Watch Dogs: Legion
Ubisoft has released their inventive new take on the third Watch Dogs game, Legion. How does it stack up to the other games? Does the innovative style where you can play as anyone make it worth a playthrough? Find out in our official review of Watch Dogs: Legion.
A Technological “Whodunnit?”
The overall story within the Watch Dogs universe has always been to bring down the corrupt using all manner of hacking and gadgets. Usually, the hacker group DedSec is at the forefront of this movement. The first game was our first exposure to the group, as Aiden Pearce ran into Clara Lille, an operative of DedSec, on his journey to avenge his fallen niece.
However, it was Watch Dogs 2 that really brought this movement into focus, as you actually played as Marcus, and the rest of the DedSec group, to save San Francisco and Silicon Valley. However, both games pale in comparison to the scale of Watch Dogs: Legion.
Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in London, at a time when the historical metropolis is under a martial law, of sorts. The game begins with a pretty nifty 007-esque mission that sees a suave and sophisticated agent infiltrating Parliament to prevent a bomb from being set off. Only, when the mission goes horribly wrong, the mysterious group known as Zero Day pins the bombings on DedSec, despite being the ones who actually set off the bombs. This causes DedSec to go into hiding.
With DedSec out of the way, tech companies using DedSec’s technology rise to power, a violent security firm called Albion all but replaces the police, and the gang Clan Kelley rises to prominence. In a desperate attempt to take back the city, DedSec activates their last sleeper agent in London...you. It’s up to you to recruit allies, free boroughs, and restore peace and prosperity back to the UK capital.
Ubisoft has always had a knack for kicking off their Watch Dogs stories with a bang. In Watch Dogs 1, you start out in a stadium full of people, interrogating a suspect and ultimately bringing the stadium to its knees. In Watch Dogs 2, we find Marcus infiltrating an elaborate server room, being hunted by armed guards. So, it should come as no surprise that with the setting being London that we’d experience a 007-like mission to start out with. Although, it was so good that I had hoped that the rest of the game would feel like a James Bond film, but with the internet. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Once the Parliament mission is concluded, the game tries to get on like a stealthy spy game, but winds up feeling like anything but. At times, the game’s story feels very disjointed, pulling you in several directions, while your main ally, the AI Bagley, pseudo breaks the fourth wall wondering why we aren’t spending our time investigating Zero Day. Rather, you go all around London looking into the seedy business of Clan Kelley, Albion, and others before eventually coming full circle to learning more about Zero Day. In essence, you soon realize that it’s all connected, which you could pretty much see coming a mile away.
Legion’s story exposes you to the shady underbelly of London, which can be quite fascinating and creepy. It also explores corporate espionage and how those at the top go at any lengths to remain in power. This all seems fascinating, right? Well, in essence it is, but the writing and the overall humor-for-humor’s sake tone really just took me out of what could’ve been a truly intriguing Watch Dogs story.
Instead, the writing and tone of Watch Dogs: Legion was so poor it was like they were trying really hard to make this game into a lighthearted experience, it really didn’t need to be. At various times in missions, briefings, and travel, Bagley would usually have a quip that is meant to be funny but would fall flat due to it not being necessary at that time. Furthermore, your DedSec contacts would chime in with this almost devout rhetoric that everything we’re doing is right, consequences be damned. Then, pushing you to the next mission no matter how grueling the one before was with this attitude of “Hurry up, there isn’t much time.”. I’m sorry but what are you doing right now? How about some delegation?
That’s what I liked about Watch Dogs 2, that DedSec team was so fun and everyone had a part to play. In this one, because DedSec was destroyed with one member left in hiding, it becomes up to just you with your own recruited team. It just never really felt like a team effort, aside from Bagley’s help. Yet, they just continued to push this Rah Rah narrative that DedSec are the good guys, they are infallible, and everyone should join DedSec. It just went a bit too far on the “Go Team” rhetoric, for my taste.
The story is plenty enjoyable and interesting enough to keep playing, but I found that the story really played second fiddle to London itself. All the side quests and recruiting missions took center stage, as I tried putting together the perfect squad to make the campaigns a lot easier, which took quite a while.
