.
To conclude, we had a promising four-hour session with the new Watch Dogs and we can't wait to go back to London and see more of the sights. This latest hands-on was entertaining thanks to an engaging premise and an innovative approach to NPC recruitment, however, Legion is still far from perfect, and certain mechanics have largely stayed the same from past iterations. I'm pretty sure that Watch Dogs: Legion will still garner a lot of attention, whether that be old fans or newcomers, but it remains to be seen whether there will be enough new recruits for the franchise to become a core Ubisoft franchise for many more years to come.
Loading next content