For some reason, the year where all of us are asked to stay home as much as possible becomes the year where open world games look to expand what they can do. They’ve either worked on including set pieces, added more activities, or even synergize the genre with other game types entirely. These experiments to take the genre further have given us mixed results, with some receiving huge praises and others being touted as outright failures.
Personally I really enjoyed Watch Dogs 2, despite what people might think considering my usual leanings towards the genre and the story being told. But I really thought It was generally well-done, leading me to be quite excited about Watch Dogs: Legion. Where instead of controlling a bunch of preset characters and only at select moments, you get to recruit whoever you want so long as you’re putting in the effort for it. The idea of leading an anonymous army sounds perfectly-in-theme for a group of hacktivists trying to fight for what they believe in, so did they pull it off?
Production (3.8 / 5)
Okay this is going to sound a little strange, but each character you’ll meet in the game feels like they came out of some character creator. Except of course, the characters that play a big role in the story. Everyone else, however, looked like somebody from Sims but maybe a bit stranger looking. A technological feat, to be sure, but some things just didn’t work out. Any guys sporting facial hair tend to look very janky. And everyone appears to have hairstyles that are either short or braided, I can understand that it’s to save on resources, but a bit more variation would have been nice.
Alright, so we know that the reasoning is most likely because of the game wanting to make pretty much everyone a possible recruit for the game, hence the reliance on automatic generation of NPCs for the player to interact with. So I’m willing to be a bit more forgiving on some technical aspects, but some of things really stick out like a sore thumb.
Voices, for example, are treated with a rather clever trick. Instead of recording the lines of hundreds of people to fit every archetype they can make, they instead recorded a small set of voice actors. Each with a unique script, and use a modulator to create the huge amount of variants. The results however, are something of a mixed bag. There’s a good chance that the voice wouldn’t match the model it’s assigned to, let alone the lip-synch. It certainly didn’t help that the accents were throwing me off. I used to think that hearing the British English accent all the time would be kinda fun, but I ended up needing subtitles.
I can certainly at the very least, appreciate the intricacies of the maps, each location had roadways that were fairly easy to navigate, and notable landmarks that give a very familiar feeling of what London would be like. Which is of course, not to scale, but it’s rather convincing at least. Considering that the PlayStation 4 is considered to be relatively weak hardware these days, you might run into some frame drops once in a while, and of course the full effects can be experienced through the PC version with all the flashy lighting effects.
The UI in the game I’m afraid to say, feels lazy. While I’m a fan of minimalist approaches, there’s simply no personality in it compared to its predecessor. I really wish they worked harder on the radar, so it could be a bit more useful if it indicated the 3D space you move around in better.
Mechanics (3.2 / 5)
Open world games, specifically ones by Ubisoft generally have a template to follow now. You run around, have a button for traversing basic obstacles, you have an attack button that doubles as your stealth takedown. You also will prefer to stay hidden because sneaking around in an Ubisoft open world game is as common as wanting to have your bread toasted. Standard shooting rules also apply, let’s move on to the more interesting stuff, shall we?
One of the central ideas of Watch Dogs Legion is being able to recruit pretty much anyone into your team of operatives. All you have to do is spot them, take an interest into them, and then do the necessary tasks to recruit them. Some will take more effort than others, particularly when they have a negative opinion of your hacker group, DedSec. Each person you can get will have their own set of perks, item loadouts, and abilities. Many of them will have one ability to help them out, while a very select few will have access to much more. So what we’re looking at is something like a lottery where you may find something truly outstanding individuals if you’re willing to look hard enough.
While you have no real control over what kind of recruits you can find, you can tune what they can do a bit through the tech you can arm them with. These are split between the ‘hacks’ and ‘gadgets’ category. Even if you have an operative that has weaknesses in what they can do, they can make up for it by either giving them a good gadget or just augmenting everyone with what they can hack. If they’re not particularly good at hiding, you can give them the AR cloak. Likewise, if their combat strength is much weaker than where you need it at, you can simply swap out their gadgets or weapons to something that can make up for that shortcoming.