Recruiting the Diverse Soul of London
One of the biggest selling points of Watch Dogs: Legion was how the hero could be anyone. Through recruiting, literally any NPC can become an ally, an asset, and can help you take back London. In fact, this was my favorite part of the game.
Early on in the game, I found myself walking the streets of London, actively recruiting and compiling missions to complete. At first, it didn’t matter what their occupation was or their perks, if they wanted to join DedSec, I was set on making it happen.
Then, I began seeing the strategy behind recruiting NPCs. Just because you can recruit anyone, doesn’t mean that you should. I started realizing the errors of my ways, cancelling missions. and actively sought out members of the police, Clan Kelley, Albion, and anyone else I could find that would be an asset to infiltration missions. Once I began flipping them and really paying attention to perks, that’s when the game got a whole lot easier.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. As you just read above, you can recruit any NPC from any background to join your cause. Most NPCs come with a perk that can be either an asset or a detriment depending on the situation. Some have a perk where they just spontaneously die, while others have a perk that will automatically release people from hospitals or prisons. There are even some special NPCs who have a vast load of perks you can find on the streets or in underground fights. I really enjoyed the selection process and going out of my way to find people who could really come through in a pinch, as well as infiltrate anywhere at the drop of a hat.
The beauty of a system like this is that it really encapsulates what makes a place like London such a beautiful place. You have all these people from different parts of the world, different backgrounds and cultures able to come together for a common cause in Watch Dogs: Legion. Although, I think they could've gone a step further and add people with disabilities. Overall, though, I think that’s what I loved most about this system.
Also, I have to gush about the seemingly-limitless voice cast that’s in this game. There are so many different characters and a diverse group of dialects to match their backgrounds. It’s such an impressive feat that Ubisoft was able to put such a diverse cast of voice actors to represent an even more diverse cast of characters for Watch Dogs: Legion.
That said, the recruiting process is a bit of a slog. Every time you approach someone about joining DedSec, they always know you’re DedSec before you ever even say anything. I had such a problem with this, because the narrative is supposed to be that DedSec are the bad guys. They were the ones who blew up parts of London and killed loads of people. Yet, they are always so excited to see you and join the movement.
When you actually do their missions too, while they are fun they can also be a bit repetitive and laborious. For instance, if you want to recruit someone from Albion or Clan Kelley, you have to get them to like you first, so you have to go out of your way to investigate something that interests them. Then, once you’ve done that, you have to complete a mission for them. These usually require going somewhere, stealing something, and then surviving an onslaught of enemies and police or it could mean infiltrating an area and taking out a hitman. Either way, they take some time to complete. If your character happens to die or fail a mission, then you have the option to retry the mission, but it often ends up being an entirely new mission, which is really annoying.
Also, I ran into several bugs during recruiting missions. In some instances, they completely changed the background of the character I was trying to flip. Like, I was trying to get an Albion Contractor on my side. Suddenly, the game made him out to be a boxer who had angered Clan Kelley for winning an underground boxing match. I was so confused. Other times, the game would glitch out and I simply couldn’t move forward with the recruiting process, which became so frustrating.
Relatively Enjoyable Gameplay, with Incredibly Foolish Foes
For the most part, I rather enjoyed the gameplay that Watch Dogs: Legion has to offer. The gun mechanics are very easy to use and intuitive, the fighting mechanics are simple enough that it's pretty easy to become a boxing champion. Plus, there is a pretty cool selection of tech perks to make you invisible, create a turret, and even send a missile at an enemy. Also, I really like there is no health bar or much of HUD, because it allows the player to really enjoy the beauty of this London, of which is stunning.
All that said, I do have a few gripes with the gameplay in general. For starters, unless you’re playing as a Hitman or an NPC that has a special ability to use a lethal weapon, you’re forced to use non-lethal, not-as-powerful weaponry. By no means was I ever seeking to light up an enemy using lethal force, but I wanted an option. Instead, those specific weapons were locked to those specific characters. What’s more is that there isn’t much variety to the non-lethal weapons. There is a pistol, submachine gun, shotgun, and grenade launcher. That’s it. There’s far more variety in lethal weaponry. It just puts players at a huge disadvantage against foes who had no problem using lethal force.
