Ever felt that games set a few years in the future always end up being too over-the-top and absurd for you to take any of it seriously? Well then you’d be pleased to know that Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Watch Dogs franchise might be the best representation of the “future” in any medium yet.
Watch Dogs: Legion is the most inventive open-world game we’ve seen to date. With a scale of ambitious proportions and a world with so much promise, it’s only natural for the stakes and expectations to have skyrocketed each passing day after its announcement. The game does deliver on its promises for the most part, albeit they don’t always translate well into the gameplay and have meaningful impacts like we had hoped. Here’s our deep dive into the game:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
We know why you’re all here, you’re wondering if the heavily advertised “Play As Anyone” feature actually holds up. Well, the answer is complicated because this mechanic is both the game’s biggest blessing and its biggest curse.
You first start off the game by selecting one out of a list of randomly generated characters, they then become a member of your rebuilding vigilante group, DeadSec. Unfortunately, getting a desirable character at the start completely depends on your luck and you could be stuck with an uninteresting one initially which can be pretty annoying. Fortunately, after the first few missions you get to go recruitment shopping pretty much all over the map, and it’s great that you do have the option to retire any operatives permanently.
First things first, we have to give props to Ubisoft for wonderfully capturing the multicultural diversity of London. You’ll run into people from different backgrounds and all walks of life on the street and they’re all open to recruitment, but there’s a catch. The character models are so repetitive that you’ll have to search high and low to maintain a unique crew. More often than not the voices of two characters can be the same and that can feel very off when they look nothing alike. This is understandable since it is impractical for each character to have their own voice actor considering that there are literally thousands of them in the game.
What they have nailed is the human element of it all. For context, most of the people in Legion’s world hold an opinion of DeadSec. This was either formed by the group’s earlier actions or influenced by the opinions of their allies. Depending on their feelings towards us, they might need more or no convincing at all to join the team. Your actions in the world also have dynamic consequences. That means if that random person you ran over on the street turned out to be one of your potential recruit’s sister, he’d never want to join you and have a personal grudge against DeadSec from that point forward. That is just the most impressive butterfly effect we’ve ever seen.
Realistically, each character you recruit only has one or small number of special characteristics and abilities. This is great because when was the last time you saw a part-time kickboxer and ballet dancer, who’s also an environmental lawyer and performs surgeries in the weekends? That’s right, never, and this is perhaps the most appealing aspect of the game; you’re all just ordinary people who are standing up to the authority and fighting for the truth.
With all that said, it disappointingly has no effect during gameplay. No matter which character you’re in control of, they all handle weapons, hack and fight pretty much the same (unless they’re elderly). This makes you prefer one over the other because of their arsenal rather than their personalities. No matter whether you’re using a character that you just recruited or one that has been there since day one, other characters and allies will speak to you exactly the same and every recruit acts as if they’ve been here from the start. It’s also weird when their personal ideologies (which is what made them interesting in the first place) are thrown out of the window the moment they join you. One moment you’re a protester rallying for human rights and the next second you’re not only shooting down a building full of police officers but is also completely unaffected whatsoever by it. This makes the whole concept feel like a gimmick rather than a substantial feature.
The whole recruitment process is honestly quite banal, so get prepared to repeatedly perform a lot of mundane tasks if you plan to recruit a “legion” first before diving into the missions. You’d approach a random person to recruit them and they’ll present you with a problem they need to deal with, once you get that done for them they’ll join you and become playable. The tasks almost always including erasing some blackmail evidence or beating up a bunch of thugs and rescuing someone held hostage. We’d assume that these missions are randomly generated and we’ve encountered a lot which are practically the exact same thing. This breaks the illusion that these are actually different people.
Not having a central character made it difficult to really care about the story since there are no personal motives like the first installment. The characters just end up feeling like different skins and we didn’t get personally attached to them as a result of this. This is especially true when you have permadeath enabled. The game would’ve worked a whole lot better if we got to create a central character at the start who wouldn’t die and was the leader of this hacker clan. Having meaningful backstory that got him/her here would help the players connect with them and keep rooting for them until the end.
Although you don’t get to create your own character there are plenty of customization options throughout the game. You earn cosmetic rewards by completing missions and there are various cosmetic shops throughout the map. You can purchase items to better express your creativity and personal style using the in-game currency which is available in abundance. We wish we were able to take it up a notch and change their hairstyles at the barber shops like we could in Grand Theft Auto V, but unfortunately interaction in this huge world is limited only to bars.
Here’s our biggest problem with the game: complete lack of team work. While recruiting a group of recruits one would expect that your teammates would aid, support and fight alongside you while carrying out the missions, but sadly that isn’t the case here. No matter whether you have a legion of five or fifty members, you carry out the missions alone. Only two character-archetypes can actually bring in random NPCs to fight alongside them during missions, while your actual teammates always choose to remain autonomous. This seems like the biggest missed opportunity ever.
Viva La Resistencia!
The prologue of the game begins with DeadSec trying to save London from a mass bombing by a terrorist group known as Zero Day. Unfortunately, you’re not able to stop them all in time and London quite literally blows up. The media and public end up falsely blaming your group for the bombings while the real criminals slipped away from paying for their crimes.
