Review – Watch Dogs: Legion
The original Watch Dogs was one of the first games I bought for the PS4 and the best thing I can say about it is that it was… mediocre. It was your typical Ubisoft open world game: devoid of fun side activities, with a nice setting yet underwhelming story, and a terrible protagonist. I stopped caring about it as soon as I beat it and made sure to ignore its sequel a few years later. Yet, for some reason, the moment I heard about Watch Dogs: Legion and its premise, I knew I wanted to know more about it. It sounded way too bold to be true.
I then played the game at E3 2019, and to my surprise it ended up being one of my favorite demos from the entire show. Just like its elevator pitch promised, I could actually talk to any random person in London, do a mission for them, and recruit them to my team. I could literally play as any character in the entire game, be it a hobo, an old lady, or even a member of the rival faction who could be coerced to join our cause. Originally slated for March, the game got further delayed to October in order for the team at Ubisoft Toronto to polish it up after Ghost Recon Breakpoint‘s abysmal reception. Wise decision, folks. Legion ended up delivering.
One of the best things about Watch Dogs: Legion is its setting. The game takes place in a near-future London shortly after being bombarded by an unknown terrorist group that ended up placing the blame on the franchise’s long-running DedSec hacktivist group. The city has now been completely taken over by a shady and ultraviolent private military contractor that imposed martial law over its citizens. As one of the few remnants of DedSec, it’s your job to recruit new members, find out the real culprits, and liberate London from the corrupt powers controlling it.
The setting is perfect. I cannot complain about a near-future recreation of London, with self-driving cars standing right next to old Aston Martins. There are pubs to visit. British staples like “Feel Good Inc.” and “The Rockafeller Skank” are played on the radio. People expose their entire lives on social media, with DedSec being able to use their best-kept secrets as leverage. The game nails on its foundations for a great story, but in true Ubisoft fashion, fails to deliver when it comes to telling an actually interesting story per se. It’s not particularly bad, but let’s just say that it’s not very memorable. And no, it’s not because of the fact that it doesn’t have a proper protagonist.
In fact, the whole “play as everyone” schtick is pretty fitting for such a “power to the people” game like Watch Dogs: Legion. There are non-randomly generated characters in here, such as the hilarious AI called Bagley, but they are relegated to being side characters. Once again, a Ubisoft game nailed its supporting cast more than anything else. I like that you are a bunch of normal people trying to bring your city back to what it once was. Even if you’re playing as characters designed by algorithms (seriously, one of my characters was a Nigerian who was fluent in Albanian), you end up creating a connection with them. They are the protagonists of your story and nobody else’s.
In terms of gameplay, Ubisoft didn’t lie, you can actually play as anyone, so long you can convince them to join your cause. Every single character has a few meters that showcase how easy it is for them to be recruited. Some people can be recruited by proxy, as in, “my friend/boyfriend/son is part of DedSec, so I might join as well”. Others will join your team if you talk to them and perform a simple mission as a favor, such as rescuing a dear friend from a imprisonment camp.
There are more complicated characters as well. A lot of people in London actually believe DedSec was responsible for the bombings, so they need to be convinced to change their stance. You can save a family member from a street beating, for instance. Liberating their borough is another option, which improves DedSec’s reputation. You can even do this with gang members and soldiers from the evil PMC. They can be valuable members of your team due to their credentials, letting you invade restricted areas without worrying about getting caught.
Each character has their own abilities and specific perks. Recruiting a construction worker means that you can get free access to a huge, rideable construction drone. Recruiting socialites might sound useless, but they can give you an additional cash flow bonus. The opposite can happen if you recruit someone with a gambling addiction. Sportspeople have better health, amateur boxers can deal more physical damage, and so on. It’s very important to always pay attention to everyone walking down the street. You never know, maybe that homeless guy in Lambeth owns a shotgun that can be useful in a heavier combat scenario…
Even though you can literally ride gigantic drones and set up explosive traps with the touch of a button, my favorite inclusion was the brand new spiderbot gadget. With it, I could easily wipe out an entire enemy stronghold without ever being noticed. It’s a small spider-shaped robot that can fit in ventilation shafts, hack terminals, and take down enemies with a powerful shocking attack, in a very gruesome and Alien-esque manner.
