As I’m running through dark alleys trying to avoid a drone that’s shouting for me to comply, I accidentally bump into some of Albion’s officers. I’m playing as Jason Goswami, one of the 9 million playable characters in Watch Dogs: Legion. He’s an internet celebrity who’s been recruited into DedSec. I make it out of the twisting alleys with Albion’s goons hot on my tail. I spot a bike closeby and jump on the back of it. As I’m beginning to pull away, I hear one of the Albion guards scream: “You twatwaffle!” I’m slightly taken aback by this insult before cracking up in hysterics. The game suddenly freezes, I lose all of my progress, and the smile is wiped from my face. Revolutions are not easy.
With Watch Dogs: Legion, the sunny and vibrant streets of San Francisco have been swapped out for the gritty and crime-ridden roads, lanes, and alleyways of a dystopian London set in the not-too-distant future. Straight from the off, Legion is a much more serious affair than Watch Dogs 2. Several locations around London are bombed and DedSec, the returning hacker group from previous games, is framed for the attacks and killed off. A private military contractor by the name of Albion now patrols the streets in a bid to keep order. Armed officers stand on street corners, autonomous turrets sit atop checkpoints throughout the city, and drones fly menacingly overhead ordering groups of six or more to disperse. Although the game warns you that this is a work of fiction and any similarities are purely coincidental, with present-day London already being one of the most surveilled cities in the world, you could easily see Legion’s dystopian London soon become a reality.
With DedSec in tatters, you are soon tasked with rebuilding the hacktivist group by recruiting a new team, clearing its name, and liberating London from its oppressor. However, the unique gameplay mechanic that vastly differentiates the game from its two predecessors is that you can play as any of the people walking the streets of London, from the oldest of retired pensioners to the youngest of spritely celebrities — all can be recruited to aid your cause. Each recruitable person comes with their own abilities (some passive and others active), weapons, gadgets, and sometimes disadvantages. A spy, for example, is equipped with the ability to call for a car which can turn invisible, a watch that jams enemy guns, and a silenced pistol. On the other hand, recruiting a janitor won’t get you much in terms of high-tech gadgetry, but a janitor does have the ability to blend in with the environment by pretending to clean an area, which makes for an amusing way to disappear from Albion’s thugs. With Legion, you won’t find skill trees for your new operatives either. Instead, upgrades, tech, and non-lethal weapons (lethal weapons are locked to certain characters) are all unlockable by collecting Tech Points which are rewarded for completing missions or by finding them hidden around the map. Once unlocked, they are shared between DedSec members.
Recruiting operatives into DedSec is done by walking up to eligible people and asking if they want to sign up (I can faithfully attest that this is the most unrealistic part about Watch Dogs: Legion — nobody in London even makes eye contact, let alone speaks to one another). They’ll then give you some sort of task or mission to prove that you’re the real deal before they join. These extra missions are fun, to begin with, but they soon grow wearisome. There’s a fair variety of recruitment missions that you’re sent on, but having to recruit a new person just to get a unique ability that none of my current operatives had soon became a lot of effort. This is where the ‘play as anyone’ mechanic falls drastically flat. It’s innovative for sure, but it soon becomes redundant. A specialised getaway driver or someone with a faster download speed ability would have been nice, but it was just easier to stick with the person I had. In fact, throughout my playthrough, I stuck with a hitman who I recruited early on and pretty much didn’t change who I was playing with until he was killed by a glitched invisible car.
Watch Dogs Legion has a permadeath mode, which is great. Knowing that an operative can die makes you think twice about rushing into a situation. I had grown rather attached to my hitman — a mid-40s chap with greying slicked-back hair, nice suit, and hipster glasses — but tragedy soon struck. After taking heavy amounts of damage during a gunfight, a car came hurtling around a corner, and even though it didn’t make contact with me on my screen, my hitman was hurled into the air and died instantly. To have a character killed off to a glitch felt very cheap.
In fact, I came across numerous bugs and glitches that really soured my Watch Dogs: Legion experience. I was thrown off motorbikes for hitting the smallest of kerbs, I got stuck under the map numerous times, characters in cutscenes would clip into each other making strange amalgamations of one another, and the game crashed a total of nine times making me lose progress, forcing me to start again. Even after downloading the latest hotfix of the game, the game was still locking up and booting me back out to the Xbox One dashboard. There is a distinct lack of polish in this game, and it becomes more apparent the longer you spend with it. I expect most of this will all be fixed with future patches, but for a game that could set you back exorbitant amounts of money if you’re purchasing the Gold or Ultimate editions, this is unacceptable.
