Watch Dogs: Legion promises big things, and delivers them with aplomb.
In Watch Dogs: Legion, DedSec is the protagonist. There is no single character to pull you through the story from beginning to end, no lone central figure with personal stakes and drama, no leading man or lady to take the spotlight. Instead, DedSec and the resistance it builds up to free London from an oppressive regime takes centerstage, and thanks to its ambitious gameplay systems, Watch Dogs: Legion successfully manages to pull you into a city that feels like it’s actually growing more defiant, reclaiming its freedom bit by bit, and coming together to fight against a common enemy.
You can play as anyone- that’s been Ubisoft’s central pitch for Watch Dogs: Legion since the day they announced the game, and it’s gotten quite a lot of attention, understandably so. After a short prologue that ends with a large-scale terrorist attack on London by an unknown party calling itself Zero Day, DedSec is blamed for the attack and hunted down, while private military company Albion takes over the city and its administration- which quickly leads to an oppressive, dystopian surveillance state taken straight out of George Orwell’s worst nightmare.
"Rather than feeling like different skins that have some minor stat variations here and there, the characters in Legion fall into a vast array of archetypes that differ from each other in significant ways, paving the way for unique strengths and weaknesses that are immediately apparent."
Now, it’s up to DedSec to rise back up, clear their name, and free London from the clutches of tyranny- and you play as literally every single person DedSec recruits, which can be literally any character you can see in the entire game and its open world. The idea is ambitious enough that it’s more or less guaranteed to turn heads- but does the execution do justice to the concept? Is it something that meaningfully changes the way you play the game, or is it ultimately just a gimmick? Does it have enough going on to keep players engaged throughout the course of a long open world adventure, or does the novelty wear thing after a while?
Thankfully, the play as anyone mechanic is far from a gimmick. Watch Dogs: Legion loses something in the storytelling department without a central personality to latch on to, but then story has never really been the point of Watch Dogs. The point of Watch Dogs is its blend of hacking gameplay, stealth, and open world mayhem, and how it combines those elements to create a systemic experience where the players actually have some choice in how they want to play. And these are exactly the areas that benefit the most from Legion’s play as anyone mechanic.
The game gets the most crucial thing right- the characters that you recruit and switch back and forth between throughout the experience feel meaningfully different from each other. Rather than feeling like different skins that have some minor stat variations here and there, the characters in Legion fall into a vast array of archetypes that differ from each other in significant ways, paving the way for unique strengths and weaknesses that are immediately apparent. A construction worker might not necessarily have the best weapons or be the most agile, but they can grant you access to construction sites that are restricted for everyone else, and also have a drone that you can hop on top of and basically use to fly across the entire map. On the flipside, the bare knuckle brawler I have in my roster wouldn’t be my first choice for a mission that requires stealth and finesse, but when I know I’m about to get into a fight, he’s the guy I want.
Situations such as these keep emerging organically in Watch Dogs: Legion, where characters prove their usefulness in several different ways. The spy in my roster has a car that can become invisible and fire rockets, as well as a spy watch that fires off an EMP pulse. The beekeeper uses nanotech bees to swarm enemies and is resistant to shock attacks. The professional hitman is incredibly agile and effective in combat, both with guns and in hand-to-hand. The reception worker at one of the hotels in the city isn’t exactly anything special, but when I recruited him, I was able to get into the restricted areas in that hotel with no fuss. The Albion officer allows me to access several high-security sections and buildings in the city, as long as I maintain some distance from others in the uniform who might see through my disguise.
"Legion adds another impressive layer of depth to this whole web by giving each character their own backstory, their own traits and relationships, their own schedules and motivations."
And that’s just scratching the surface of the sheer breadth of options available- from journalists and doctors to architects and bloggers, from taxi drivers and members of organized crime groups to smugglers and hackers, there’s a ridiculous number of different kinds of people you can recruit to your cause and play as in Watch Dogs: Legion, each bringing something different to the table. Characters often move and behave differently as well- some heave steadier aim, some attack with fast flurries of punches in melee combat, some can perform dodge rolls, some are better drivers. And just like in real life, not all of them are winners.
Legion adds another impressive layer of depth to this whole web by giving each character their own backstory, their own traits and relationships, their own schedules and motivations. Using the Deep Profiler, you can use this information to your advantage as you try to recruit them to your cause. A character that might not be too willing to join DedSec’s cause because of a personal dislike for the group might become more willing to hear you out if you help them in other ways, some that might not even be presented in the game as obvious choices.
For instance, the Deep Profiler might tell you the location of an adversary of someone you might be trying to recruit, at which point you can choose to head to that location and, say, hack that adversary’s email account and leak sensitive data. The person you were trying to recruit will become more willing to join your cause, while any friends that they have will become supportive of DedSec after hearing about how you helped them as well. At the same time though, the person whose data you leaked will now have a grudge against DedSec, as will any associates or connections they have.
What this means is that your actions in Watch Dogs: Legion are constantly having these ripple effects that keep on spreading outward, making it seem like the city is dynamically responding to your actions and changing as you play more. People you may never have met may have already been affected by your actions- that person you thoughtlessly ran over while driving about the open world in your sports car might just have been the sister of a high-ranking police officer that may have been useful to your cause, but now hates DedSec.
