I’ve alternated on my thoughts on the Watch Dogs franchise numerous times. The core idea is neat, a modern-day stealth game with light parkour elements. Plus, a lot of really dumb hacking stuff thrown in. the original Watch Dogs was almost entirely undone though, by its main character, Aiden Pierce, who I still maintain is one of the worst characters in all of video games. Watch Dogs 2 was arguably saved by not only its main character, Marcus Holloway, but the rest of the DedSec knuckleheads. Watch Dogs Legion doesn’t even have a main character and this is one of the biggest oddities in the game.
Review: Watch Dogs Legion
Name: Watch Dogs: Legion
Platform: PS4 [Reviewed], Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Genre: Action Adventure
Players: 1-2 (Online, to be added later)
Release Date: October 29, 2020
Price $59.99 (USD)
I should generally preface this by saying that the core nuts and bolts gameplay of Watch Dogs Legion is perfectly sound. Stealth feels good, shooting is responsive, controlling drones and stuff is fun, etc. It’s all a tad rote but perfectly good.
The basic setup in Legion is that DedSec, the hacktivist group in the past Watch Dogs games are blamed for a terrorist attack in London. This has the effect of locking the city down by a paramilitary force called Albion. While almost entirely eliminating DedSec from the town and massively curtailing everyone’s liberties in the guise of security and safety. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go down well with some people.
When you start Legion you are in control of an ex-spy and obvious stand-in for James Bond. After things go bad, the DedSec AI is reactivated and you are instructed to pick a starting character from about 15 or so broad ones. One person might be a construction worker. One might carry a pistol or might have a discount on clothes buying. There’s one that can summon a drone, etc. You pick a starting character and then are thrust into the world of George Orwell’s 2084.
The biggest change in Watch Dogs Legion is that there really isn’t a main character. Even the starting character you have, you can jettison once you unlock someone new. There are important side and bad characters but the actual playable character is almost entirely up to you. You are also able to recruit almost anyone you come into contact with and get them on your team as a playable character.
Almost all the characters have both positive and negative traits. The positive traits are things like always having access to a gun. Being a better melee fighter, a faster hacker, and rallying NPC’s to fight for a bit, etc. Almost every NPC has at least one positive trait, with some more skilled characters having up to four traits. So it’s up to you to pick whatever NPC you want.
There are also negative traits but these aren’t quite as common. These traits are rather silly with things such as having a death wish, farts a lot, and can occasionally, spontaneously die, just to name a few. I tried my best to try and recruit people with no huge flaws.
Lastly, there is also a 20 second load time when you switch between characters, which as you can imagine, gets annoying after a while. Hopefully, this is something that gets nullified once you can play the game on next-gen consoles.
The Four Big Ones
Within your recruiting drive, there are four basic types you’ll want to recruit as soon as possible. The first two are fairly expected, a medical person and a law person. The medical person has a global upgrade on healing your crew if they fall during battle. For example, let’s say an operative goes down and needs 15 minutes of actual time to recuperate. Having a medical person on the crew can trim that recuperation time in half. The same concept applies to the law person as well. If your unit gets arrested by the cops or Albion, they can reduce the amount of time that character is incarcerated.
The other two unit types you’ll need are an Albion employee and a Kelley Gang worker. Both units unlock an outfit for you to wear that lets you blend in with the respective restricted zone. So, if you want to walk around an Albion building, recruit an Albion worker. The same goes for the Kelley Gang areas. You won’t be totally invisible. In fact, you’ll still be a tad suspicious, especially if you do anything weird, but it does let you get around these areas a lot easier.
There is an element of territory control in Watch Dogs Legion too. And while it is a bit half-baked, it’s still useful to do. Within each zone, there are three main objectives. These include photographing evidence, defacing a building, rescuing people, etc. Once you knock out these missions, you’ll get a district-wide mission. District-Wide missions are some of the best in the game because they either require some real thought (puzzle missions) or they are actually challenging. For instance, one mission required me to guide a Spiderbot through Big Ben in order to restart it, which was pretty cool.
Completing this mission brings the district from Oppressed to Defiant, which unlocks all the tech upgrade points on the map for you to find. It also gives you a fairly specialized character as well. So you may obtain a getaway driver, a Bee Keeper, or even a Drone expert. Also, these units are almost universally better than most of the ones you find on the streets.
