Watch Dogs: Legion
, being set in London, opens with a sequence in one of those old timey-blimey Westminster government buildings. With the smell of fresh powdered wig permeating through each overly lavish hall you take control of a sharply dressed Bond stand-in and are presented with the same gadget-heavy third-person action the Watch Dogs series has carved out as its own. A little shaken, mostly unstirred.
After the vibrant, satirical, and fun Watch Dogs 2
, Legion almost immediately sets the tone for a darker and often bluntly violent look at the world of criminals, terrorism, greed, fascist policies, and all manner of nasty-stuff filtered through the silicon bits and bytes of 21st century technology. Human trafficking and organ harvesting crops up early in the campaign, and suddenly too.
Without much in the way of humour or tongue-in-cheek nods to the source, the Bond-intro is played entirely straight save for the AI quips of Bagley - which continue throughout the rest of the game. It also ends with a shocking attack that quite literally shakes the foundation of London.
Legion almost immediately sets the tone for a darker and often bluntly violent look at the world of criminals, terrorism, greed, fascist policies, and all manner of nasty-stuff filtered through the silicon bits and bytes of 21st century technology.
This tone is worth pointing out because as much as the mechanics of stealth and infiltration continues the sandbox approach seen in Watch Dogs 2, this feels less like a direct sequel as it does a different path taken. That said, being able to complete an entire infiltration mission via spider-bot or swooping in riding a cargo-bot to take out a high-profile target and then swoop back out is pure Watch Dogs.
And on that note, it’s not a series you need to have all that much familiarity with before diving in, with Legion’s story being separate and its own thing. Outside of familiar companies and technology firms and the hacktivist group DeadSec once again taking centre stage – there’s no need to have played what’s come before to enjoy its open-world attractions.
As outlined in the past – and touched upon
across two in-depth previews
– Watch Dogs: Legion doesn’t focus on a single protagonist. Instead anyone you see on the bustling streets of digital London is a potential recruit, ready to tackle whatever mission or bit of discovery DeadSec has on the cards. It’s a system that is nothing short of impressive in action, offering up a diverse cast of colourful characters to choose from to create your very own team.
Taking the ‘anyone is the hero like bruv’ concept to its absolute limit, this means an elderly retiree, a construction worker, a beekeeper, a waiter, a student, a hairdresser, or even a homeless person struggling to make it through the day – is but a mission or conversation away from joining the fight. By drawing on a wide range of traits and abilities, each AI citizen is painted with a fine enough stroke to warrant a sense of individuality – bolstered by being fully voiced throughout each cinematic mission and each story beat.
There’s a definite sense of the every-person, the regular Joe or Joanne, finding their true calling and making a difference. On that note we spent quite a large amount of time wandering through the boroughs hacking each passer-by to get a quick look at who they are via digital footprint.
Taking the ‘anyone is the hero like bruv’ concept to its absolute limit, this means an elderly retiree, a construction worker, a beekeeper, a waiter, a student, a hairdresser, or even a homeless person struggling to make it through the day – is but a mission or conversation away from joining the fight.
The freedom to choose who you want to be adds a new layer to an open-world game in this style, but it also detracts from the overall story. That is, becoming deeply invested in the relationships between the various members of DeadSec as seen in Watch Dogs 2. With simple and mostly functional bits of dialogue, what ends up happening is a character’s traits and abilities and background – the RPG-like stat sheet – plays a bigger role in fleshing out the AI-cast than the scripted story bits do.
And weirdly this means using money to buy new clothing, which is about the only thing you can do with the game’s Crypto currency called ETO, is often moot. The characters are so lacking in character development that changing up their clothing feels weird - in the sense that what they were wearing when you found them is their ‘outfit’.
Which is a shame because the story rarely engages throughout the first half of the campaign, leaving very little in the way of fun or intrigue outside of the aforementioned experimentation with cargo-bots and hitmen who are armed to the teeth but always manage to give up their position thanks to a nasty case of recurring hiccups.
The darker story and the serious tone mean side-missions and liberating boroughs and helping civilians becomes far more engaging and in-step with the go-go-gadget stealth and action of the setup than going up against a big bad security firm. In fact, the anti-fascist through-line in Watch Dogs: Legion – which might be a first for a major AAA release – is refreshing. As is the more hopeful message that makes up the latter portions.
Also refreshing, or at the very least ‘what we needed right now’, was the urban open-world action in the vein of GTA that Watch Dogs represents. The last game in this style, in a modern city, was probably Watch Dogs 2 – so even with its rougher edges, once Legion hits its groove it manages to maintain that tempo until the final Zero Day puzzle piece is placed.
As is the case with open-world titles, the location is often a major character - transcending prop or backdrop to showcase a form of digital life and movement as convincing as realistic weather effects and day-night cycles. Legion’s London is no different in this regard and on PC (with PS5 and Xbox Series X to follow suit) the use of real-time ray-tracing for reflections adds incredible depth and detail to an already impressive digital location. Exploration is a treat if a little barren in the ‘things to do’ department, when played with RTX On
The anti-fascist through-line in Watch Dogs: Legion – which might be a first for a major AAA release – is refreshing. As is the more hopeful message that makes up the latter portions.
From famous sights to alley-ways, Legion’s London sees the real-world personality of the city cut through the swarms of drones delivering mail, news, or simply spying on citizens. This then carries over to the AI-powered cast where thick accents and slang and near-relentless swearing adds to the sense of place.
In the end, with more varied activities that went beyond the usual by-the-numbers story missions, say, a more emergent city full of events to match the unpredictability of who you control - then Watch Dogs: Legion could have been an experience on par with its impressive technology. As it stands it’s a fight and a cause worth joining, but like its cast your reasons might only extend to the escape from the monotony of a normal everyday existence.