It’s telling that Watch Dogs Legion
kicks off with an MI5
agent and an infiltration mission. It’s not a hard mission, but sets Legion up from a tonal perspective; here’s a game with believable, but unbelievable tech and situations, working in unison. What’s in front of us, as gamers, is a world on the brink of… something
and you need to fix that
, in your best James Bond
voice and walk as possible. It sets up what the studio continually refers to as “the fantasy” and what better way to ‘consider’ your approach to a game with seemingly limitless personality and ability, than by offering you a Bond experience up front, both in an effort to ground the setup, while also letting you off the developer leash, so to speak.
"He wouldn’t ever openly admit recruitment is a replacement for a skilltree, but on the surface, this is how we’ve seen the game smoke and mirrors its way out of ‘gaming speak’..."
“Actually, the way we think about it is we try and think of a range, right?” explains senior producer, Sean Crooks. “At the very end of that scale is... the street artist is a great example, right? We can take the street artist with [their] gas mask, with [their] paintball gun, etc. And they have a full range of abilities -- they're [powered] very well. But then at the other end of the scale you have a nail manicurist, right? What [do they] have? Well, you know, he or she could have a paint grenade, right? Because why? Well, [they have] paint in their bag, they have nail polish. That makes sense on that scale, right?”
This is senior producer, Sean Crooks
, explaining to us the ‘ability’ infrastructure of Watch Dogs Legion. He wouldn’t ever openly admit recruitment is a replacement for a skilltree, but on the surface, this is how we’ve seen the game smoke and mirrors its way out of ‘gaming speak’. That being said, it constantly
butters up to aspects of the unbelievable
in developer common sense. All of which is a mouthful, but let’s explain going back 12 months.
From an interview with Aussie Toronto
-based dev expat, Shelly Johnson
, last year when the world was Goya
AusGamers: ...concept. I was talking to the person that was running me through the demo, about how it feels that London, in this particular iteration of Watch Dogs, is more the hero than the people. Because the people feel like they're a systemic part of the broader concept of manipulating a city in general, which is also at the heart of Watch Dogs. Was that something that was a conscious thought, and did that create the idea of being able to jump between characters, and just have these vessels, if you will, that you can jump in and out of and utilise? Or have I just broadly thought too deep on it already?
Shelley Johnson: No, I... the people of London are seeing their city on the brink, right? The impact of technology on the city has led to skyrocketing unemployment, the economy and the government are collapsing, private military contractors are taking over. The people are scared, they're hurt, and they want to fight back, and they're going to use everything at their disposal to do that. The player needs to build that popular resistance; give form to the resistance itself -- to take the fight to them. But using the interconnectedness of the city's technological infrastructure absolutely has to be a part of the... one of the tools for the fight.
AusGamers: Yeah. So resistance is the hero?
Shelley Johnson: The [idea is] you're building a popular resistance…
This basic idea was lost on us last year (to a degree). Most importantly at the game’s own fault for being so ambitious. What we’ve learnt, though, is Legion is as it says it is. This is Borg
, but resistance isn’t futile and you won’t get to play as Jeri Ryan
. Rather, your quirks (not Quarks
) are your strength; what you wear, how you vocate, what your role is… it’s all a freeform experiment guided by concepts of story. In fact, if we had to leverage a single concern against the game at the moment, it’s on how phishing this personality-hopping experience truly is, in the sense of: is this just another toy to play with in a sandbox full of other toys? And like my new pug, Hulk the Pug
, will you settle on one?
“For example, you could also recruit doctors and EMTs and that can also…” Crooks ponders with a pause (for effect?). “If you don't get arrested when you get injured, it will also speed up your medical treatment. Your guys can get out of hospital faster if they're on your team. That's another angle that we approached…”
I played He-Man
as a kid, and know full well the currency of ‘in the moment convenience’, but after a few hours of the game it’s plainly obvious these ideas don’t rest on distraction, rather they exist as poignant components to a freeform approach to a game-world designed to beat you up at any given moment. But what happens when you challenge authority, Goya-less? You salivate your beanless life away and see how the cogs work -- it’s not a world designed on convenience, it’s designed as one of principle of function. And the sooner you work that part out, the quicker your fight against authority can begin. Even if that means conversing with the do-badders and, maybe, making them gooders
"But everyone that you see around you in the open-world is recruitable and every enemy is recruitable..."
“Yeah, it doesn't include, obviously, the cinematic villains, but everyone that you see around you in the open-world is recruitable and every
enemy is recruitable,” Sean reveals. “You can actually clear an entire lab just by recruiting every bad guy in there. It takes a while, but you can do it. You can literally say, "I'm not going to [kill anyone], but I'm going to literally add everyone in that layout to my team. And that's how I'm going to clean that lab out". It's possible. So basically, yeah, you can do that.”
What became apparent really quickly after almost three hours with the game was that this isn’t hack
and slash. There’s a burn to the game lying deep underneath an approachable exterior built around the aforementioned toys. How you manage that, however, will be entirely on you. It’s good to know though, that the delay in release has only helped the game’s lofty developments, but none of that matters if it doesn’t play well, right? Well, Watch Dogs Legion plays beautifully. Mark my words -- it’s the smoothest-moving open-world game of any nature, and that’s before you get to get into the game’s gamable personality stuff. Which is its Goya.
“That's exactly what we've done, actually. We added the new upper liberation feature over the last 12 months,” Sean concludes. “Basically, what you can do is you can enter a borough district of London. You can look at what we call ‘Liberation Activities’, and if you complete all of them -- and they're are all kinds of resistance activities -- there's, like, a capstone pinnacle mission, which is very exotic and very different; anyone you wish for or you're liberating, once you do that, you'll get a whole bunch of rewards, but it's [a hard gamable game reward]... so everyone in that borough will now heavily support DedSec.”
Our time with the game and Sean highlights that the surface of this experience is is just that. Beneath, we’re probably about ready to face one of the most significant design concepts since portals or FTL or rocket jumps or lanes or animuses (animi?) moving forward. The larger question will be: who do you want
to be? What's your