Watch Dogs Legion hands-on have an ambitious evolution of the series
The initial concept where you play as a hacker in a GTA-style open world was fleshed out in Watch Dogs 2, with more open-ended gameplay and a tone and style that felt just right. As big as that leap was, though, the third game in the series is even more ambitious.
The new game is set in the near future in post-Brexit London.
Of course, this being an Ubisoft game, it’s definitely not a game about politics. For the most part, the city looks recognizable aside from the futuristic cars that dot the streets and the copious drones in the sky. Creative director Clint Hocking describes the setting as a “time of massive social change.” Unemployment is rampant, with millions put out of work because of automation, and the venerable pound has been overtaken by a new form of crypto-currency.
Amidst this chaos is DedSec, the Anonymous-style hacker organization at the heart of the Watch Dogs series. The twist is that there isn’t one specific hero you play as; instead, you can take control of almost any character in the game. In previous Watch Dogs Legion had a very successful, you could scan every non-playable character to learn a bit more about them. Legion goes a step further by letting you use this information to recruit them. Each NPC not only has a unique look but also a unique life; they have schedules and relationships with other characters.
Once you identify someone you want to recruit
You then have to make them sympathetic to DedSec’s cause. In one example, during a hands-on demo I had with the game, there was a woman having issues with a loan shark, and she also happened to be against the idea of DedSec. Going on a mission to get the money lender off her case helped change her mind. Once you recruit someone, you can then assign them a class, there are three, which generally fall under combat, stealth, and hacking, and then voila, they’re part of your team. You can swap between recruits at any point in the game, and the cut scenes will feature whoever it is you’re playing as at that given moment, complete with new animations and voice acting.
I only had 45 minutes with the game, so it was hard to see just how much depth there is to each character. Hocking says that “they’re not just a bucket of stats with skin on them,” emphasizing that each recruit will feel distinct. If you do get attached to one, though, watch out: Legion features permadeath, so once a recruit is killed, they’re gone for good, forcing you to utilize other members of your team. They can also be captured or arrested, and you can use a different character to rescue them.
Aside from the new recruit system
Legion feels very similar to Watch Dogs 2, at least during the small portion I played. Missions included things like stealthily breaking into a police station to hack a server, or going to Camden Market to take out some operatives. During one mission, I was ambushed in the midst of a protest at Trafalgar Square and was forced into a Grand Theft Auto-esque car chase to get back to safety. The game seems to emphasize stealth. Ubisoft says half of the weapons in-game are nonlethal, and there are, of course, plenty of new gadgets to play around with, like nimble spider-bots and a cloaking system that hides you from the pervasive AR.
Ultimately, a lot depends on how fully realized the recruits feel when you spend some real time with them in the game. Legion could either end up as a vibrant, constantly changing experience or one filled with a bunch of main characters that all seem largely the same. Both it is certainly way for an ambitious concept, and given Watch Dogs’ history, that’s probably for the best.