Watch Dogs: Legion takes the hacktivist open-world game series in an entirely different direction and will let you recruit pretty much every single inhabitant of London. Together you’ll rise up and push back against Albion, an oppressive Private Military Company (as well as some other villainous organisations).
To start my review, a word of warning: unlike most of my fellow journalists covering this game, I haven’t actually played the previous two games. So don’t expect any comparisons in this article, we’re going in with virgin eyes and judging the game’s merits at face value.
The game starts off with a 007-type member of Dedsec infiltrating London’s Parliament building, where an unknown organisation is rumoured to set off a bomb. You soon find out that there are bombs in multiple locations and when they eventually go off, propaganda is used to blame Dedsec (our hacktivist organisation from the previous two Watch Dogs games) as the ones responsible.
Albion, the Private Military hired to help keep London in check, seizes the opportunity to gain more power until the entire city is under their iron fist with even the slightest crime resulting in serious jailtime or worse punishments.
Almost all of Dedsec got wiped out as a result of the events from the opening scene and it’s up to you to spark the rebellion and grow the organisation back to its former prestige. To help Londoners and to take back the city in the name of the people.
Normally you’d be given a predefined character or a character creation screen at this point in the game, but that’s where Watch Dogs: Legion takes the part of the title from after the colon to heart. You pick from 12 possible starter candidates and it’s up to you to recruit new people to join the team.
I went with a podcaster who’s only skill was to call forth a personal drone, but as you walk around London you can scout possible recruits by bringing up their info on your phone screen and checking which abilities they have and how hard they will be to convince.
As you keep on playing, you’ll notice that some people will have relationships to the people you’ve already helped or they’ll have a personal vendetta against Dedsec because you took down an Albion enforcer that just happened to be their uncle. The region you’ll encounter them in is also of importance as you can convince a borough to become more defiant towards Albion through stealing evidence, exposing their scandals, or hacking their propaganda.
It really can’t be overstated how much of an impressive system this is. EVERY single person you see walking the streets can be added to your team if you’re willing to go the extra mile and do something for them first. This adds HOURS upon HOURS of gameplay as you can draft your very own elite group, each with a unique skillset that can be used to take on missions in new and interesting ways.
The only downside being that it can become really hard to focus on the main narrative if literally EVERYONE has their own sidequest* for you to take on first.
*These sidequests all seemed unique at first, but after a few dozens of hours of playing, you’ll start seeing the code in the matrix and discover combinations of quests you’ve already done.
In the video above, you can see how I used my Spy character’s spy watch to disable enemy firearms or how I used his ability to summon a car that can cloak itself (it can also shoot missiles, which is beyond awesome, but not very useful if you mainly want to keep a low profile). All of this to recruit a Video Game Designer, a “breed” so rare, recruiting one earns you an achievement!
While eventually, you’ll run out of new abilities and gear to discover, the sheer amount of combinations and interesting characters is mindboggling. When I recruited a construction worker, an entirely new world of exploration opened up to me.
Construction workers will have a heavy wrench to bring into combat, an outfit that makes them easy to take undercover on any building sites and a heavy cargo-drone that can take them up in the air and help you get to hard-to-reach places. This quickly became my go-to approach for just dropping into the middle of a restricted area.
It’s equally impressive how these seemingly random characters all fit into the main story so well. They all have decently voiced dialogues that fit the narrative but still inject bits of their own personality traits, with perhaps the only downside being that most of their lipsyncing is terrible compared to the few key NPCs that help drive the story.
Another side-effect of the random generation is that you’ll encounter people who’s voice totally doesn’t match their appearance or people who fell on the wrong end of the “visual character traits” slot machine.
Graphically, there are really only two things that bothered me in the entire game, so let’s get them out of the way while we’re at it. I’ve already mentioned the first: ugly random character models (it’s mostly the bad haircuts, as you can at least change their entire wardrobe to your liking)
Second is the inexplicably bad-looking skybox. This is a slow-moving, non-animated image that really detracts from what is otherwise a gorgeous looking game. The still screenshot may not get this across, but when playing the game, it’ll definitely break your immersion.
