Watch Dogs Legion Seamlessly Unites Both Story and Gameplay into a Single Poignant Package
Watch Dogs Legion is a title that promotes unity and resistance in the face of oppression, and its gameplay truly exemplifies that concept.
Watch Dogs Legion is a game that offers near-infinite possibilities. Players can utilize advanced technology that lets you hack into nearly any terminal, phone, surveillance and security system, computer, AI system, vehicle, or other tech devices that you may find. You also have an entire city full of people who can be recruited and made to fight on your side against the oppressive surveillance state.
Albion, a private military company, has taken over London and crushes its opposition underfoot through deportations, arrests, and constant surveillance of its citizens. A criminal empire is also able to flourish under this new government and London is on its knees once the hacker resistance group DedSec is framed for a terrorist bombing and dismantled. But DedSec is slowly gaining back its power and needs to recruit new members into the fold to rebuild, resist, and eventually overthrow Albion.
The plot may not be the most original but it is compelling and the story beats do a great job at keeping you engaged. The myriad of twists and turns are synonymous with a dystopian near-future setting. And while not ambitious in concept, it’s certainly ambitious in how readily it tackles many sensitive and extremely relevant issues such as immigrant rights, police corruption and brutality, a militarized police-state encroaching on civilian rights, the overreach of tech surveillance, and many other modern issues.
Watch Dogs Legion lives up to its namesake in both story and gameplay, with its premise that no one person can fight alone against the powerful and that united, the oppressed can make a stand and change things for the better. The recruitment system reflects this beautifully as it allows players to scan and approach literally any person in the city and ask them to join DedSec. They then have their own unique mission to complete to get them on your side, though sometimes you can instantly recruit them by fulfilling certain requirements such as rescuing them from a dangerous situation. There are also candidates that can be recruited by happening upon a certain scripted event, such as being assaulted or arrested by a police officer. And once you free them, this counts as having completed their recruitment mission and they are now on the side of DedSec.
Each operative falls under one of three classes: Enforcer, which specializes in guns and overall damage-dealing; Hacker, best for remote control operation; and Infiltrator, which is a pure stealth class that can also be good for melee. The sheer possibilities of operatives you can recruit is staggering and each one is distinct with their own voices, history, occupations, and relationship to DedSec depending on other characteristics. But instead of coming off awkward or gamey, it adds an incredible depth to Legion that truly makes London feel lived in.
Gameplay-wise this also means that you have a near-limitless pool of potential operatives to choose from — handy when you consider how easy a mission could result in death, arrest, or injury. But no need to worry, as players have the option of customizing their operatives’ equipment and abilities using tech points gathered from completing objectives or performing other tasks. These upgrades range from enhancing the effectiveness of tech gadgets, making your weapons more powerful, increasing close combat capabilities, the ability to enhance stealth capabilities to better avoid detection, and so much more.
The mechanics of Watch Dogs Legion do have a learning curve in terms of mastering all the tools of the trade, with the game dropping you right into the thick of things. However, once you become more familiar with controls and other options available to you, you won’t need to recruit as many backup bodies. Rather you can focus on quality operatives (the ones with skillsets most suited to combat, hacking, and stealth) and mission needs (such as specific job requirements) instead.
Most missions that I played focused on breaking into a high-security area and moving around undetected until you either recover pertinent information for DedSec or you locate a person of interest. The map function denotes a hostile area in red, which is a subtle but excellent way to alert players that they now need to move carefully around said areas to avoid detection.
By far the most vital skill to master in order to complete these missions is hacking. Hacking has always been a linchpin in the franchise and it returns full force in Legion. You need to hack cellphones to distract police officers, guards, and other dangerous personnel as you traverse restricted areas. Hacking certain vehicles and machinery is necessary for getting past certain obstacles. Hacking security cameras gives you a full view of areas and the dangers within, while hacking computers nets you information and security clearance. Hacking environmental hazards create traps that can be used as distractions or for taking down enemies from a distance. Hacking security robots lets you fly over dangerous hotspots and reach hard to travel areas, or gets pesky surveillance off your back. And finally, your best friend the spiderbot is vital for traversing through tight squeezes and accessing otherwise impossible to reach areas.
And most of these hacking mechanics are done quite well. After some practice, it becomes second nature to use the tools at your disposal to scout out areas, break-in using various devices and equipment, distract guards, and other tech-based tasks. The screen prompts you when a certain action is available such as hacking a device or piece of equipment. The hit detection on said actions is quite accurate and its activation is instantaneous.
There’s more to Watch Dogs Legion than hacking, and the second most important mechanic is stealth. Within the confines of the main story, you need to track down the trail of DedSec operatives, find possible informants, and uncover the secrets hidden and atrocities committed by Albion. This is mainly accomplished by using stealth and the options are simple but effective, working surprisingly similar to how someone would sneak around in a slightly exaggerated real-life setting. You simply crouch down and hide behind cover to avoid the line of sight of enemies, then take them down using traps, special Takedowns, or with combat.