"“Play as anyone” is a catchy term for the mechanic, sure, but it also oversimplifies just how vast and complex it really is."
It’s emergent gameplay at its finest, a perfect example of a game allowing players to create and weave their own stories through a web of gameplay systems. “Play as anyone” is a catchy term for the mechanic, sure, but it also oversimplifies just how vast and complex it really is. Yes, you can play is anyone- but there’s also so much more that’s constantly going on behind the scenes. It makes the game and its world feel alive and extremely responsive to the player, making for far more immersion than I had anticipated.
Something that is much more formulaic but still worthy of praise is the game-wide objective of freeing London from its oppressive rulers, taking on side objectives to disrupt propaganda and spread awareness and liberating the entire city, one borough at a time. Each time you complete the side activities in a single borough, you unlock a final set-piece mission, and once you complete that, you liberate that borough, which unlocks various rewards, such as special recruits.
It’s not exactly the most inventive structure for an open world game, especially a Ubisoft open world game – hell, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate did pretty much the exact same thing in London – but it works well and adds an engaging layer of long-form progression to the proceedings. The borough side activities are usually also a joy to tackle each time, allowing you to approach different challenges with different characters and different strategies. On top of that, the final missions for each borough are also always a ton of fun, and they offer plenty of variety, from a high-speed car chase through the streets to a platforming sequence that sees you guiding a Spiderbot up through the innards of Big Ben to a timed mission where you have to shoot a number of armoured vehicles scattered throughout a borough with a combat drone.
Meanwhile, simply messing about in the open world and trying to cause as much chaos as possible is still as mindlessly addictive as it should be in an open world game of this nature. It’s even better in Legion, in fact, than it was in Watch Dogs 2, because there’s so much fun to be had in discovering the different ways you can wreak havoc in the open world with different characters. Looking for tech points around the city can also be enjoyable and occasionally clever distractions every now and then, while driving controls have improved considerably over Watch Dogs 2 as well. There’s also a nice variety of vehicles in the game (with many that fully embrace Legion’s much more hardcore cyberpunk setting), and driving them around is always a blast, too.
"The parkour is still a bit rough around the edges, as it was in Watch Dogs 2."
The parkour is still a bit rough around the edges, as it was in Watch Dogs 2. It’s a lot less automated in Legion, so it feels a little less wonky, but characters’ movement still feels a bit too unresponsive and sluggish while trying to climb over walls and obstacles sometimes, and every now and then you will run into a wall that is low enough for you to climb over, but the game won’t let you. Similar issues also present themselves with the game’s cover mechanics, which can be everything from too sticky to the very opposite. There have been plenty of times where I have been forced into tight spots during firefights because of the game’s cover mechanics, which was frustrating. Melee combat, at least, has improved significantly, which is nice to see.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, though Watch Dogs: Legion excels at emergent storytelling thanks to its complex gameplay systems, its actual scripted story is nothing to write home about. In fact, I can’t tell you the number of times I lost track of the minor nitty-gritties, why I should care about them, and what their place in the story even was. It’s a story that’s easy to tune out of, and the lack of any real central characters or cast to invest in or latch on to makes things worse. The whole story mostly seems like a bit of a blur to me. It helps that the game is incredibly fun outside of the story, so if nothing else, at least Watch Dogs: Legion is okay with you ignoring the main narrative completely and making your own fun.
There are some technical issues to speak of as well. Watch Dogs: Legion is a solid looking game. The neon-drenched streets of near-future cyberpunk London are stunning to look at and excellent to traverse, and the city looks even better at night, or when its raining. Some details don’t quite stack up upon close inspection though – characters’ faces in particular look quite unnatural and plasticky – while there are also some weird lip sync issues and jarring canned animations. All too often, characters also don’t sound anything close to what you would think they would sound like at first glance, though given the sheer breadth and depth of the pool Ubisoft were dealing with here with literally thousands of characters, it sort of makes sense that not each and every one of them can be a perfect audio-visual match.
There are some minor distant pop-in issues, but nothing that’s ever too noticeable (though textures on cargo drones in particular seem to take quite long to load at times, for whatever reason). Load times are long and frequent though, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing the game on next-gen hardware to get that annoyance out of the way. Finally, there were also two instances where the game crashed completely, booting me to my console’s home screen and forcing me to restart.
"In stark contrast to how this series started out, Watch Dogs: Legion doesn’t just make grand and ambitious promises- it actually lives up to them."
Watch Dogs: Legion is definitely the best game in the series so far- and dare I say, one of the most engaging and inventive open world games I have played in years. Its play as anyone mechanic is genius in its premise and impressive in its execution, hiding a ridiculous amount of depth that you can get lost in for dozens of hours. In stark contrast to how this series started out, Watch Dogs: Legion doesn’t just make grand and ambitious promises- it actually lives up to them.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Characters feeling meaningfully different from each other with unique strengths and weaknesses; Tons of character types and archetypes to choose between; The game is incredibly reactive to the player's actions; Freeing London one borough at a time is engaging; Open world activities are still a lot of fun.
Parkour and cover mechanics are a bit sluggish; Long and frequent load times; Some technical issues here and there.
Watch Dogs: Legion is definitely the best game in the series so far- and dare I say, one of the most engaging and inventive open world games I have played in years.