It’s really weird to say this but this whole idea of recruiting has a damaging effect on Watch Dogs Legion’s story. The lack of a true main character is extremely evident for good and bad. Honestly, I played the first quarter of the game as a construction worker SOLELY because he could summon a drone I could use to fly around. Even though I don’t know his name or anything. A further emphasis of this is how disposable people you recruit after the first five hours of the game.
The closest comparison I can draw is games with a silent protagonist like the Legend of Zelda or Half-Life. Gordon Freeman and Link basically don’t truly have a personality. However, due to the way other characters respond to them the player starts to imbue them characteristics from within the game world.
For example, let’s say someone for the first time ever fired up The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. You play the game normally up until you leave the Sanctuary but then a whole new menu opens up where you can play as almost any enemy from the game. Suddenly, a Zora or an Armos or a Blazing Bat becomes available. In fact, not only can you play as them, but they all have unique abilities that can make the game either easier or harder, depending on who you are. Would anyone really care about Link in this scenario?
The Hero’s Journey?
This all has a dramatically bad effect on the story. The villains are fairly boring, and many of the twists I saw coming a mile away. So I basically didn’t get invested in the actual story, because I could not connect with the main character. Marcus Holloway was great because he had a distinct personality and voice, within the game. Even Aiden Pierce, for as bland as a character as he is, has some kind of personality. The characters in Legion generally don’t and I can’t fathom it.
Here’s another example, the past few Far Cry games do this also. In Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 you played actual characters with motives, voice work and characters, Jason Brody (FC3) and Ajay Ghale (FC4). Hell, even the caveman guy from Far Cry: Primal, Takkar, had some personality.
Starting with Far Cry 5, Ubisoft changed that by letting you create a character. Who is your memorable character in Far Cry 5? The Deputy. Then, in Far Cry: New Dawn you are The Captain. And what memorable qualities are there to either the Deputy or the Captain? Well, absolutely none. They only talk when you get shot, or fall from a large height.
Watch Dogs Legion feels just like this. With the exception that you can at least see the character, you are playing as. They do occasionally have some dialog with other characters, but it’s usually just one or two lines and it’s done in some of the most stereotypical Cockney accents you can imagine.
Legion is at War With Itself
While presented as the typical Ubisoft huge open-world game, Legion really isn’t that at all. There are very few side activities to do. While there are a few side missions, they mostly fall flat. The only three, real, side activities are darts, Kick-Up (rhythm game where you bounce a ball around), or delivery service, where you have to deliver stuff to people. Not exactly bursting at the seams here.
This is exemplified by the money system. Money, here a cryptocurrency called ETO is, for lack of a better word, entirely worthless in the game. You can use it to buy clothes, weapon color skins, or vehicle color skins, and that’s it.
Honestly, why would I want to buy clothes for disposable characters? Although clothes do unlock for your entire group, I found myself only playing as characters that had a uniform so they were always in their default costumes anyway. As for customizing non-uniform characters, again, what is the point? The Dedsec base does have a clothing store with some cool-looking LED clothing, which is (I think) the most expensive in the game. Only, it never becomes a factor since I never once put my characters in them. Not to mention, weapon skins are boring and I didn’t even know you could customize car colors until I had a character with their own default car.
Money, Money, Money, Nope
Just to prove the point about how futile money is in Watch Dogs Legion, here’s a large number of things where money does nothing. You cannot buy weapons, your base, or drones. You also cannot customize weapons, the base or drones either. Plus, there is no purchasing of character traits or of any additional units. So there is no system where you can buy a Kelley Gang soldier for $1,000 ETO, or spend $10,000 ETO to buy an elite unit. There’s also no Quadcopter for you to buy (unlike in Watch Dogs 2), or buildings to invest in either.
Think about how in Assassin’s Creed 2 or Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, when you revitalized a tailor shop or blacksmith, there was a palpable sense of accomplishment. Not only were you improving the town but also improving Ezio’s bank account because he would be given a discount and was also earning money from the store. In Watch Dogs Legion, it goes, “Well, I guess I can buy another pair of shoes. Or not.” And you can walk away from the kiosk as I did.