The rest of the game was actually far better-looking than I had ever dared to dream after watching the trailers. There’s a city full of fantastic sights to discover, from neon-lit alleys to AR decorated tattoo-shops and from cosy hubs where you can chill out and watch the scenery , to crime-infested corners where you’d better not venture in the darkest hours of the night.
It’s all gorgeous and you’ll probably be tempted to spend a considerable amount of hours in photo mode if you’re anything like me. (which has all the wonderful features we’ve come to expect in Ubisoft’s open-world games).
I played the game on Xbox One X and while the machine is clearly more than capable of churning out 4K graphics and eye-melting HDR, the end of the console generation is beginning to take its toll on the performance. Framerate would frequently dip, especially when driving around at high speeds. Or textures would pop-in when you jumped over a wall where the game wasn’t quite ready pre-loading it for you. It’s all something that makes me curious to see how the new generation of consoles and the free upgrades promised to arrive on Xbox Series X|S and PS5 will handle things.
One of the promised next-gen benefits is faster loading. While I can’t say the wait was ever too long, there was a considerable amount of loading screens being thrown around (every time you enter a building, change characters or use fast-travel). Travelling across the city is an amazing experience though. It’s really such a joy to just drive around, if I wasn’t hard-pressed to finish this review in time, I would have made even more use of auto-pilot and just take in the sights while listening to amazing licensed soundtracks.
While somewhat limited, the choice of songs is simply divine. It’s like someone took a grab out of my 2010 playlist and put it on repeat. It’s really hard to motivate yourself to get out of the car and do some missions if The Prodigy, Gorillaz or Major Lazer comes on.
There was also a big setpiece moment where Stormzy projected his AR performance of “Fall On My Enemies” on giant building-sized screens while you protect it from drone-strikes. It felt like it should have been the “Make it Bun Dem” equivalent from Far Cry 3, but sadly the unbalanced drone assault had me dying 5-6 times and it lost a bit of its impact.
I’ve touched on this before, but it’s a worthy point of attention in any Ubisoft open-world game these days: they’ve become masters of their craft with addictive gameplay loops, always putting a sidequest or a collectable just out of reach.
These aren’t just there to scratch your itch for adding to your collection, but each of them have a meaningful tale to tell that help further along the incredible worldbuilding. There are relics, text files and audio logs scattered across the map and they do an amazing job at making the world and its inhabitants feel real.
They’ve also learned their lessons from games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, where the density of treasure chests was just too daunting and where it felt like you’ll never complete the entire game.
The many collectables are accurately put on the map and you can set a waypoint to help you find them, even if it’s on a different height level. Next to fast-travelling from metro station to metro station (on London’s Tube, which sadly isn’t a place we get to fully explore) you can also use the map to discover interesting recruits and other points of interest
Those green diamonds you see are probably the ones you need to keep an eye on the most as they reward you with Tech Points that can be spent on Gadgets, passive Upgrades, Weapons and Hacks. Unlike character-specific abilities, these are all shared so unlocking as many of them as possible is a worthwhile investment of your time.
You will also be rewarded with ETO, a digital currency similar to Bitcoin. It’s mostly used for cosmetic changes to your character (clothes and accessories) and pimping your weapons or vehicles with skins. Not something you should be actively chasing, but it’s nice to reward yourself with a new look or a new coat of paint every now and then. Masks, however, need to be earned by doing missions or finding them on the map in hard-to-reach places.
We’ve already made it this far and I haven’t even truly told you about all the amazing tech gadgets you’ll be using. That’s downright criminal as these are by far the gameplay highlights for me.
