Watch Dogs: Legion is the latest release in the Watch Dogs franchise from industry veterans, Ubisoft. The original released in 2014 and the Watch Dogs series is an interesting take on the open-world formula, introducing new ideas and mechanics including hacking, drone control and now – the ability to play as anyone. Watch Dogs is a great franchise for trying new things and thinking out-of-the-box on many gameplay mechanics. Legion is no different, bringing features that no other series is doing, I just wish it felt more polished. With those initial thoughts out of the way, let’s get into the review.
As usual, our review will consist of assessing the story, gameplay, graphics and replayability.
Is it a good story?
Watch Dogs: Legion follows Dedsec, the cyber-hacktivists who are widely active throughout the Watch Dogs universe. Their main goal is to expose the corruption in the world to the common, everyday people. That is until Zero-Day, a rival cyberhacking group frames Dedsec for destroying multiple landmarks in London, with the help of Albion – a private security firm. Albion essentially uses this opportunity to take control of London and force Dedsec to go into hiding, leaving no agents in London, apart from you. The games main mechanic, play as anyone, is what starts the basis of this story – you choose a random citizen who is being recruited to Dedsec to start the resistance. From here, you begin to rebuild Dedsec while researching the cause of the bombings, Zero-Day. This story will take you through London’s Burroughs in a somewhat dystopian, corrupt future (maybe even Brexit-like). I must say first, London does deliver. Such a brilliant city which is one of my favourites to visit, recreated in such detail – albeit condensed – but it does feel alive.
So, what do I think about the story as a whole? Well, for me it doesn’t really deliver. I love a good story in a video game, but I largely put the issue here down to the new ‘feature’ mechanic they have brought in, play as anyone. This feature, albeit a really cool one, actually puts a load of pressure on other aspects of the story and supporting characters to be strong enough to carry the game. We don’t have a protagonist with a solid story here, what we have is Nigel the construction worker wanting to do more with his life; or Celine, a paralegal who can no longer stand by and watch the law become manipulated to serve corruption. That as a concept is interesting, but the overarching story, the side-characters and many people you can play are really not strong enough to carry the game without a deep protagonist.
London itself is a story. You can walk the streets and see many little tussles in the street between the corruption and the everyday – intervene at your will too. I personally love the city, not every player will relate because they may not have been there, but I have many times. It is a unique concept, but I found myself engaging with the world on a real personal level. Without spoiling any story, there was a mission which actually takes you up to the Sky Garden (see above) – which is literally as it sounds, a garden in the sky overlooking London. This brought about a personal response for me because it is where myself and my wife went around our one year anniversary. It really is the little things in a game world that does it for you.
In the first Watch Dogs game we had Aiden Pearce. Sure his story wasn’t the best but the man had a goal which clearly had emotional ties to it – bringing more life to the story. The recurring characters seem a little dry, but that was until we met one of the antagonists, Mary Kelley. She brought fire, passion and genuine psychotic natures to the story which made her arc slightly more interesting. Sadly this isn’t enough to save the game from what I would see as a flaw that was considered before launch. This would have obviously came up in the design process, they must have known they were sacrificing a potentially deep-rooted protagonist. However, they probably also knew that they were doing it to try something new and different – which I can completely respect.
How does it feel to play?
A difficult question to answer because I do think this game could have used a few more months to iron out many of the creases that it has. Buy-and-large, Legion feels fine to play, not always smooth or interesting, but it does play OK. Let’s talk about a few standouts and then finish with an overall thought on the gameplay.
Play as anyone, possibly the biggest feature in the game and I have already spoken about it at some length. This feature is implemented very well and can be considered new, unique and interesting. You can literally recruit pretty much any character you see out and about, just complete a randomly generated recruitment mission and they can be yours. Ubisoft has presented this as the unique selling point of the game and truth be told, it is a really impressive feature. Yes, I have stated previously that it detracts from the story of the game, but if anything it adds to the way the game plays and the choices you can make. Different characters will have different perks, if you want an easy ride to the top of a building, recruiting a construction worker will be beneficial. If you need heavier fire power, why not find someone who has an assault rifle as their weapon of choice? The possibilities aren’t exactly endless, but there are many avenues to explore here. Some characters have faster hacking which will come in handy when infiltrating facilities. What I am saying is this, the unique selling point of the game, is in fact the best feature of the game.
