Watch Dogs: Legion opens up London and all its citizens to your hacking skills. Will they help liberate the city? Find out in our review.
When Watch Dogs: Legion was first announced, the most talked about feature was the ability to recruit any of the thousands of people that populate near-future London. After playing through the campaign and liberating London successfully, I can safely say that there’s really no need to go to those lengths. Just how does Watch Dogs: Legion stack up in a busy fall season of new releases? Read on to find out.
Are we the Bad Guys?
Watch Dogs: Legion begins with you in the shoes of a DedSec operative attempting to stop a massive terror attack on parliament in London. No matter how much effort and skill you display in this early tutorial mission, disaster cannot be avoided. Worse, it seems as though a new hacking threat has emerged and framed DedSec as the perpetrators of the attack. After security forces take over the London police force, generally known for its polite and non-violent approach, London is in for a major change. Albion forces do not hesitate to act and bring to bear the power of technology. Drones, automated checkpoints, and more cause DedSec to be all but wiped out. This is where you step in, into the shoes of a newly minted DedSec operative charged with trying to reassemble a team and clear your good name.
Instead of customizing your starting character, you choose from a list of everyday civilians, and visuals and their meager starting bonuses will likely direct your choice. I chose a movie star because she had reasonable hacking skills and brought a sports car to the table. Diving into unraveling the mysteries, you soon begin to recruit more members for your team based on unique needs. For example, a mission requires the use of a heavy construction drone, so you’re asked to recruit a construction worker. Aside from this and one other mission that forced recruitment of a particular character, you’re free to recruit and switch to whomever you like. Or not. I found myself sticking to the same one or two DedSec members throughout nearly all of my campaign playthrough. At some point, you have unlocked all the skills necessary to succeed, and there’s very little return for the effort it takes to recruit new members.
Ubisoft does deserve credit for creating quite a large variety of London’s populace. Recruiting a police officer, security guard, or even a spy will provide your team with greater benefits. At least on paper. I’ve yet to experience any of these traits and skills making a notable impact on the game world, let alone my personal experience in London. It looks intriguing on paper but fails to translate into tangible benefits, unfortunately.
Of course, there will be some repetition to the character models with thousands of unique characters to choose from. Still, overall, Ubisoft has done a good job of not having appearances be too similar. However, most people you’ll encounter do share a rather unwelcome common trait; terrible British mannerisms. The amount of times that main characters resort to clearly over-the-top slang such as “innit” or “brill” feels more cringe-worthy than realistic.
Having said that, even playing mostly as a single character, I did quite enjoy the overall theme of missions. Without a terrible amount of variety, hacking into cameras, activating traps (inexplicably left all over the place), and using spider bots to infiltrate facilities, is quite fun. It is possible to complete many missions by going in guns blazing, but I spent most of my time trying to avoid that, usually with good success. The overall balance of sneaking around, scheming, choosing a tactical approach, and all-out gunplay was well struck.
All that Glitters is Not Gold
Visually, Watch Dogs: Legion can be confusing at times. I played this on a PC outfitted with an Nvidia RTX 3090 at 4K resolution with ultra settings and HDR and raytracing enabled. Navigating the city of London, performance was solid across the board, and there is no doubt that the raytracing effects and reflections of the city’s many glass-clad buildings are stunning.
As stunning as those effects could be, I was equally as surprised to find a lot of general softness to the graphics, especially while traveling during sunrise or sunset hours. Shadows result in strange, out of focus effects that are clearly intended but end up looking more like low-quality textures than anything else. Character models also looked frequently strange, low-poly, with terrible hair textures. These shortcomings stand out, particularly when compared to Ubisoft’s other recent titles, such as the Assassin’s Creed series, which featured excellent character models across the board.
Moving throughout London is easily done via the use of its subway system to fast-travel, a feature never mentioned in the game, and as such, it took me over 30 hours to even realize it exists. Fortunately, traveling by car is just as easy, as about 90% of the city’s roadways are populated by self-driving cars without passengers. I’m not quite sure what the rationale here is. Supposedly these vehicles are used as part of a ride-sharing service, but I’m not sure why they would actually be driving all over the place, contributing to congestion. Frankly, it felts strangely unfinished and resulted in me being very surprised when I did actually pull a human being out of a vehicle that I needed.
In true Ubisoft fashion, there are several different types of currencies collect, some of which can be used to purchase new outfits and others to unlock more tech upgrades for your team. To be honest, the variety of cosmetic outfits is fairly lacking, especially when compared to similar games, such as Grand Theft Auto V. I didn’t bother spending too much of the currency on anything. Still, I did often go out of my way to collect tech points. It’s quite helpful to hack into a variety of drones, disable them, or even force them to fight the enemies for you. Again though, after making a few key upgrades, the rest of the gadgets fall flat and never saw any use by me.
The Job’s Never Really Done
Naturally, Watch Dogs: Legion has a season pass and will have post-launch content. After finishing the main story arcs in the campaign, my map is still cluttered with potential recruits, side missions, special hacking gigs, and untold secrets and collectibles. There are a lot of optional activities for those that really enjoy spending time in London, though I’ve not yet discovered the appeal behind most of them. Personally, I’m happy enough with the time I spent there and managed to swallow enough of the rather weak story not to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Future DLC may add additional story content, but for the moment, I’m quite happy to leave London behind and move on to brighter pastures and hopefully fewer tropes and repetitive story elements.