External Review: Watch Dogs: Legion
Review posted for and originally on Digitallydownloaded.net.
Watch Dogs: Legion is a continuation of the Watch Dogs series in every sense. It started with the personal vendetta of protagonist Aiden Pierce early in the generation in 2014. Then the sequel presented players with a larger DedSec crew, and now Watch Dogs: Legion again escalates the number of DedSec potential recruits to essentially everyone.
The reason for this escalation is because the London cell of DedSec is almost destroyed. A terrorist attack with unknown origins (aside from a mysterious Zero Day antagonist), decimates the movement and spurs the rebuild of DedSec. This translates as the new “play as anyone” feature, with anyone you fancy as a potential recruit just moments away from joining DedSec. Each character has a select group of specialities and personality types to offer some uniqueness to your rebel crew. However, due to the nature of such a mechanic, characters also start to become very samey. Even with slight differences, I realised early on that my recruited crew would use the same lines when recruiting more characters. Many characters were also arbitrarily gutter mouthed, and this homogenization of characterisation did have a habit of hurting immersion.
While Ubisoft touts this concept as a game-changer, its mechanics and branding feels more aligned with messaging for a multiplayer universe and the idea that you get your friends together to build a crew. Watch Dogs: Legion will have an online component, which wasn't available at time of writing, but will play further into the “play as anyone” concept Ubisoft has crafted. It conceptually works better for the sake of providing content, then it does any kind of meaningful immersion. On the plus side that does mean that the post-game and ongoing evolution of Watch Dogs: Legion will make it one to keep returning too, and is very much in keeping with Ubisoft's current M.O. However, it leaves the single-player experience feeling less connected and worthwhile.
With the task to build DedSec back up from the ground, recruits are presented with missions to prove their worth, and then once completed they will enter the fold. An example of this mission structure could be that the potential recruit has a missing relative who has been kidnapped by the local private military Albion, which you then must find. You can either hunt out a potential recruit from the public, or go with the flow on what the game recommends as a potential recruit or even recruit those as rewards from rising up the community.
Recruiting spies or other activists usually lead to a dull group of people. What I found more enjoyable was to find the most obscure person for the job, which sometimes was recommended by the game itself because I lacked a recruit with a certain speciality. My favourite character out of all the characters I accumulated became a stage magician I found. Their special ability was a pocket watch, which allowed them to hypnotise the enemy, causing them to switch allegiance to fight for you. Another character I liked was a football hooligan who had the ability to rally up a little mob to help them out. I also enjoyed characters with unique weapons, such as the street artist I found with a paintball gun. Ultimately if you play less like you want your own personal Person of Interest team, and more like you are playing Saints Row, you’re going to have a fun time.
The world of Watch Dogs: Legion makes more sense when you compare it to the bizarre nature of the later Saints Row titles. While grounded in reality, its near future present nature and methods for hacking tread the line to the surreal more closely than I was expecting. The bombing targets for the terrorist attacks feel like a James Bond villains idea, and the game even rewards you with a beekeeper at one point. Overall, the game shines as a less serious light on the progression of technology, which is fun, but the previous two entries did have some interesting things to say about technology and it feels like Ubisoft has consciously moved away from that so people don't take the game too seriously this time.
There's bizarreness with popular act, Stormzy, being in the game as well, mixing fiction with reality with the UK rapper engaging players during a mission to broadcast his latest song Rainfall throughout London. Side quests are generally even more playful than the main storyline, and the expected season pass content with past series characters, online and additional mainline content will continue to play into this new identity for the series that Ubisoft has crafted.
One chapter that does present new ground for the series is the chapter on the antagonist Skye Larson, whose research pioneered a lot of AI in the in-game universe, but has lead onto research in human conscious and digitising humans post-life. Of course in true Watch Dogs fashion, this post body ideology is riddled with unethical scientific experiments. This being a more science fiction idea at the moment then many of the concepts with AI already in the universe, continues the feeling of a less serious than previous titles might have presented. This is further evident by the level design choices during these missions.
Watch Dogs: Legion also has some excellent customisation options for accessibility. Instead of the bog standard subtitles on/off, the game presents players with audible navigation during the first launch of the game and while selecting what features you wish to have on that assist a wide variety of hearing, cognitive, motor skills, and vision aspects. Players will find themselves able to adjust not just audio navigation but also adjusting for colour vision impairment pallets right off the bat before entering the game. On top of that, the settings menu explores other options to assist with motion adjustments to lock on targets, or even puzzle adjustments and more. This wide variety of adjustments allow for anyone to pick up and play Watch Dogs: Legion in a way that is comfortable for them, and it's good to see the big blockbuster publishers like Ubisoft and Sony throwing their considerable weight behind this area.
What players will find when picking up Watch Dogs: Legion is a game that is prepared for a long post-launch game-as-a-service experience. The additional DLC announced so far leans into the strengths of the game and established ideas that the series does well. The beekeepers, paintball guns and magician tricks all bring a sense of playful humour to the series, but it is worth noting that anyone who is (rightfully) tired of Ubisoft's content approach to games is going to find this one a very content-driven game.