Watch Dogs: Legion offers an incredibly vast recruitment system that wonderfully complements its hacking mechanics while boasting the darkest story in the series.
Welcome to London of the future, one of the UK’s most notable cities that still has a government in power that simply doesn’t care about the pot-mouthed, beer-guzzling residents that inhabit it. The classic London streets remain prominent but are now decorated with graffiti and people living deeper in the pits of poverty. Futuristic highlights to these streets indicate not only the growing dystopian image of London but the rise of Albion’s growing police state across the city. In Watch Dogs Legion, we join the city on the cusp of this attack on freedom, ripe with protests and fear. This is where DedSec comes in.
Fans of the Watch Dogs series will know DedSec as the hacker group that fights against those who are in power by uncovering and exposing their lies to the public. However, DedSec often finds itself painted as the enemy, which is the case, once again, in Watch Dogs Legion.
DedSec, in the beginning, is framed by an organization, Zero-Day, for some devastating explosions. This event finds the hacker group broken apart and Albion’s hold on London grows stronger. That is, until you come along with a randomly selected member of the public to start rebuilding DedSec, recruiting members, traversing the city to bring each borough into your favor, and attempt to get the public to rise up with your resistance. The main goal: Unfuck London.
London is now in a police-state run by Albion, a private military corporation that controls the streets. But there are several other organizations peppered throughout the city with their own storylines to complete. There’s Albion, Mary Kelly, Zero-Day, Blume, and some others that branch off from the stories. I won’t get into them for this review as they get rather plot twisty and dark. On that point, Watch Dogs Legion has undoubtedly the darkest in tone across the series.
To unfuck London, you’ll need to build your own team from scratch. Unlike previous Watch Dogs games, there’s no main protagonist who’s part of the existing DedSec team already. Instead, you’re given the option to choose one person from a range of randomly selected starting characters. From there, it’s up to you to decide how you want to build your team by going across London and scouting people out, and winning the support of boroughs.
As you wander the dystopian city, literally every person you see can be potentially recruited, but they come with their own methods of getting them on board with some having beneficial perks that may aid future ventures such as uniformed access. This system is perhaps the most ambitious one for a game on this scale for Ubisoft, and the studio’s done a pretty good job in achieving it. It allows you to fully curate your own team. Want a Granny squad? Go for it. Want a team of punks? Absolutely.
In recruiting people as your operative, most of them require you to do them a favor first, just so they can know that they can trust you — after all your organization was accused of killing a large portion of the population, so that’s entirely understandable. Favors often involve sneaking into facilities and deleting evidence, rescuing friends, and even stealing a truck filled with donor organs. What’s nice about the way these missions work is that they feel like elements to the story rather than simply side-quests, but they require doing similar things so they naturally feel repetitive over time.
Sometimes it isn’t that easy, however. Your actions across London can have consequences for potential recruits. I found myself clumsily driving around London’s tight roads, running downloads of people accidentally while trying to deliver a parcel. I later found that a lot of people walking the streets of that borough hated DedSec, with some carrying notes that they were hospitalised by one of my operatives. Awkward.
Another nice touch is seeing connections for both potential recruits and current operatives. You’ll see family members, friends, sex workers, and more being oppressed by Albion forces or just wandering around. If you choose to save them from being oppressed, you’ll likely find the connected recruit may be more willing to join DedSec without having to do them a cumbersome favor.
It’s certainly a very robust system for Watch Dogs Legion and even with a whole city of people at my disposal, I still found myself becoming attached to some characters. At the start of a new game, you can choose to enable permadeath or Ironman. With these on, if an operative dies, they’re gone for good. The difference between the two is that Ironman will not allow you to turn permadeath off at any given time.
With permadeath on, if all your operatives die the game is over. While this doesn’t feel particularly worrying to start, I started to make mistakes in gameplay which led to the deaths of my two favorite operatives. I then realized that in playing favorites, I’d not thought about recruiting more. And sure enough, I was left with a granny, someone who’s personality I hated, and three prestige operatives that the review version gifted me and I tried not to touch. (I used one, and he died.)