If you happen to catch the eye of a foe (a small meter quickly fills red to inform you of this danger), then they’ll investigate the area you’re currently in which means you have to escape and hide or take them out. Because if you’re found out, higher-ups will call for backup and you’ll be swarmed by enemies with guns. You need to be careful even with stealthy Takedowns because the guards will become suspicious seeing their comrade knocked out and search the area.
Occasionally, certain situations lead to unavoidable combat and even though it’s clear that not nearly as much effort was put into the basic fighting system other than punch and dodge, it still feels easy to control and matches the realism of Watch Dogs Legions. Most operatives are normal citizens who are either mediocre or terrible fighters and cannot match up with a trained officer or soldier, which means you’ll be going into a brawl at a disadvantage. Luckily, there are even ways to mitigate that: recruit characters who are specialized in combat or give characters weapons that can even the odds (firearms, melee weapons, brass knuckle stun guns, etc.). You can also choose operatives with gadgets that let them avoid combat altogether in a sticky situation such as with a cloaking device.
And in the midst of it all, players get to occasionally play gumshoe as you — with the help of DedSec mission control and a wise-cracking AI — piece together various clues garnered through hacked files, witnesses, and even an impressive AR Field that recreates moments in time to examine.
Outside of the main story, there’s still plenty to do. There are tons of side tasks that populate the map and will keep players busy. There are recruitment events for special characters who allow for a bevy of unique benefits such as bailing out teammates faster than normal or for better infiltration into government facilities. Missions that generate extra ETO (the cryptocurrency used in the game) are also present, as are special operations that allow for players and citizens to take back control of an entire section of London (which makes moving around said area much easier). Hidden minigames such as darts that net you said ETO are also included. ETO, by the way, is mainly used for customizing your currently playable operative with various outfits. It’s a completely cosmetic feature but one that is still tons of fun to play around with.
The majority of the game controls quite well: stealth feels realistic, hacking is intuitive, and even combat can be fun if approached from the right angle. And what brings all these variables and mechanics together is the enemy AI, which is absolutely stellar. It takes what could be drab and repetitive gameplay and makes the entire experience of infiltration equal parts exciting, frustrating, and satisfying when successfully pulled off. Even when the mission is going well, there’s still a tangible tense atmosphere as one false move can turn the tables against you.
However, there’s a major caveat: sometimes input issues can arise in the most inconvenient or downright catastrophe ways. If your character or an NPC shifts just a bit, the action prompt can change completely. For takedowns, this means that now instead of German Suplexing that guard for an instant knockout, you just punched him in the face and have to deal with a raised alarm. And in the streets, it means I can somehow knock a poor granny out instead of boarding a moped, which immediately puts police heat on me and forces me to hide until it dies down. It’s beyond frustrating and truly the only blemish in the controls, but it’s a major one than can wreak havoc in a situation that was otherwise going smoothly.
Watch Dogs Legion‘s graphics are stunning with London recreated in gorgeous detail. From landmarks, to the lush greenery of parks, to the litany of little places of interest, Ubisoft has clearly put in the time and effort into recreating the grandeur and dreariness of this great city. There’s also random occurrences of rain, with objects affected by it and the roads becoming harder to drive on — clearly a graphical flex, but an impressive one nonetheless. The UI is also quite clean; information is displayed on the screen in an easy to understand format that still fits in with the game. Not to mention, the sound design that plunges the player into a densely populated cityscape. Even the motors of the various vehicles are crisp sounding and accurate.
The darts minigame I mentioned previously is rather fun, if not a bit quirky control-wise. You essentially focus a constantly moving reticle around the board and once it shrinks down to a pinprick you throw the dart. You can also liven things up by having a drink, which predictably makes things more difficult to control but nets you more winnings if you manage to pull off a win.
There’s also an illegal fight arena you can take part in, which are scattered around the city and grant you reward points for completing them. They’re bare-knuckle boxing match-ups that find you fighting against four different opponents, one at a time in a tournament style. At the end of the fight, if you win, you get to choose one of the fighters you faced to recruit as part of your team, allowing you to play as them. While I wasn’t able to try out the tournament personally, I was informed that these recruits are special ones that have enhanced physical combat capabilities, making them formidable fighters against the various government agents.
Despite the few control hiccups that marred an otherwise stellar gameplay experience, Watch Dogs Legion continued to shock and awe me during my preview session. I found my nearly four-hour playthrough of the title fly by in an instant, as I was immersed in the city of London that Ubisoft so lovingly and accurately crafted. There’s so much to do and discover with all of the pulse-pounding missions and dark mysteries buried within to the simple joys of driving around the streets and scoping out random citizens and delving just a little into their lives. Watch Dogs Legion is a joy to play and I can’t wait to explore everything it has to offer once the game releases later this month.