Watch Dogs is a tricky series for Ubisoft. When the first game was originally unveiled, it promised a “hack and take over the city” style of gameplay. It also promised to be the most realistic, graphically beautiful experience. Neither of those things really panned out, and while it was a good game, Watch Dogs became more of a “so much promise, not much execution” type of game. Its sequel, Watch Dogs 2, was a little better in those areas but still failed to truly deliver on the original promise of Watch Dogs. Remarkably, Watch Dogs: Legion manages to FINALLY achieve the promise this franchise has been making for years. While Watch Dogs: Legion is not perfect, it’s finally the first Watch Dogs game I can recommend for people to play.
Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in a fictionalized version of near-future London. The game focuses on DedSec – a hacker group who fight against authority regimes and groups that utilize ctOS for their own goals at the expense of their citizens. Unlike previous Watch Dogs games, you don’t play as a single person, rather you can play as anyone in the city of London, meaning you technically have the “potential” of being any one of a million people.
This is one of the areas that most impresses me about Watch Dogs: Legion. The game promises that you can play as anyone in the city, and remarkably, it’s true. Simply walking on the streets of London will find you surveying dozens of different people you will want to “take over.” I don’t mean a bodysnatchers-like take over but rather who you want to recruit to join your cause. Walking past people will pull up information about them, including their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you can even recruit a grandmother to join your cause (who surprisingly has interesting strengths). Granted, you do have to complete a brief mission for the person you’re trying to recruit BEFORE you get to control them in London. It’s just how crazy this idea is, and that somehow Ubisoft figured out how to pull it off.
The other very impressive thing is how well London looks in Watch Dogs: Legion. One of the things the Watch Dogs team learned from Watch Dogs 2 (set in San Francisco) was details. Walking around London in Watch Dogs: Legion is super impressive. Locations are exactly where they should be, distances from streets are realistic to real life. The only major departure from real life London is that in this future London, drones, checkpoints and AI are everywhere on the streets. It’s the impressive level of detail that really blows you away. This even goes for the gameplay. Having quite a knowledge of London will no doubt help you out because if you don’t have that knowledge, things can go bad quickly.
One of my favorite moments so far is my attempt to storm (and attempt to taking over) Buckingham Palace. I thought I had a great selection of people to use to take over Buckingham Palace. I even thought my plan was sound and had few holes. Turns out my knowledge of Buckingham Palace is a little….sparse. Things very quickly went wrong due to a lack of understanding of Buckingham Palace’s layout and the in-depth security system such a palace has (who knew a palace like that would have THAT MUCH security?). This gets an added level of fun, tension and drama if you turn on perma-death mode. Normally in open-world games, dying is very small and unimportant. Driving a car through a checkpoint and running people over normally doesn’t amount to much. Watch Dogs: Legion changes that by allowing you to make perma-death an in-game option. This means that when ANY character dies, they are dead for the whole game. It ups the tension level on each mission as you can’t be so careless and guns blazing to survive. Each character’s strengths and weaknesses aren’t easily replaced.
Which brings me to one of my negatives about Watch Dogs: Legion: lack of character depth. The previous two Watch Dogs games had fairly generic main characters that were incredibly boring to learn about but fun to control. The backstories typically involved the bad guys doing something to wrong them personally, they want revenge, bad guys are bad because they are the bad guys, etc. They didn’t have much depth, but the gameplay was fun. Watch Dogs: Legion falls a bit further down this hole because you don’t play as one person in the game but rather many people. This means that you don’t get to spend time with them to get to know them, their personalities, etc., which means what you get is a very generic, boring character personality over, and over, and over again. The gameplay makes up for this, but boy, are the characters really dull and generic. Oh, and Aiden Pearce (main character of the first game) is back as a playable character. I’m not sure who asked for him to come back, ever, but here he is.
The other more major issue I had with this game was performance. I played this game on my Xbox One X, and at times this game was struggling. You can tell the game was pushed back (from its earlier 2020 release) to take advantage of next gen hardware (I’ll check this game out further next week on Xbox Series X). This is great for those who are waiting to play the game on new machines, but for those of us on current gen machines, know what you’re getting into. My Xbox One X ran into the overheating problem only once on launch day, which shut my console off and kept it from restarting until the system cooled down. It’s since been patched and runs cooler, but as I only played this on a One X, I’m not sure the situation is great on basic model systems (the regular Xbox One and PS4). Even with the patch, the game runs into frame rate issues and slowdown when a lot of things are happening on-screen. It’s more of an uncommon issue but still something I ran into frequently in my time with the game.
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, PC, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Release Date: 29th October 2020 (PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC, Amazon Luna), 10th November 2020 (Xbox Series X|S), 12th November 2020 (PS5)