Tech Tree Troubles
The tech trees in the game are almost hysterical when you look at them. There are four groups in the tech tree: Gadgets, Upgrades, Weapons, and Hacks. Gadgets are the stuff you can actually equip. Upgrades are permanent-based abilities you can unlock. Weapons are new weapons you can unlock and upgrade. Finally, Hacks are all about either controlling drones or jamming guns of enemy units.
This all feels rather empty. Or rather, it feels like a severe reduction in overall choice and abilities you had in the earlier games. A lot of the abilities you could unlock in the past games are either gone, such as traffic light control, focus, and upgrading the Jumper, or they are eliminated due to changes in the game.
For example, you don’t have to upgrade into being able to control a vehicle from your phone, you can just do that from the start of the game. There’s also no concept of a Botnet in this game, and hacking abilities no longer use a resource. For example, once you hack a drone it’ll just take a timer counting down before you can do it again. On the flip side though, there are no real impressive hacking abilities, such as turning off part of the city or making all the cars freak out around you.
Tech Tree Tangent
Although, there are a few, very specific talents you’ll want to unlock and upgrade as soon as possible. The AR Cloak lets you cloak yourself for about 10 seconds, or until you take down an enemy with a button kill. AR Shroud is related to this, since after you take down an enemy, you automatically cloak the enemy body, so another enemy doesn’t find them and get alerted. It’s a tad goofy, but from a stealth perspective, it is practically game-breaking because you can cheese it so hard.
You’ll also want to upgrade the Spiderbot to be as nimble as possible. There are a lot of puzzles and areas that are really only passable with the Spiderbot. So giving it a double jump or the ability to take down enemies is really useful.
One extremely annoying part about all of this stuff is the Gadget system. Most characters can only wield one gadget at any time. So let’s say you want to infiltrate a building, you pretty much have to decide whether or not you want the Cloak or the Spiderbot. All the other gadgets are worthless.
There are two caveats to this though. The first is that when you are in a restricted building/area, you can’t swap gadgets. Except, once you return to a normal area you can swap them once again. So you’ll quickly learn how to be right on the cusp of a dangerous area but not quite in it. The other caveat is that certain high-level characters might start with a Cloak or a Spiderbot. My main Albion character always has an Elite Combat Cloak that she can use. So I can fit her with a Spiderbot and I can swap between either gadget when I need them.
It is certainly a strange decision to only allow one gadget to be equipped. Especially because in the past games you had a veritable arsenal when you went out doing missions. In this game, you can only have two weapons, and most characters can only have one gadget. The fact that there is no upgrade to increase the Gadget stock is absolutely crazy to me.
I’ve spent almost 2,000 words talking about the systems in Legion, but what about the gameplay. Quite frankly, it is merely just fine. The melee combat is pretty easy, just counter and then counterattack everything. The gunplay is fairly passable, driving is alright too. There’s honestly not a lot to write about the gameplay because a lot of it is just very standard for the franchise. Even the same, slightly weird, “connect the circuit line from one point to another” mini-game is still here. There is one exception though.
A downside to Watch Dogs Legion is how repetitive the environments can be. I don’t mean that there’s only one type of hospital type level spread out five times across London. It’s more that there’s only one hospital level, period. The developers don’t even make the attempt that Dragon Age II did of putting walls in some areas to try and fool you into thinking it’s new. Nope, they just straight up don’t have that many places for the actual missions.
I’ve had at least three missions, in three different areas repeat: Kelley hospital, Albion dock, and Albion Canal under shopping street. I’ve also had at least three missions in each area, and it’s usually either about destroying a box, rescuing some hostage, or downloading some bit of data. This gets old rather quickly. However, it does let you easily bust through these areas on the third time through, but a lot of time you’ll break into a building for some unrelated task, see a CTOS Hub and just know that you’ll probably have to come back here to hack it down the road.
This game was reviewed using a purchased digital retail copy.
I could honestly write another 1,000 words about this game but I don’t want to bog down this review any further. There is a lot of weird decisions in Watch Dogs Legion, with the fatal flaw being the character switching system and how it fundamentally damages the game. With that being said, it was not a wholly negative experience. I did generally enjoy parts of the game. It’s just never able to come together cohesively though. The basic systems are fine but the Legion upgrades kind of ruin the overall experience.