Most games situate you with a sole protagonist to sift your way through a lengthy campaign, making it seem as if there’s only one good person for the job.
Watch Dogs: Legion spins the notion on the head somewhat, tasking you with building up a team, recruiting potential operatives, and using their unique abilities to complete certain missions. All of which are essential to your end goal.
For instance, one mission has you helping out a Construction Worker who’s got into a bit of a jam. Help them out and, once they’re on side, you then play as that character and bring in a Cargo drone that lets you reach the rooftops to access some crucial data. A mission only that person could haved accomplished.
The beauty of it is, once you have the worker in your party, you can then do epic skyline tours of the stunning in-game recreation of London, going on a real sightseeing tour of England’s infamous capital.
As a Brit myself, it’s super refreshing to get to explore an open world that’s incredibly familiar and feels like something of a second home to me. I sometimes found myself stopping in the middle of traffic to coo and caw at Piccadilly Circus, and gawp at the majesty of Buckingham Palace. I could visualise my favorite shop in China Town, and smirked at the sight of Kings Cross Station.
I usually make it to London several times a year, but with 2020 doing its thing, that just hasn’t happened. Watch Dogs: Legion has at least allowed me to take in some of those familiar sights this year. The attention to detail and effort that’s gone into it is painstakingly brilliant. But what should also be commended is how well the city has been made to feel relevant in the Watch Dogs Universe with drones flying overhead and striking holograms dazzling in the distance. It’s unequivocably London, but with all the quirks of being in the future with checkpoints and spiderbots.
Ubisoft have even made sure that the driving experience is as challenging with all the one-way streets and tight corners. Despite knowing where I’m going, I’ve never crashed a car so much. Probably safer I’m not actually driving around Camden for real, then.
That said, I think Ubisoft have leaned a little too hard into the British theme to the point of being almost too comical. Apparently everyone in London has a cockney accent, they all seem to call each other ‘blud’ and the first song I heard on the radio was ‘Football’s Coming Home’. Really..
There’s a strange sense of the game not taking itself as seriously as previous Watch Dogs titles, though when you’ve got people walking around with pigheads and Grandma’s doing roundhouse kicks, reality does kind of slip away from you just a bit.
But the concept at the heart of Legion is the most exciting part of this package. Watch Dogs started out as this intriguing experimental title demoed at E3 that got the world talking. It never quite lived up to the potential – feeling a bit bland compared to the ambition, too similar to other things on the market – and it was to the point where the second game flew under a lot of people’s radars – even though it was absolutely fantastic.
Legion feels like it’s finally found the middle ground Watch Dogs has been desperately seeking. An ambitious take on open-world exploration with enough familiar beats and tricks to tempt in players who’ve been cutting their teeth on Assassin’s Creed. It offers a unique twist on Ubisoft’s usual open world explorations, while still chock full of side quests galore. On the surface, here, what we have is a blueprint for a very exciting future for the genre.
You’ll need to recruit smartly as each character class has a specialist ability but you can cultivate your own team the way you want to. Most people you find in the city can be recruited to your cause and each has their own background, likes, and dislikes. Watch Dogs Legion will point out some recruits potentially worth recruiting but the decision rests with you, and you can also keep tabs on others who you think are interesting.
The idea of having a team that is hand-picked by you just makes the experience that much more personal. You can recruit the way you want to and that power is something that just hasn’t been tapped into in this way before. Which is why permadeath can be a real kick in the gut, just as it has been for games like XCOM.
You spend time with a character, build up their skills, complete several missions, but with permadeath active, you can lose that operative in a heartbeat. It’s not essential to have it on, of course, but it just adds another element of risk to the whole experience and perhaps forces you to play a bit more carefully – especially if you’re attached to one operative in particular.
Watch Dogs: Legion has a decent story attached to it, with DedSec once again in the lead role, desperately trying to clear their names after an attack on the Houses of Parliament has been assigned to them. You have to help clear their name in a variety of different ways, all in the name of finding the truth.
Oddly, though, it doesn’t feel like the primary focus of the game unlike an Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey where you essentially lived Kassandra’s live alongside her. You have an overarching narrative that syncs up all the main plot points and there are key characters you’ll meet throughout, but in a way, you’re sort of creating your own stories in Legion in the midst of that. Your narrative is the one that, seemingly, matters most.
And you’ll want to play into that as much as you can because mission structure can feel a bit stagnant at times. A lot of my mission strategy played out in a similar way – ducking into cover, hacking a camera, and moving from point to point until I found the point of interest. Then I either created my own path way by setting traps or using brute force, or I was able to do all I needed from a distance. There’s certainly changes to the formula and variances to find, but oddly, I noticed the grind more in Legion than I have done in recent Assassin’s Creed games. This surprised me because Watch Dogs 2 always seemed to find ways to reinvent missions and keep things varied and entertaining.
You can let off some steam in fun ways, though, like taking packages around London to pass the time, playing darts or keepy ups with a ball. There’s also a ton of collectibles to find, podcasts to listen to, and bare knuckle tournaments to win.
But as you’d expect, London is at the heart of it all. It’s a rich, cultural, and interesting city, and Watch Dogs: Legion has a ton of cool easter eggs and secrets to find. It’s also great for sight-seeing, one of the best games I’ve played for it, honestly.
There is a conversation to be had about the Xbox build, however. Pre-launch, the game was plagued with issues which were widely reported. Since then, I’ve actually had quite a few hard lock ups and game breaking errors which caused my whole game to force close itself entirely. One even caused my console to freeze. Overtime, these seem to have eased somewhat, but they definitely need to be acknowledged as they have impacted my playthrough.
The other issue is the loading times. It’s no secret that a lot of the Ubisoft and Xbox marketing points to Watch Dogs: Legion playing best on Xbox Series X and advertising the next-gen version. After playing on my OG 2013 Xbox One, it’s not hard to see why. The game runs fine for the most part but it definitely kept me waiting between the initial boot up and fast travelling around the city. There’s even a delayed pause in opening up the game’s map when pressing the Options Button. Next to The Outer Worlds, it’s among the longest I’ve seen in recent memory.
And while the game still looks incredibly nice, there’s definitely rough textures to be found and frame rate drops to be seen. Fortunately, I will be picking up an Xbox Series X at launch, so I’ll be taking a look at the game there to see how it compares and will report back in a future article.
In summary, though, I’ve really been enjoying spending time in London and I really hope Watch Dogs finds the success it deserves from here on out. The concept piloted here needs to be allowed time to blossom and grow as much as it possibly can throughout this generation. While Watch Dogs 2 is still the series high, Legion feels like something of a renaissance for the series – similar to how Origins changed the fortunes of Assassin’s Creed. It’s not perfect – and at times does still feel a little bit bland with more limited mission variety – but there’s some really smart and clever ideas here that could pave the way for some truly special games in the years to come.
And, I mean, you can actually drive a London Bus around Southwark. That’s Game of the Year material there, surely?
+ London Sightseeing is so much fun
+ The recruitment concept is refreshing and unique
+ Fun side missions to keep things fresh
+ Stunning visuals and powerful soundtrack
+ Permadeath keeps the pressure on
– Current Gen Build struggles at times
– Mission structure can feel a bit repetitive and bland at times
– Loses some of its edge by being a bit too comical and over the top
Watch Dogs: Legion is now available on PC, PS4, Stadia, and XO.
It releases on Xbox Series S l X on November 10th and PlayStation 5 from November 12th.
Code kindly provided by Ubisoft
Tested on Xbox One (OG)