In general, you’ll have three approaches towards any objective you’re trying to get to. First is the possibility of busting through the front door with guns at the ready, which is entirely possible but I strongly do not recommend. You can go the standard fare route as well, by sneaking around the facility and staying hidden until you leave enemy territory. Or you can go in-theme and hack everything around you to make everything easier. Of course, doing the mixed approach is the most attractive of all, being adaptable to any situation. But I would have to say that the amount of easy outs there are through either hacking or stealth makes the upfront approach just not attractive at all. This kinda drops the excitement you might get from the game. As the moment-to-moment gameplay has little to no reliance on mechanical skill and more on watching cooldowns and being aware of the area around you. All the special actions are just either pressing a button or two and the game just snaps everything into place. It kinda killed my engagement when I realized that this would be most of the gameplay. The exception to this would be driving around, which was more fun than I expected, and probably required the most skill aside from playing with a soccer ball.
Finally, should you choose to, you can activate permadeath, which adds that dimension of stakes to your actions. And I was no chicken, I turned that on from the get-go.
Content (4.2 / 5)
Watch Dogs Legion’s missions will generally have missions that are generic and basically side quests and ones that push the story forward. Side quests mainly consist of fetch quests, or some variation of stealing something or taking someone down. The exception to these would be the Borough Quests that feature a big reward being high class recruit, and does something that’s somewhat unique at the end of each quest chain. While they’re entertaining enough, they’re not very rewarding, and doing too many of them at one time turns the game into a drag as you begin to recognize the repeating pattern of what the missions are really like.
Story missions on the other hand are more crafted towards a fuller experience, making interesting combinations of tasks, or just making completely unique missions to play through. These were the more interesting moments of Watch Dogs Legion, which were unfortunately paired with not very interesting B-Movie characters.
It appears that the real problem behind making a potentially infinite amount of characters in a story is that the story will have to play fast and loose. If every character you can get can interact with story cutscenes, then the script and the characters will have to play with something generic. You’ll find the playable character mostly simply reacting to whatever situation is presented to him or her, while everyone else pushes the story forward. The story isn’t really that impressive, either. You eventually learn that you’ll have to go after the five fiends that are oppressing the city and its good citizens. Pretty run-of-the-mill material, specially with how it was presented by Ubisoft. There really isn’t anyone to get attached to, and I really hated Bagley over time. I honestly believe that the sassy, sarcastic, snarky character is overdone, and it didn’t help that it was basically trying to an MCU character stand-in. Basically, I found it impossible to connect with anyone within the story, except maybe the initial operative I picked, which I treated as a main character. You can imagine how pissed I was when he got killed.
One particularly annoying thing that the game did would be forcing me into combat situations which I had planned to stealth the entire time, which was really annoying when this happened without warning. Having a small army converge on your operative, who was in no way equipped for fighting armored infantry, was something I would have liked to have a fair warning about.
You can also do other side-activities such as make deliveries, get drunk, play darts, shop for clothes and play with a soccer ball in the middle of a park. Surprisingly enough, I found the soccer ball to be the most engaging from all of them.
Features (2 / 5)
Watch Dogs Legion will be featuring multiplayer in the future, which seems pretty perfect for the current system they have laid out. I can’t really say much more than that since it’s not available at the time of this writing.
Other than that, they have a shop that’s going to show off what you would expect. Selling cosmetics, some operatives to make the game somewhat more interesting or generally easier, and in-game currency in case there was any point in having it.
Oh, and you get the usual open world bugs, quests chains breaking requiring a restart, character models clipping through walls or objects, or just not AI reacting weirdly when you’ve literally done nothing. This has happened a few times on my playthrough,
The idea of being able to craft your own army of anonymous operatives was seriously interesting. And I applaud them daring to innovate an already working formula. But it looks like they’ve played with the concept but haven’t really thought about how to make it better than its predecessors. It’s like watching a gymnast trying to perform a new routine, showing off some technical prowess but not quite polished, not really sticking the landing.
Having no real protagonist robs the game of characters that can develop as the story progresses. That also means the audience loses someone to connect with, and the same goes for other characters in it.
I eventually found myself just rotating around a few operators later on. There wasn’t really any point in using the other less capable ones unless you just really wanted to mix things up. Either that, or you were afraid one of your valued operators would die.
You being able to play anyone means anyone can also clear all the missions, giving each mission one-size-fits-all design on it. It didn’t matter who I decided to put on the ground, just play whoever I liked, using them more or less doesn’t really change anything as all recruits are static. With no development route for in any way. I started to look and sort through the people as who’s useful or not, and decided who was going to be up for the chopping block.
I had commoditized people, only looking at them as numbers. I had become the very thing I was fighting. At this point, I realized that Watch Dogs Legion may have left something behind from its predecessors that was very important.
Watch Dogs Legion couldn’t quite hack it, scoring a 3.3 / 5.
Available on PS4, X1, PC, and Stadia