In all honesty, the gripe above is pretty minor and not something that really took me out of the game. However, we need to talk about Ubisoft’s AI mechanics, because game after game I find that the enemies in their games are just so unintelligent. This was my major gripe in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint and it translates over into Watch Dogs: Legion.
I’ve found that in far too many Ubisoft games, when an enemy is alerted to my presence and I find myself in a firefight, that I can just go into a different room or hide behind different cover and the AI will eventually think I’ve left and go about their business. In Watch Dogs: Legion, specifically, I went into a police station to steal a spiderbot, had a massive firefight with police, stunned several of them, was down to two, and they thought I had left. There were literally 5-6 bodies around me and they just went on like nothing ever happened, until they saw the bodies again and were suddenly back in shock and alert. YOU WERE JUST IN THIS ROOM! YOU KNEW THESE BODIES WERE IN HERE.
This happened so much and it’s just ridiculous. On the flip side of that, I mentioned before about recruiting NPCs to infiltrate certain Albion and Clan Kelley areas. Well that works only so much. For whatever reason, Ubisoft made enemy NPCs hyper aware of anyone wearing a uniform and infiltrating their area. It was really quite annoying because all you can do is walk and try to stay as far away from enemy sightlines as possible, otherwise you’d get caught. It got to the point where it felt as if the whole perk of a uniform was unnecessary if I’d be doing the same thing if I wasn’t wearing a uniform.
It also furthered a feeling of hypocrisy I had with the NPCs. So, if I’m hidden for a minute, they think I’ve disappeared, but if I’m wearing scrubs and am an actual medical doctor I’m sus? Where is the logic? Ubisoft really needs to take a hard look at their enemy AI code, because what they have now isn’t it.
An Expansive, Thriving London
If recruiting was my favorite part of the game, exploring this massive, gorgeous take on London was easily my second favorite thing to do. Visually, the game is absolutely stunning. This comment isn’t from a reviewer who is playing it on an Xbox Series X, PS5, or even a PS4 Pro. No, I’m playing Watch Dogs: Legion on a Day 1 PlayStation 4 and it’s still visually stunning. That says something.
Furthermore, there is just so much to do in Watch Dogs: Legion, away from the story and the recruitment grind. You can get wasted on beer, play darts, dribble soccer balls, deliver packages, and a whole lot more. However, my favorite was the underground bare knuckle brawls. I went out of my way to seek out every tournament in the game. It was just fun to knock heads with some fierce bare knuckle brawlers in a really electric environment.
If all that wasn’t enough, true to Ubisoft’s pattern, there are a bunch of liberation missions for each borough. Each liberation mission comes with their own unique challenges, but they are really easy to find. Once you have found and completed all of them, the borough will begin to rise up against their oppressors and you’ll find yourself with more people willing to join DedSec (even though that’s not a problem when the Burroughs are oppressed.) and you’ll get a special character to join your ranks.
Should You Play It?
Overall, Watch Dogs: Legion is an enjoyable game, with a lot of really cool features to enjoy. It’s set in a vibrant city that is truly captured graphically and culturally. That said, it’s not a game I would recommend playing right away. While fun in many ways, the poor writing, repetitiveness, bugs, and annoying enemy AI system make it a game worth playing once the price goes down or there is a sale going on.
By no means am I saying it’s not worth playing at all. I actually enjoyed my time in Watch Dogs: Legion. I found myself spending hours upon hours running around doing mission after mission. However, when I think back on my time, outside of the opening mission there isn’t anything that blew me away. There isn't anything I can look back on and say, “That’s worth $60.”.
Watch Dogs: Legion is a major step in the right direction for the franchise, but it’s got a long way to go until it reaches its full potential and it starts with figuring out what it wants its tonal identity to be and reworking an outdated AI system that’s out of touch with today’s gaming.