The most frequently used one for me, where the spider-bots. They allow you to crawl into tight spaces, interact with certain interfaces that only they can use and they’re just incredibly fun to control. Quite often the game will force you to use them, skittering across wires in a server room, hunting for Tech points in an air vent or even platforming across the Westminster clocktower (one of my favourite bits of the game, which I sadly forgot to record)*
*This is actually a very import negative that I need to bring up. Ubisoft’s generous auto-saving progress in their games has always been a blessing. But as far as I can recall, we’ve always been able to reload certain checkpoints or make our own manual saves. Watch Dogs: Legion forces a single save-file unto you, so there is no replaying fun bits and no starting a second playthrough while keeping your progress from the first.
You will also have a few forced drone-levels where you have to make your way through hazardous areas and avoid detection. One such level had me dropping a battery pack into a server core and another had me dodging lasers to deactivate them at the other end of the tunnel (giving me a great nostalgic feeling of the Resident Evil games and movie)
The various technological advances are etched deep into the game’s storytelling too. From the “upload your awareness to the neural net” subplots to Minority Report-like “AI-controlled drones” that take out criminals before they even committed an offence.
Large parts of the story are told via AR reconstructions, to help you better understand something that has happened in the past. Or they’ll let you take control over a camera or webcam so you can interact with the room where all the action is taking place.
Another mechanic you’ll see a lot of is the puzzling where you have to direct power through nodes. You have to rotate them to activate servers, interfaces or even to disarm booby traps. The nodes are generally hidden from plain sight, so you’ll frequently have to hack cameras, spider bots and drones to get a better look at them.
It’s the varied gameplay that keeps it all so entertaining. You’ll have bits of stealth, parts with full-blown shootouts (where you can use almost every piece of tech around to your advantage) and you’ll even have to rely on your fists for a large part of the game.
It’s rather basic hand-to-hand combat, but with the right recruit you can dish out entertaining combos, dodge incoming flurries and retaliate when you see an opening. I was especially happy to find out the game has its own Fight Club-like illegal fighting tournaments.
When the game gives you total freedom, it feels incredibly liberating and when it scopes in on a forced experience, it usually combines it with a thrilling action setpiece. The few weaker moments, come from random bugs interfering with the latter forced sections and the previously stated fact that you can’t ever load a checkpoint to get out of a bad situation.
An example: at one point, you have to infiltrate a castle as an Albion Guard. When I got caught, however, the game spawned me back at the entrance of the castle, but with all guards at a few feet away already in high-alert. It caused a kind of soft-lock where I got caught 8 times in a row, without moving a muscle, until I decided to restart the game and reset the game’s “code”.
With such a huge game, it’s only logical that tiny bugs appear here and there (and I’m not talking about the mechanical creepy-crawlies). I’ve gotten said spiderbot stuck in the environment, had inputs like crouching not working and had prompts staying on-screen until I forced them out by loading a menu-screen. (That critically injured above should only be visible when your character is downed) …and DON’T get me started on the NPC behaviour in escort missions when you’re trying to get them to follow you through a safe route. (suicidal bastards!)
But other than the issues above, I had an amazing time with Watch Dogs: Legion so perhaps it’s high time to kick this back into a more positive note before we hit the final word. Did I mention it has a Kick-Up minigame? Because it does and it’s awesome!
Watch Dogs: Legion is a massive game with perhaps the biggest recruitable main cast of characters we’ve ever seen. With its varied gameplay and its tried-and-true Ubisoft open-world experience, it offers dozens of hours of entertainment and isn’t to be missed.
*Disclaimer: This game was reviewed on an Xbox One X and a review copy was provided by Ubisoft
Watch Dogs: Legion59.99
- A TON of different playable characters
- Great story-telling
- Impressive visual representation of London
- Hours upon hours of fun gameplay activities
- Characters & skybox don't look so great
- Framerate issues on Xbox One X
- Lip syncing feels off & characters repeat a lot of the same lines
- Only one Save-file