45-Minutes With Watch Dogs Legion | E3 2019

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In my Watch Dogs: Legion hands-on playthrough, the goal was simple: Investigate people’s lives, solve their problems, and recruit them.

I had the chance to get 45 minutes of hands-on playtime and I had one of the game’s AI programmers with me along for the ride. The first thing you’ll have to get used to is, in Watch Dogs Legion there is no main character, just your recruits.

It was not made clear how, exactly, the game begins or how you earn your first recruit, but my guess is that Bagley (the AI that communicates between recruits seen in the gameplay footage shown earlier this week at Ubisoft’s press conference) will give you an initial recruitment mission. I reported earlier this month on the key mechanic of the game being, simply, that you can play as anyone in the game and I’m here to confirm that this is true (for the most part). The developer I played with said there are a select few people that cannot be recruited who are tied to the main story line, but that it is “very very few.”

The game loaded me in with a decent network of recruits already so I was just able to jump into the action. I started out in a bar, surrounded by individuals to hack. I spent the better part of the first couple minutes just hacking all of the individuals in the bar to view their lives and assess whether or not they were worth recruiting.

Not just individuals to hack, mind you, but also anything electronic, including flying drones that you can commandeer to use for surveillance. You can also ride these drones in order to drop down on the backs of your enemies. Anything that you can conjure up is a possibility because freedom of approach is the focus of the game.

The information shown when you hack an individual includes something they are known for within this Watch Dogs world. One that stood out in my mind was an individual who gave an award winning motivational speech in addition to their current support for DedSec. This helps you gauge how much you need to do to earn their trust in order to fully recruit them. It also lists what they are doing and what they plan on doing (e.g. going to the college to take part in a protest).

Each of the characters had a couple of attributes that were clearly intended for determining which of the three sub-classes they will be recruited into — hacker, enforcer, and infiltrator — such as +40% rifle damage, +40% ability recharge. In addition to their recruit attributes, the hack provides a list of relatives and pertinent information, like whether they are in the hospital or being blackmailed.

You can add hacked individuals you want to track to your contacts for potential recruitment later on (for if they look interesting but you’re priorities at the time are different). It wasn’t clear to me, however, if there is a limit on the number of contacts you can track or recruitments you make. By adding people to your contacts, you can see more information about them such as whether they are currently being investigated by the police.

The potential recruit I zeroed in on was a woman named Val. She was drinking at the bar with her cousin and both, it turns out, are under investigation by police at this time. Val also had a cousin who was injured in the hospital. Val was also being blackmailed and I was given the name of the blackmailer. They seem like small details, but they offered me the inside path I needed.

Using the tracking function on Val in my contacts app, I was able to see different opportunities to… make Val’s life better and show her DedSec is the place to be. In addition to these recruitment opportunity waypoints I was able to view the current locations of all of my team members and an overwhelming number of points of interest that I had to ignore for now.

First on the list was the injured cousin. The game features a fast travel feature through the Tube system, so there are train stations scattered around the map that bring you close to many destinations. But, when all else fails, there are plenty of cars to steal in between. Which brings up another interesting point…

Police don’t generally give you an issue unless you are somewhere you aren’t supposed to be or if you draw your weapon. The game itself has a melee escalation system and most enemies won’t pulls guns unless you do you.

This is because Ubisoft has given just about every (99.9%) single playable character simulated lives; which including the guards and police. When a character is killed in the game, this is permanent, including all recruits, thus creating a butterfly effect and can lead to personal vendettas, loss of support for DedSec, and… anything. For example, let’s say you hit someone with a car as you race to a mission. That person could very well hold a grudge against you (or all of DedSec) and be less likely to help you out when you come asking.

Death isn’t the only option when cornered, however. Your recruits will always have a chance to surrender before being killed by police. This alternative means you will lose access to them until they are released or broken out of the facility. With all of this, there’s a lot of interesting ways to play and make the world feel alive. There are consequences to you actions that could make life easier or more difficult depending how you approach a task.

Ubisoft revealed to me that almost half of all of the weapons in the game are non-lethal. They have another melee system that uses a RPS (rock, paper, scissors) system with punch, grapple, and dodge. Knowing all of this (and being generally garbage in heavy gunfire scenarios in games), I wanted to sneak my way through with as little conflict as possible and my dear developer assisted in showing me how this was possible.

Back to my prospective recruit, Val. Once I got to the hospital, I snuck up the side of the building to a terminal where I could view the patients currently tied to my contacts (like Val’s cousin). From the terminal, I could choose to either prioritize their care or “neutralize” them.

By prioritizing Val’s cousin’s care, I was able to raise Val’s support for DedSec to max and start the recruitment process. Once you’ve reached this point, the next step is to do some sort of mission specific to them. They all have different options, from simple fetch quests to more complicated matter. Val’s request was wiping the investigation files for her and her cousin…So off to the Scotland Yard I went.

This mission required more surveillance and sneaking, including the use of the spider-bot; one of the hacker class abilities. The spider-bot is a crawling drone that you can use to stealthily survey your mission area to account for guards, cameras, and other security.

You can ‘ping’ the area around you to identify hackable items, including security keys (digital, that is) that can be stolen from devices the guards are wearing. My goal was to steal the security key needed to break into the Yard’s server to wipe the data so I sent my spider-bot off on a stealthy adventure weaving past guards (who will 100% catch you and wipe your data) and up stairs to the unsuspecting fool with the key.

After retrieving the key, I had to sneak into the second floor of the building myself, successfully bypassing all guards and completing the necessary records wipe. After sneaking my way out, I sought out Val to complete the recruitment process and successfully added her to my team. I had to select which class of recruit she would be and, based on her +40% recharge ability, determined she would make a great infiltrator.

The developer working with me said that in interactions between Val and the team member I recruited her as, Val would be overtly grateful and thankful for helping her, with these acts having the same ripple effect on the interactions between characters as described earlier. Every team member you successfully recruit has a progression path based on the class you select for them, with sub-classes further built into them as perks you unlock over time.

They talked about each of these classes and some of the abilities in more detail during a pre-gameplay presentation:

  • The Enforcer is your run and gun class, with non-lethal sticky mines, heavy weapons, explosives and (can someone @ me about what this is because Google has a lot of weird results) Gunkata.
  • The Infiltrator abilities include an AR Cloak (a stealthy, quick strike), an AR cloak (to hide dead bodies), a knockback called Shockwave,
  • The Hacker can use spiderbots, as described earlier but also can be unmanned, non-lethal spider turrets,  a spider army, and a drone trapper (allows you to hack combat drones).

45 minutes isn’t much time when there is so much to do, so as I took over control of Val and triggered the cut scene for the story mission I was about to begin, time ran out. That means I’ll have to wait until March 6, 2020 to see what comes next for Val…

Overall I had an incredibly positive experience and I was blown away by how the development team seems to have actualized the goal they set out for in the very first Watch Dogs game. By removing the main character, creating a world realistically effected by the actions of those around them, and allowing us to delve deep into their lives, I feel Legion is poised to give the series the clout it deserves beside other major Ubisoft franchises like Assassin’s Creed.

I’m hoping that the full release of the game remains consistent with what was shown at the show this week. If so, Ubisoft has successfully recruited me as a member of DedSec.