Having the ability to play as endless onslaughts of people is great, but is there anything to actually work towards in terms of progression? Yes, we have a technology skill system in which you can upgrade your spiderbot, improve your stun-fist or even upgrade a non-lethal grenade launcher (I don’t understand how that is possible either). This centralised system carries from character to character and that gives you some sort of progression towards the endgame, although it doesn’t quite make up for having one character that you develop deeply, it does bring some element of it to the game.
Many missions include you needing to infiltrate and hack into a cTOS to gather data needed to progress. The interesting thing is there are many approaches in which you can do this. If you want a real hacker approach, you will probably scout out the area via security cameras or drones to decide your route. If that isn’t for you, maybe you’ll just head in guns blazing, take out the competition and be out in time for tea. Which brings me on to an issue I see with the game here, the AI is fairly pants in these situations, making the latter option the more likely one. You can just run through half of the building undetected and when you are detected, shoot them down and carry on. The poor AI really leaves the desire to think deeply about your approach at the door.
Overall, the gameplay needs to be smoothed out generally, there are minor bugs here and there but the game just feels somewhat clunky in areas. One of these is driving, which is likely not going to change and it may just be a personal preference, but the driving did not feel fun in any way to me. The interesting and unique points of this game are done well in this area, but it is the general aspects where improvement is needed to make the time spent as enjoyable as possible.
Is it pleasing to the eye?
Mostly yes. The game does well to look really good in a lot of areas, especially the world. Although it does fall a bit flat when you are up a tall building for example, looking out over the city – it looks a little washed away and dated. However, up close and personal is rather pleasing to see, from lighting, ray-tracing and other details looking good. As I have said previously, London itself is the best character here and that is true in a graphical sense too.
I would say that the character models do look a bit dated for the quality we are seeing from games nowadays and I would have liked to see a bit more detail there, however, this is understandable to a degree considering there are so many people you can play as. Although on this note, something that I will categorise here that has genuinely really let me down has to be the lip-sync tracking. I felt completely taken out of any form of immersion when my character began to talk in a cutscene. I get that with so many different potential characters in the cutscenes, it is likely they have set universal anchor points on every character model to make sure they are in-sync – but it just looks a little sloppy. This for me broke any immersion I had in the game and did make me feel disappointed with what I was seeing. Obviously there is justification for it, but does that really make it all OK?
Apart from all of that, it is a good looking game. I played it on PC with relatively high settings at a stable frame-rate above 60 and it looked really good at times. But I think next-gen console owners are going to be in for a treat with this, I just hope some more of the bugs are ironed out before then.
Will I be coming back?
I think I will be coming back to play this game. Once more of the bugs are dealt with I think this game has an incredible amount of replayability, especially with the play as anyone feature. If anything, not having a concurrent main character gives this game even more replayability because at the end of the day, when you are done you can pick up another character and create a bit of their story. Upcoming multiplayer and the season pass also brings more reasons to come back, one of the main reasons I loved the original game was being able to invade players online.
To be able to see Aiden Pearce come to London for a DLC expansion story is great, it brings a relatively strong character with a background into a game where that is one of the main things I would say is missing. To be able to give this a chance down the line I think is where Ubisoft have done really well. I feel like I could go away now, come back on DLC releases and multiplayer launch and experience a deeper, more ironed out world.
Watch Dogs Legion is a good game. I don’t think it is going to be contender for game of the year, but I do really think it has incredible potential to be a great game. Consistently, Ubisoft have been introducing new gameplay elements and new takes on the open-world genre and Legion is no different. They have a quality game world here and with a bit of polish, I think the game could be even better. What I love about the series is that it is not afraid to do things differently, and this is another unique selling point of the game, you shouldn’t buy this expecting a Grand Theft Auto-like experience. You should come in with an open mind expecting something different. If you think Watch Dogs Legion is the game for you, why not buy it here.
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A digital copy of this game was provided by Ubisoft for the purpose of this review.