One neat and bold addition in here is permadeath. In case you want to make the game a bit harder and a lot more interesting, you can add a permadeath clause, meaning that, once a character gets killed during an operation, they are gone for good. If you end up losing all of your characters, it’s game over, start from the very beginning. That makes you act a lot more carefully doing missions, as well as making you feel even more attached to your characters. Not that this game is hard by any means (you do have regenerating health, after all), but it’s still a nice optional challenge, and I completely recommend playing the game with it turned on.
Just in other games from the franchise, Watch Dogs: Legion is set in a geographically inaccurate version of a real world location. All of London’s main landmarks are here, such as Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben, Camden Market, and Battersea Power Station, but in a more compact and condensed map. It’s not immense, nor is it overly small. It’s a decently sized map that isn’t flooded with sidequest icons like in previous Assassin’s Creed games.
There are sidequests in here, as well as bonuses for liberating boroughs, but it isn’t as annoying as in most open world games made by Ubisoft. This is one of their few games in which fooling around is actually more fun than doing sidequests, just like in Far Cry 5. I just ended up wanting to do missions in order to acquire more members, as if I was playing an even more British version of Pokémon Sword.
This is far from being a perfect game, though. For as much as I loved Watch Dogs: Legion, even more than initially expected, this is a game that features a handful of issues. Thankfully, almost none of them were caused by dubious design choices, with the exception of an initially confusing button layout (reloading with Y? Really?). Although, there are some awful driving mechanics that you can eventually get used to after hours of struggling with how sensitive the analog stick is.
Most of my gripes with it are due to the fact that, all things considered, this is a next-gen game running on current-gen hardware. The Xbox One was already painfully underpowered back in 2013, so you can already imagine how much it struggles trying to run a game with such complex coding like this one. It still looks gorgeous, though, with London looking extremely detailed and vivid, even if the resolution isn’t exactly the best, and the framerate stutters quite frequently, but not to point of making the entire game unplayable. My suggestion would be to wait for the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, and then play Legion on these consoles. It’s still a blast on old hardware, though.
I knew Watch Dogs: Legion was going to be interesting and entertaining, but even though I already had really high expectations, Ubisoft still managed to surpass them. It’s one of their few sandbox games in which fooling around is a legit fun activity. It’s a game with a bold premise that actually delivers. Ubisoft’s decision to delay Watch Dogs: Legion for almost half a year in order to polish it up was a smart choice. Most of its issues are a consequence of the Xbox One’s underwhelming capabilities, and not bugs or live service design choices. Watch Dogs: Legion isn’t perfect, but it’s easily the best the franchise has ever been.
It’s a next-gen game running on an Xbox One. It does look very impressive, considering the hardware, but the framerate stutters quite frequently, and the resolution isn’t as high as you would expect.
The amount of ways you can defeat your enemies, be it via violent combat or by using various hacking skills, is impressive and easy to pull off. The game does feature a weird button layout and terrible driving mechanics, however.
A really good soundtrack, even though you can barely listen to the songs while driving due to poor sound mixing. There are some great performances from the game’s main cast. The playable characters’ voice works range from decent to bland.
Even if the story isn’t that interesting, Watch Dogs: Legion features a well-design world that is fun to explore, a great background setting, and some really addictive and innovative roguelike mechanics. It’s just a blast to mess around in it, something that cannot be said about most Ubisoft games.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Watch Dogs: Legion is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. PS5 and and Xbox Series X versions available in November.
Reviewed on Xbox One.
A copy of Watch Dogs: Legion was provided by the publisher.