I found myself straying from the story as a result of losing most of my team, and felt forced to go and rebuild my team as well as hunt down Tech Points to improve my gear and hack skills. This also led to more ETO being earned, which is the in-game currency used for buying clothes.
The representation of different characters feels a bit touch and go at times. Character models feel copy and pasted with no differences in weight or height across the whole of London. Clothes, hair, and jewelry seem to be what separates everyone from one another. There’s no mention of sexuality or disabilities when looking into people to recruit. However, there are some characters with conditions that make them slower, more susceptible to damage, or could even lead to them suddenly dying.
Gameplay-wise, I felt conflicted. Stealth is a huge part of Watch Dogs Legion, and I felt like it achieved this very well with a strong focus on avoiding firefights. I’d like to say that was because firefights were intense and devastating, but really, they felt somewhat uninteresting and clumsy. This is possibly due to the poor shooting mechanics or the fact the enemy AI felt a bit naff.
Enemies give up searches incredibly easily without doing big sweeps, meaning I could just go hide in a corner and know I was safe. Sometimes, in firefights, enemies would line up, with what felt like no variation in tactics. At one point, I managed to take down 2 entire squads without moving from cover, just popping up and shooting as they tried to advance.
Admittedly, as the story goes on, the enemies don’t feel like they become stronger in power, but instead in numbers. I found myself dying from being spammed by bullets, drones, and grenades, rather than being killed by tactical AI decisions. I will say, unless you recruit people with access to offensive weapons, you’ll be stuck using sluggish shock weapons instead which feel slow.
Driving has never been Ubisoft’s strong point, especially in Watch Dogs games — the same is said for Legion. Steering feels stiff and janky and the auto-drive function is terrible. I personally opt for a motorcycle as it’s faster and can navigate through London’s tight roads far easier than the cars. But because of all of the tiny roads, alleys, and bridges, pursuits are incredibly boring, and in addition to the lazy AI, they never last long.
Hacking is obviously one of the game’s biggest focuses and doesn’t change much from Watch Dogs 2. You can still access cameras, download data, raise and lower bollards, arm electrical traps, and more in fluid succession. And you’ll also be doing a lot of those hacking puzzles in which you rotate wheels to divert electrical currents to bypass security systems.
In Watch Dogs Legion, due to the financial state of society, you don’t steal people’s funds as you do in the second game. Instead, hacking becomes entirely for tactical situations, or if you’re bored, causing chaos on the streets. You do get to unlock different types of hacking methods that will work in your favor for stopping threats, with some hacks locked behind claiming boroughs.
You also unlock gear that can help with either offensive or defensive approaches for missions, and quite a lot of missions let you tackle things your own way. For example, you can make use of cargo drones to easily enter an area from above, or you can choose to stand outside and just use Spiderbots to achieve the majority of hacking.
One mission required having an operative of the male gender romance a target. I did try using an older lady who ended up rejected. Then I got my handsome lad, drove right up those damn stairs on a beautiful motorbike, and bam, we ended up shaggin’. Mission complete, mate.
London also feels busy with lore. NPCs complain in passing conversations, lonely streets cluttered with homeless people and homes, and stores boarded up screams of fascism cutting through the working class. Immigrants are forcefully hidden away in fortified areas awaiting deportation. Graffiti and rubbish are scattered around highlighting the government’s absence and ignorance.
But when it comes to lifestyle, there’s not a lot to do. My main gripe with Watch Dogs Legion is that the world feels uninteresting for miscellaneous enjoyment. You can get drunk at pubs, play darts, participate in bare-knuckle boxing, and play keepy ups, but there isn’t much to explore, which feels irritating when you see NPCs entering and leaving doorways to darkness.
Watch Dogs 2 saw you being able to at least enter clothing stores, clubs, and coffee shops. You could take in their atmosphere and themes. In Legion, the most you get to do is get bladdered at a pub or stand out on the street in the rain at a clothes shop window in your underwear browsing their stock. There’s not even dogs, cats, ducks, or birds to add the nature of the world.