Aside from the ability to recruit and play as anyone, not much has changed in terms of gameplay compared to Watch Dogs 2. You’ll still be hacking your way into various buildings, through the use of cameras and drones to download data from a server or blow something up, or rescue someone. If stealthily hacking your way through an area isn’t your cup of tea, you can go in all guns blazing, or even hack a cargo drone and ride it to an unrestricted area. The third-person shooting is fine and does the job, but the hand-to-hand combat is almost pointless. It’s far too easy to wait for an over-choreographed punch to be thrown and simply dodge out of the way of it for a cheap counterattack.
There are some fun and interesting set pieces that really break up the gameplay. Once you’ve performed enough actions in one of the eight boroughs the map makes up, you can access a Liberation Mission, which not only liberates that borough but gets you powerful operatives and reveals the locations of Tech Points hidden on the map. One of these included a long platforming segment where I had to climb the inside of Big Ben with a spider drone to reach the top while avoiding turning cogs and swinging pendulums. It made for a rather pleasing change of pace. While the platforming with a spider drone is fun, the ‘parkour’ with regular characters isn’t all that great. It feels clunky and sluggish and is a far cry from the freerunning in the Assassin’s Creed titles.
Visually, Ubisoft’s re-imaging of London looks stunning. Even playing on an Xbox One S, the capital is a real treat on the eyes. Visiting iconic landmarks in games to see how they stack up to their real-life counterparts is always a fun thing to do, and Ubisoft has done an impeccable job in recreating the likes of the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and their surrounding areas. I’m not a Londoner, but even some of the smaller lesser-known landmarks I found myself recognising. The amount of detail that’s gone into this game’s city is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about the beards. The beards are some of the worst beards in gaming and look spray-painted on. It’s a small hang up, but when you come across a chap with some really shoddy facial hair in a cutscene, it’s hard to focus on anything but the beard.
Tucked away on these mean city streets are five main enemies dubbed the “Villains of London.” Each one has their own storyline with missions within the overarching narrative and can be tackled in whatever way you see fit. The ones that I have completed have all been excellent, although a little short. From taking down the last remaining crime syndicate in London to stopping an evil tech genius, each one of these narratives had me itching to find out what was coming next. That can’t be said for the latter stages of the game, though, as missions soon get repetitive and a little dull.
The villains and their supporting cast are all excellently voice acted and really lend to the whole experience. This can not be said for the people you recruit. While some of the voice actors used are great, others are almost laughable. Take the first character I played with — I couldn’t wait to swap him out simply because the voice acting was so bad. Whenever he was speaking, it felt so disjointed from the conversation. That being said, what Ubisoft has done really well with is the number of different accents captured and the great dialogue, particularly the swearing. I was fearful that the game would be filled with stereotypical accents who either sounded like characters from a Guy Ritchie movie or The Queen. Thankfully, there’s hardly any of that, and you’ll hear a broad range of voices that really lends to the authenticity of a multicultural London. You’ll also hear a bunch of expletives, ranging from the shocking to the utterly hilarious. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of being called a “f*cking bellend,” a “useless flap of skin,” or a w*nker by some random NPC. If there’s one thing that truly makes Legion feel British, it’s the swearing.
On the achievement front, the list contains a good variety of achievements that will keep you busy. Although there are a lot of collectables to pick up, achievements such as “You Don’t See Me,” which requires you to escape a level 5 pursuit by doing a Statue Emote, and “The Royal Tour,” where you’ll need to enter Buckingham Palace’s restricted area disguised as a Royal Guard, are sure to amuse. Overall, the list doesn’t look too tough.
SummaryUbisoft is known for making great open-world experiences and Watch Dogs: Legion is almost that. With a darker storyline and a wonderfully re-imagined London that is the star of the show, the third entry into the franchise feels as if it’s slightly matured from Watch Dogs 2. The new ‘play as anyone’ mechanic is innovative but sadly soon becomes redundant. Numerous bugs and glitches also mar the overall experience. Having the game crash several times and losing about 20 minutes worth of progress each time is not something that should be happening with a big-budget title such as Legion. Even after downloading the latest hotfix, crashing issues still persisted. This will likely be fixed with more patches later on down the line, but it will still be disappointing for those who purchase the game on day one. However, if you can keep a stiff upper lip about some of the bugs, you’ll have a lot of fun with Legion. Even if someone does end up calling you a twatwaffle.
EthicsThe reviewer spent about 20 hours flying around London atop a drone, hacking into things, and earning 11 achievements in the process. The game was played on an Xbox One S, and Ubisoft provided a code for this review.
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