Watch Dogs Legion feels familiar for fans of the series but adds a few new strategic options to spice up gameplay.
When my recent Watch Dogs Legion preview session began, I had one goal I hoped to achieve: find and recruit a grandma to my stable of DedSec agents. That’s the whole thrill of the massive new system, right? You have the whole of London in front of you and the ability to bring anyone and everyone into your squad. During my four hours of playtime, Watch Dogs Legion revealed itself as a game that sticks very close to what fans know about the series, while also providing hints of potential for something much more.
The preview event let me play through the opening of the campaign. Then, they jumped it forward to give me an idea of how the open world works. While jarring from a story standpoint, it was certainly the way to go to see the new systems in action.
From a gameplay perspective, Watch Dogs Legion controls very similarly to its predecessors. If, like me, you spent countless hours exploring San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2, Legion will slip on like an old glove. Pretty much immediately, I was right back in the loop of scouting an area by hacking cameras, thinning out the enemy herd by setting off electrical devices, and then walking through to mop up with my top-tier stealth skills.
And, when stealth goes out the window, the freeform nature of the combat lets you do things like dive on enemies off of a balcony in a fit of panic or wildly fire your gun at a drone, cursing yourself for not noticing it. Not, that I, a calm, cold criminal, would ever stoop to such lows, but, for you regular people, it’s there.
So, in a lot of ways, my first impression was that Legion stuck too close to past games. In the first hour or so of playing, it was hard to say exactly what would make this game stand out besides the setting. As I continued, however, I slowly began to realize how many strategic options are available with the recruitment mechanic.
Just as Ubisoft has said in the past, anyone is recruitable. You can scan any pedestrian that crosses your path. This gives you a quick look at what abilities they offer your cause. These skills take many forms. Some people hold specific positions and can thus more freely access areas others can’t. Others might have access to new equipment that helps build out your arsenal. I ran into a shopaholic who had spent so much money at various shops, that recruiting him would give me a discount.
These people are relatively easy to find in the open world. However, Ubisoft actually sources your map with more high-profile recruits. So, early on I recruited a secret agent man who had access to a fancy car and a gadget that let me switch off my opponents’ guns in an area. This was something that came in handy in a pinch.
However, the abilities get a whole lot weirder than an MI6 agent. One high-profile target I was able to corral into the DedSec family was a beekeeper. Unsurprisingly, he had a gun that shot literal killer bees at his enemies. Not only is his future-man bee suit totally rad, but getting to pump the bad guys full of bees was something else.
It’s the kind of wacky shenanigans that I love in my open-world games. While my time with Watch Dogs Legion was a relatively small sample, it appears that you’ll be able to get up to all kinds of hijinks.
One of my personal favorite moves was using the cargo drones to fly my DedSec person around London. As ever, you can hack just about anything, including these massive drones that have seemingly replaced your local UPS trucks. Using them to fly above a battle area and find a good vantage point was always a good time. I also spent way too much of my limited demo time perfecting the art of sliding across London’s car hoods. It felt important at the time.
I do have a few questions I can’t wait to have answered when Watch Dogs Legion eventually ships. The most pressing is the story. The demo gave me a better idea of why everyone in London is so willing to join DedSec. However, it still seems a little weird that basically doing someone’s chores will convince them to join my cyber group that’s fighting against the government. I’m not saying it would never happen, it just seems like a bit of a stretch.
My other big question is where is that dang grandma? I looked all over for that surely lovable lady. Maybe she’d have a special skill to, like, bake cookies to distract enemies. Or maybe knit them a sweater to turn them to her side. But alas, I couldn’t find her. I know she’s out there because one of our other writers found her in his preview. One day, I’ll find the grandma and she’ll be my friend.
At the end of the day, this preview has me very excited to play Watch Dogs Legion when it launches. The gameplay is going to be very familiar to anyone who’s played the other Watch Dogs games. However, the recruiting system adds a new layer of strategic depth that I want to check out further when I’m playing under less of a time crunch. Careful planning of how and with whom you approach each combat area doesn’t seem required. That said, doing so should make the game even more enjoyable. Watch out for my legion of grannies later this year.