The British stereotypes are heavy also, with characters doing nothing but swearing in every fucking sentence, drinking nothing but alcohol, and everyone having bad teeth. Yeah, we swear a lot, but Watch Dogs Legion seems to amplify that to appear edgy and “real” with emotionless deliveries. Considering the game was developed by Ubisoft Toronto —one of the studios that was investigated earlier this year over allegations of misconduct— it’s clear this is a Western representation of the UK.
While on the subject of dialogue, I want to take a moment to appreciate the variety that is present for your characters. Each one seems to carry over their own mannerisms and accents into cutscenes, which I found fantastic. It really makes your operatives feel alive. However, some spoken moments didn’t match the tone of some scenes and felt a bit jarring, as well as the awkward acting to top.
Graphically, Watch Dogs Legion pulls itself around a bit. While the game looks great in general, and the PC version has an HD texture pack and ray tracing, it kind of fails in adding life to the environment. Puddles don’t react realistically to you stepping in them, gunfire looks bland, blood is barely noticeable, and if you jump in the Thames, there’s barely a splash, just foam really.
But if you were to stand and look around you, textures look beautiful. And as always in the UK, it’s often raining, which means there’s a lot of puddles for ray tracing to get busy with. On PC, I was able to run at Ultra, with ray-tracing at Ultra, and DLSS at Quality, and my GPU load was only 100 or so over the VRAM usage —8109 MB was my VRAM usage— and the game was still running great.
What was also nice is that the game doesn’t “come alive” graphically at a set time, it always looked pretty. Whether that’s in heavy fog in the early hours of the morn, the golden sunsets, or even the heavily lit rain-pattered streets at night, it just felt like the city was continually alive as well, no matter the time.
While I’ve already mentioned the lack of miscellaneous things to do, there are a lot of things you can do to build DedSec’s rapport, or earn money. Delivering parcels of varying importance, for example, spray-painting set areas, taking over billboards, finding tech points, etc. It feels like a grind to achieve these things, which I found rewarding to put the effort in. But seeing as the game offers you microtransactions to earn money and tech points quicker, I think I’m just enjoying avoiding the pay-to-win feature.
I also found a great deal of non-game breaking bugs. These were just things that add to the comedic exploration of the city. The entirety of the London Bridge saw NPCs bumping into one another and swearing continually. People would randomly vanish, cars would randomly spawn on top of another, and a guard would randomly climb his surroundings.
As for Watch Dogs Legion being political? Yes, it is. While the main stories focus more on high-powered criminals and bringing down their organizations clearing DedSec’s name in the process, politics sits screaming in the background without ever being really fully addressed or brought up. The game’s visualization of an oppressed city crushed by the outcomes of current real-world politics is conveyed through the world’s presentation and society’s anger and struggle.
On another note: Ubisoft has done a bang-up job with accessibility, allowing players to make use of fully customizable captions with the addition of sound effects being captioned as well. Audio narrated menus are present, and the ability to customize the HUD elements as well as enabling specific gameplay features to help with puzzles, aiming, and more.
Watch Dogs Legion is Ubisoft’s most ambitious title yet purely for the recruitment system that has been implemented on this scale alone. And it’s a system that is done really well and compliments the hacking mechanics. The game takes a far more serious, darker tone than Watch Dogs 2, and feels more focused on getting down to business and growing DedSec than enjoying your time in its world.
Hopefully, the introduction of multiplayer in December 2020 will give the game that injection of additional fun that the single-player campaign lacks. But as a whole, the campaign is a mixture of dark gritty British drama with a heavy implementation of manipulating digital technology with hacking mechanics. It’s engaging and enjoyable and while the bugs aren’t game-breaking, they can be a nuisance.
The recruitment system is vast and those recruitment missions and borough opportunities don’t feel like irritating side-quests and make your role in the city more prominent, although they do suffer in feeling repetitive. All of this tied up in the image of a possibly soon-to-be London makes Watch Dogs Legion an enjoyable experience, but one I felt didn’t match the quality of feeling as robust as Watch Dogs 2.