This saw the emergence of crime syndicates across the city and rise in illegal activities. While London is already notorious in real life for their incessant surveillance, the game brings every Londoner’s worst nightmare to life. The post-Brexit London is heavily militarized by a private security company called Albion, who took the reigns as enforcers after the explosions. Their presence can be felt with the officers patrolling the streets and harassing the citizens, and the surveillance drones running over everybody’s personal space like it’s their grandma’s backyard. The citizens and truly fed up and these harsh conditions warranted the need for a revolution, this is where DeadSec comes in.
It is up to your clan to deliver vigilante justice that this city so desperately needs. The dark and political story takes you through taking down these gruesome criminal syndicates and Albion, while clearing your own names in the process. The villains are pretty appalling and some of the sadistic misdeeds they commit do really make your blood boil; regrettably this story is executed quite poorly.
The objectives are extremely repetitive, and if you’re playing the game just for the story it can become a huge grind and the whole process is very rudimentary. The objectives are more or less, exactly the same. No matter whether you change operatives for each mission or play it in different ways, there are far too many of them. The story gets dragged on for way longer than necessary, and after tens of hours you’ll understandably stop to care and give up.
The supporting cast such as the leader Sabine and your police associate Katlin Lau do mostly well and are significantly better voice-acted than the characters whose shoes you fill. This is mostly true for everyone except the AI support system, Bagley. Imagine if Alexa had an accent and constantly sprouted dialogues from a dreadfully unfunny stand-up and you get the point. The overall script can get very inconsistent and there are a lot of instances where the lip-syncing is noticeably off. Also present were countless instances where the voice of all characters appeared distorted and robotic for long stretches of time. Either it could be a bug in the game or the console we were testing it on could be haunted, guess we’ll never really know.
The saving grace of the mission design are the missions that have you taking control of a Spider-bot or engaging in Hitman-esque stealth sequences where you try to blend in to restricted areas and try to pull off the objectives without alerting the enemy. The network bypassing missions do provide decent challenge but, they get overplayed way too many times that you’ll end up breathing a sigh of frustration in no time.
Ah London, the self-proclaimed best city in the world and yet surprisingly there aren’t many video games set in this English city. In Legion, we have all the best and worst parts of it expertly recreated in incriminating detail. This means that if you’re a Londoner who loves going on long rides in the night, you’ll feel even more like doing so; if you’re someone who had always stayed away from the place due to the consistently terrible traffic and bad weather you’ll be even more turned off by it. And this is the absolutely perfect way to recreate any iconic place.
If you pay attention, you can realize how Brexit has affected the city greatly. The British Xenophobia takes central stage, racial tensions as well as harsh treatment of immigrants have regrettably become commonplace. A lot more intricacies exist here and we’d like to commend Ubisoft for their keen observation and insightful predictions.
Equally admirable are the game’s environments and visuals. The game looks incredible, especially at night and the reflections are some of the best ever yet. It both spoils us as well as gives us a glimpse into what we can expect from the next generation of consoles.
The vehicle handling in the game however is unrealistically terrible and it’s a shame considering how the city deserves exploration. The cars and motorcycles feel weightless and the physics don’t hold a candle to even the most elementary arcade racer. It’s beneficial that there are a lot of fast travel stations all over the map, but we do recommend using the surprisingly fun cargo drone and boats to traverse around the city.
The efforts Ubisoft has put in to break the mould and give us one of the most innovative open-world games of the decade are truly praiseworthy, but we can’t help but notice that this game needed some more time in the oven to fully realize its potential. We experienced a whole slew of technical issues that deeply affected our overall experience.
We experienced plenty of crashes through every single playthrough and the loading does also suffer from extremely long load times. Alas, that wasn’t all. We encountered another issue where you would walk into an objective marker and the mission would simply refuse to start, then there were instances where the marker would just disappear the moment you get close to it. Worst were those where you’re trying to rescue an NPC and they would get stubborn and not follow you to safety after you’ve saved them, or run into walls like they’re exercising on an imaginary treadmill. Anytime you face an issue like this, there’s only one remedy: close the application and reboot the game. This is extremely frustrating considering that you’ll have to start a mission all over again, which was already monotonous in the first place.
There were also reports of Xbox consoles overheating and even shutting down while running the game. During our time testing it, it posed no heat risk even on the PlayStation 4 Slim apart from the constant crashes. We expect Ubisoft to roll out patches in the coming months to render the game in a more playable state.
Watch Dogs: Legion is one of the most ambitious and innovative games we’ve played this year and we applaud Ubisoft for taking such a great risk. It has a lot of great ideas going for it, but they miss the mark in realization and execution. Although it a stand-out entry in not only the franchise, but also the genre as a whole, poor execution and optimization hold it back from being a must-play experience, hence it might be best to wait and experience it on next-gen.
Nevertheless, if you’d like to dive right in it’s great to know that Ubisoft has planned to roll post-launch content and a free next-gen upgrade for both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. For more on Ubisoft, check out our ranking of all the Assassin’s Creed games by clicking here.