Watch Dogs is back and this time, it’s hoping across the pond. The latest entry in the third-person, open-world, action-adventure series that pits hackers against the establishment is dubbed Watch Dogs: Legion. Set in merry ol’ England, you hit the streets of London to fight the latest threat to freedoms both digital and IRL -- Albion. And by you, I mean almost anyone that your little heart’s desire as in Legion, anyone can be recruited to your cause, introducing a whole new and random wrinkle to the game’s original conceit.
I had the opportunity to go hands-on with Watch Dogs: Legion for three action-packed hours ahead of Ubisoft Forward. Although the game has gone international with its locales, the game still keeps all the tenets of the previous two titles. However, Ubisoft has improved upon some of the weaker parts of the games such as driving and variety.
DedSec, the nebulous hacker organization that can range from playful to militaristic is back in Watch Dogs: Legion. The group is still fighting the insidious overreach of cTOS (Central Operating System), a digital mechanism that controls city infrastructure. cTOS is everywhere, your smartphone, car and even the various security drones flying around. Just like In the previous games, DedSec is trying to bring the world’s attention to the inherent flaws and privacy overreach in the system.
However, in what looks to be the opening of Legion, the organizations efforts backfire horribly as DedSec becomes the patsy to a terrorist plot. While our Timothy Dalton 007-type operative is able to stop a massive bomb from going off at the House of Commons, he is unable to stop the rest of the bombs from detonating in areas of London with the highest human collateral damage. Our cool spy operative is gunned down, DedSec is roundly vilified and Albion swoops in to pick up the pieces of a frightened London. Individual liberties are severely limited, Albion’s private security force moves in and Albion head makes oodles of cash.
It’s your job as the latest DedSec operative to clear the organization’s name and demolish Albion digital brick by brick.
A job this big requires more than one DedSec operative. Luckily, you have the whole populace of London to choose from. Yep, that mild-mannered Nan you see walking down the street, could secretly be a retired hitwoman just itching to do a bit of wetwork. In Legion, you can recruit upwards of nine NPCs to your cause. All you have to do is approach and talk to your prospective new team member and complete their recruitment mission and BAM!, killer Nan is ready to discreetly bust some heads for the cause.
Every NPC has a certain set of skills that can aid DedSec in the fight against Albion. You can see who does what by hacking their phones. Similar to the previous two Watch Dogs entries, you’ll get a voyeuristic peek into their lives as well as their talent. For instance, a retired Olympic athlete can draw a crowd, which is good cover when you’re being pursued. A construction worker on my team could blend into the background of construction areas and controlled a rather large construction drone that could fly them to hard-to-access areas.
In addition to inherent skills, each NPC has a pair of weapons in their arsenal. My hacker wielded a powerful taser and spiderbot drones that could fit into small places and hack doors and other cTOS devices. And killer Nan? She had a silenced pistol and garot to quickly and quietly dispatch foes.
As cool as it is having a literal legion of folks to help you throughout the game, it also means you have that many more people to worry about. If you’re not careful, members of your team could be arrested, seriously injured or even killed. And no, not video-game, respawn death, we’re talking straight up permadeath. When any of those things occur, the affected team member is unavailable for a certain amount of time (or never again for permadeath). From there, you have to carry on with the mission with another team member or recruit another NPC. And that means taking on another recruitment mission before you handle the original one you lost your original team member on.
With so many NPCs with so many different talents, you can approach missions in various ways. On a mission to rescue a potential ally from a torture site hidden at a construction site, I used Mary, my construction worker. I just waltzed in the front door, set transformers and industrial batteries to send out non-lethal, but incapacitating shots to Albion goons and made my way to the designated area. By the time, anyone was the wiser that the hostage was free, we were halfway out the site while the enemy was getting zapped left and right.
Gunplay is relatively tight and is comparable to other Ubisoft titles such as Far Cry New Dawn or The Division 2. If you get spotted during a sneaking mission or if you’re just a run-and-gun type, I definitely suggest trying to get headshot whenever you can. The guns I had during the demo are somewhat weak, making it easy to be overwhelmed in a short time if you don’t stay on the move.
One place where Ubisoft has tightened things up is the driving. Operating a vehicle in the previous title was a floaty unintuitive experience. But getting behind the wheel in Legion revealed tighter, more natural feeling controls. I could feel my car pulling as I took a turn too fast and I could feel the acceleration and deceleration as made my way through traffic. Honestly, the biggest problem I had was driving on the other side of the road. But if you want even more control of your vehicle, Ubisoft has a whole menu that will let you tweak vehicle settings.
The hacking aspects of the game are similar to the previous games as you can use your device to hack into phones, drones, vehicles, servers and city infrastructure. So if you’re in a high-speed chase, you can raise or lower columns in the street to create or remove potential roadblocks. I quickly discovered that I could control cars and buses, making them turn, back up or accelerate forward at will. And of course, when you’re infiltrating enemy spaces, you can hack into electrical conduits, creating a booby trap or disable patrolling drones. It’s still a fun wrinkle to the tried-and-true sneaking mission that I continue to enjoy.
If you’ve played any modern Ubisoft game over the past decade, you know that the company is serious about its realism. To that effect, the sprawling metropolis of London has been faithfully reproduced in all its glory. That means it’s absolutely massive, which is perfect for an open-world title. The streets are bustling with life as NPCs go about their business, just waiting to be recruited to DedSec’s ranks.
You’ll find famous London landmarks like the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and London Bridge. It’s fun to grab a scooter and sightsee or if you’re in a hurry grab a car or take the Tube to get to your destination. I didn’t run through nearly as many missions as the game offers, but I’m hoping that this building diversity carries over to the interior. Too often in these types of games, you find yourself playing through the same layout with only minor tweaks to shake things up. And with all open-world games, I’m hoping that the missions don’t get too repetitive. Depending on the title and gameplay, the thrill gets old way too fast and you’re trudging along to get to the end of the game.
After three hours of play, I’m excited for Watch Dogs: Legion. Ubisoft has found a novel way to shake up the formula by essentially making everyone a potential new recruit. I also like that each NPC has something different to offer to the team via weaponry and skills. The enemy AI is aggressive and ready to apprehend or eliminate you at the drop of the hat, so it adds that much-needed urgency to your gameplay strategy.
However, I’m hoping that this massive world of a near-future London is buoyed by a great story as I’ve battled against cyber-focused corporate greed several times in this series. This game needs to have some meaty twists and story beats to really make it sing. Otherwise, it’ll just be a flashy open-world title with a lot of filler content.
But for now, this is one legion, I’m ready to join.