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A Lot of Heads are Better than One - Hands-On with Watch Dogs Legion
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 07:16am 13/06/19 | Comments
At a pre-E3 press event, Ubisoft invited us to get hands-on with Watch Dogs Legion, read on for our full impressions...

Explaining Watch Dogs Legion is a bit of a daunting task. The reality here is, nothing like this has been done before. At least not to this scale. But let me give it a go. In Watch Dogs Legion there is no single protagonist. Each ‘main character’ in the game is a recruitable NPC who exists dynamically, systemically and organically in the world. Consider the first Groundhog Day game in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and how each person populating the world of Termina had an actual purpose. They weren’t ‘peds’; they had lives; agendas, relationships and schedules -- your role in Majora’s Mask was to learn everything you could about each of the characters’ plights, work to help them in whatever way they needed and set the world right again, to save them from a moonstruck death.

In Watch Dogs Legion, every person populating this futuristic dystopian London also has purpose. They each have skills, relationships to other people in the world, jobs, criminal records, dodgy or altruist agendas. They have personalities that define all of the above, and you need to work with them to gain their trust and hopefully recruit them to the cause of Dedsec. Sometimes this doesn’t work, sometimes you can fail at helping them and produce a knock-on effect of negativity that goes against Dedsec’s goals. But if it does work, you can use their skills and jump between any active person on your roster at any moment in the game. If they find themselves in trouble, they can also be dropped at death’s door (figuratively) where you’re given a choice to revive them for another go at it, in real-time right in front of what dropped them in the first place, or you can surrender.

"Do this and fail a second time and that character is now permanently dead..."

If you surrender, they’ll heal over time but might find themselves in jail, thus leaving you with either trying to rescue them, or essentially leaving them to their fate, but this has the same sort of knock-on effect as to what was mentioned above. So reviving and continuing the fight is a tantalising option, however, do this and fail a second time and that character is now permanently dead. And those deaths can also affect people who had relationships with them, again trickling out a knock-on that you can’t ultimately know how will shape the fate of Dedsec and their reputation in the wider world.

This makes moving through the world and tactically attacking missions unique in that you can either use anyone on your roster, or consider looking for someone with a more specific skillset to make it easier, but in doing that, you’ll probably need to perform more missions to get them on-side. And additionally, in relation to the crazy relationship and game-world NPC task system, succeed or fail, each NPC remembers your interaction with them, and this adds to this overall view of Dedsec. You can use the open world to your heart’s content -- hijack cars, buses and even delivery drones fulfilling your deepest Green Goblin city flying fantasy. Or you can just take the Tube. What Ubi has done here is give us a familiar concept and playspace; a world with missions centred around hacking and performing tasks, but they’ve just opened it up in ways no one has ever thought of before.

"There’s likely a procedural system of disparate parts puppeteering all of this, but it’s still very impressive..."

Moreover, each and every NPC in the game is fully voiced and has their own animation and movement traits -- no two are the same, which sounds impossible. There’s likely a procedural system of disparate parts puppeteering all of this, but it’s still very impressive. And while everything already mentioned here maintains that there’s no lead character, there is an AI voice who helps direct your missions and gives you ideas, hints and tips. How ubiquitous this digital Alfred is will remain to be seen, but in our hands-on he was helpful, charming and gave flavour to a game full of colour.

And from a world-building perspective, having switched out of boring America with its drab sheen, *cough* Chicago *cough*, and the spatial and open space that is San Francisco, setting the game in a neon-soaked London on the brink of collapse is a stroke of genius. There’s a Guy Richie vibe to how the seedier parts of the game-world are being handled, alongside characters and dialogue, but that’s only a good thing. And most British crime-drama is awesome anyway, so we really have no complaints on this front. And while what we’ve seen is a palatable slice of the gaming space, there’s a wonderful within the game that suggests this isn’t just a location shift, it’s a cultural one.

"Is this a snake eating its tail? Is there a larger conceptual, philosophical lean here? What will it all mean when it wraps?"

From Boudica fighting off the Romans to war with the French, the Battle of Britain, World War II and beyond, Britain has been a place of resistance, while also being a culture of domination. To combine these concepts within speaks to the strengths of the writing team. Is this a snake eating its tail? Is there a larger conceptual, philosophical lean here? What will it all mean when it wraps? And how many will have fallen? The mind swims and boggles all at once, because this ambitious reimagining of what it means to play an open-world action game is simply unique and bold.

And they have all the way until February next year to sharpen it up. There’s also the online stuff they didn’t talk about but confirmed existed. How can a story carry itself with no real lead -- how does the city reflect your actions and the Permadeaths that may or may not haunt your own campaign. And what will it mean if you play through the whole game non-lethally? Which is a confirmed thing, I might add. The studio has been truthful to its playspace. It’s been truthful to shifting the narrative and culture, and right now, it’s truthful to change. How deep all of this runs, and whether it holds together in the end is the final marker, but right now, I couldn’t resist even if I tried.

Currently Watch Dogs is slated for release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in March 6, 2020.

Read more about Watch Dogs Legion on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 09:26am 15/6/19
Good read, I'm kinda keen for this because I'm massively obsessed with London more than anything else and like the idea of being able to explore a digital post-apocalyptic version of it.

(Personal note: I find the random bolding of words in the article kind of distracting)
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