Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in a near future dystopian London, where a private security force rules with an iron thumb over the city.
I’ve been done with Watch Dogs: Legion for the last couple of days, but I wanted to give it time to percolate before writing my review. I didn’t particularly enjoy a lot of my time in Ubisoft’s latest outing in a dystopian London while I was playing through the story, which is why I wanted to give it some time before writing my final thoughts on it.
Watch Dogs: Legion is far from a bad game. We’ll get that out of the way right now. I didn’t care for the original Watch Dogs, but I loved Watch Dogs 2. This just feels like a step backward from the 2016 title. Maybe it’s because my expectations going into it were high. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, because I can better point out its strengths and weaknesses.
A dystopian London
Things kick off in high gear with a large-scale terror attack. DedSec is still exploiting weaknesses in all the technology around them and even crafted an advanced AI called Bagley. After Bagley gets shut down to prevent a takeover from another hacker group called Zero Day, a newly recruited DedSec operative finds him and restores him to all of his computing power. Following the attack, London turns into a surveillance state where private security firm Albion rules over all, monitoring people and activities, turning London into a dystopian nightmare for its citizens.
The story is fine, even if it does hit a little close to home with the current political climate. Honestly though, Watch Dogs: Legion suffers the most from not having a singular main protagonist. The narrative suffers because players spend a lot of time roaming the streets of London recruiting operatives into DedSec.
We’ll get to more on this soon, but not having a central focus like Aiden or Marcus (particularly the latter) really hurts it. Watch Dogs 2 was a strong game, but the real draw for me was the strong lead. Marcus was funny, interesting, and driven. We don’t get any of that here because you spend so much time hopping around to different operatives to accomplish different objectives. Bagley and the antagonists make up for this a little bit, but it isn’t enough to save the narrative.
Play as anyone
After reviving Bagley, players are in the shoes of a new DedSec recruit. The newest gameplay mechanic for Watch Dogs: Legion involves recruiting new operatives for your crew. Most of these recruits are random NPCs walking around the world. All of them are procedurally generated, which is an incredibly impressive system.
There is a lot of overlap between abilities. But for the most part, a lot of the backstories and history of these characters are unique along with their appearance. I’m looking forward to playing this on Xbox Series X, though, because while the world looks really great, the character models look early-gen because of the procedural generation. Despite facial models and hair looking early-gen, outfits still look pretty good here, so it isn’t the end of the world.
The most disappointing part of Watch Dogs: Legion is how much it isn’t necessary to recruit new operatives. Running around the map completing objectives often can be completed with just one operator: a construction worker that can call in a cargo drone. Once that drone comes in, players can just hop on the drone and fly to most objectives, bypassing a good portion of the actual gameplay. Granted, you don’t have to do that, but it just highlights how unimportant to general activities the recruitment system is.
To a certain extent, this rings true for the narrative in Legion as well. It isn’t generally necessary to recruit new people, but certain characters will give you an edge in different areas. That being said, there are some really cool operatives you can get. My favorite was a character who was able to swarm enemies with robotic bees and then detonate them. Others have more passive abilities, like being able to revive operatives when they get injured or a lawyer to get them out of jail if they’re arrested. It isn’t necessarily always about having the most powerful team but the most balanced.
I mentioned character model visuals being lackluster before. Luckily, the city of London doesn’t have this problem. The city is dark and dreary with drones constantly flying overhead and tons of procedurally-generated NPCs roaming the streets.
I actually did see some screen tearing on Xbox One X and occasional frame rate drops, but things generally held to a smooth 30 FPS. The city even looks good while zipping around the streets in a large number of different vehicles, although other than the moped and motorcycle most of them handle pretty similarly. One cool thing about Watch Dogs: Legion is that it is entirely possible to run into your recruited operatives roaming about the world. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it is a cool touch.
It’s too bad that the world just isn’t that interesting to be in. There are eight boroughs in Watch Dogs: Legion for players to liberate. Each of them has three or four activities to do, but they’re all the same in each one. A little more variety here would have been nice considering most of them were exceptionally easy, save one mission where I had to find a way into a hidden underground room to photograph some evidence and I just absolutely could not find my way in.
However, other than these borough activities, there isn’t all that much to do. There are darts to play, pubs to drink in, soccer balls to use for a mini-game, and some collectibles to find, but the world feels really empty despite all the bustling people in it. Don’t go into it expecting to find a really living world like any of the Yakuza titles.
For me, Watch Dogs: Legion is at its best when I am using my gadgets the most. The platforming sections with spider bots are a blast, and I absolutely love the circuit unlock puzzles. I just wish that these puzzles and platforming sequences weren’t so far between each other and I wasn’t stuck using a main character I had no connection with while roaming the world to get to the next one.
Anyone who has played either of the first two Watch Dogs titles should know what to expect from the core gameplay loop. There are lots of enemies you’ll have to sneak past using the tech at your disposal. If you’re seen during these stealth sequences you’ll end up in a huge firefight with reinforcements coming in to back up enemies. The combat is often clunky, and something about the shooting and melee mechanics feels off. For the hand-to-hand combat, I think it was because there’s no vibration in my controller when I give or receive a melee hit. I haven’t quite been able to figure out what about it feels off, but that’s the closest I can describe it.
Again, Watch Dogs: Legion isn’t a bad game; it’s just not a great one either. I’m still intending to go back through and finish sweeping up the tech points that I’ve missed so far and recruiting the most random NPCs I can find, but it definitely feels like a step backward from Watch Dogs 2. A lack of a central protagonist really works against it, despite the core mechanic of recruitment playing a central role.
I’m looking forward to checking out the Aiden DLC when it comes out. I have a feeling that’s where Watch Dogs: Legion will really shine. Those who liked Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably like this outing a lot. Instead of forcing you down a linear narrative path, it instead forces you to be creative and create your own fun in this dreary, dystopian London.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.