Watchdogs: Legion, Ubisoft’s newest entry into their hacktivist/vigilante series, takes us across the pond to save a London that looks like it has binged on Black Mirror and Mr. Robot. After an alleged terrorist attack, a not too future London is now in the grips of an Orwellian nightmare as the usual suspects show up amidst the chaos. Personal rights have been suspended as state-sanctioned surveillance drones cloud the skies, a private military company controls the streets, and criminals feed on the weak. And who comes to the rescue, Aiden Pearce? Marcus Holloway? Nope, not this time. In a unique spin, Legion makes every Londoner a potential hero as you recruit and use operatives with specific skills to help save their beloved city. But does this Dr. Spock “Needs of the many” theory work for the game?
As a long fan of the series, Watch Dogs: Legion does not disappoint in some of the major areas that made the series successful and in a way combines the strengths and weaknesses of the previous games. Where some saw Aiden Pearce’s heavy-handed approach as often too violent and action-driven for a hacker game, others embraced the vigilante who happened to be a hacker. Conversely, Marcus Holloway’s Kung Fu yo-yo, gadgets, and team dynamic with the members of Dedsec leaned more to the traditional hacktivist ideology of fight with our brains. But these two men had far different reasons for their fight. Whereas in Legion, Ubisoft has just have given you the narrative and let you decide how you want to handle it. For the pacifist, you can play as a hacktivist inflicting the minimal amount of violence using your hacking skills to take back London. Or you can give in to your baser instincts and unleash a Blitzkrieg on London’s new occupiers until they are forced to give your beloved city back. How you play is completely up to you. And the path you take plays a big part in how enjoyable the game will be and how much the biggest change in the series affects you.
Be you Bible thumper or comic book fan, Legion is probably a familiar reference. Evoking the demon’s quote, “We are legion, for we are many.” Watch Dogs: Legion has taken this “we are many ethos” and done away with the protagonist in exchange for a world view where anyone can be a hero. And in Watch Dogs: Legion we mean literally that. Anyone. Any random NPC is a potential recruit, and part of your gameplay is scanning your fellow man for the skills you might need to take back London. After you find what you’re looking for, you are tasked with completing a task to get them to join Dedsec. There is no main protagonist or singular backstory that leads you on your mission. Your mission is a collective goal of getting London back, and it would seem that it doesn’t matter who you run into, be it the oppressor or the oppressed, they all have reason to want things back the way they were. And while I enjoy the counter idea of there’s no superman coming to save you, you have to save yourself. I find the collective fairly bland. I’m not from London, so there’s no real buy-in there, and now that I am swapping out bodies like a video game version of the movie Fallen, I don’t really have an anchor to the characters. And to be honest, despite their various skills, there isn’t much personality put into them, so there’s nothing to grasp on to if I wanted to. Now to be fair, Ubisoft has added an optional feature that forces a bit of an attachment. The permadeath mode permanently removes the character upon death. So, for example, you enjoy playing with your super-skilled spy. If he gets killed, he’s gone. Your only option is to go hunting to find a similarly skilled operative. So this does add some sense of allegiance to the characters, be it more of a favorite tool than an emotional one. But hey, if it works, it works.
Beyond that, the game is Watch Dogs. There is action, hacking, puzzles, sneaking, random encounters, and all the things that made you love Watch Dogs. You have a new lineup of gadgets and upgrades to pick from that can be utilized by all members of your team outside of the specialized skills that are unique to each operative. There is a souped-up spider bot that many times works more efficiently than your character to get into areas and achieve objectives, albeit if going stealthy is your choice of approach. You can hack and take over drones and turrets, and most upgrades and gear can be upgraded. But again, there’s no singular protagonist, so the options for upgrading, while diverse, are limited as you are encouraged to round out your team by choosing operatives with specialized skills. So, for example, increasing melee damage isn’t an upgrade you can get unless it’s a specialized skill of a recruited operative. But there are also upgrades like being able to cloak yourself or someone you knocked out to make them invisible. I did enjoy spending my first hours with the game searching around London, building up skills, and looking for recruits worthy of being on my team. But sometimes, the body jumping made me feel disconnected from my character and more like a high tech version of that Denzel Washington movie Fallen. Which is a great one if you haven’t seen it.
Now, if you know you’re getting a Ubisoft game, then world-building is going to be a big deal, and Watchdogs doesn’t disappoint. But would you expect anything less from the studio that recreated a virus ravaged New York and DC or brought to life ancient Egypt, France, and Rome? This time their attention shifts to a near-future London that, as is the Ubisoft fashion, surreal. With attention to detail so specific, if you have lived there or have been there enough, you can practically navigate the streets of the game by memory. Sometimes it is even worth just walking or riding around to take a look at the landmarks like Piccadilly Square or Buckingham Palace. But be warned though damn near flawless representations of these iconic sites. This isn’t present-day London, but more of a Blade Runner-ish version full of flying drones, self-driving cars, and neon emblazoned digital signage on many building facades. Yes, this isn’t the London in the travel brochures but so rich and detailed that you can almost feel the misty dewness of the city.
When it comes to gameplay, there are hits and misses. The quick flurry of attacks iconic to the series is still present, complimented with a bit of variety necessary for the breadth of characters now involved. Gunplay is pretty standard as well. The new weapon wheel takes a little getting used to when trying to quickly swap from one weapon to another. Driving has taken a hit in the new game. At first, I thought it was just me getting used to driving on the other side of the road, but the driving feels a bit off. There isn’t the same weight or response that made driving feel so good in previous games. In the grand scheme, it’s minute as the driving isn’t bad, but the vehicles’ lightness made me prone to oversteering, and I had to learn a lighter touch behind the wheel. The puzzle mechanics and most other operations are typically in line with previous games, so they were pretty easy to pick up. The missions themselves are pretty engaging, and the main story ones are diverse enough that they don’t feel like you are just sneaking, throw in drone, rinse, and repeat. But even though they have picked a pretty sizeable chunk of London, it is still just set in that one area so prepare to be traveling to the same place a few times, especially if you are recruiting agents to your team.
Watch Dogs: Legion is a game worth buying if you love the series or are have never played one but fancy yourself a fan of hackers or just a good adventure game. If you’re an RPG purist, those elements of the predecessors has been pretty pruned a bunch. Not to the extent that it’s totally gone, but the feeling of building up your character is curtailed. But that has been supplemented by the ability to play various characters, building up a team, giving you a number of options to take on any given mission. It’s still a little glitchy as it is in its early days or launch, but amazing graphics, variety, action, and a compelling storyline makes it worth the trip across the pond.