Watch Dogs 2 is probably one of my most favourite games of this generation. While it was underrated, it delivered leaps and bounds above its predecessor with its excellent story, characters and not to mention its setting in San Fransisco was fantastic. Going into Watch Dogs Legion I had high hopes that the game would evolve everything Watch Dogs 2 brought to the table. For the most part, Legion provides some exhilarating moments as I chose who I wanted on my team and took down organ traders, military organizations and even rival hacking groups. However, at the same time, Legion almost feels like a step backwards when it comes to its characters and general gameplay.
The recruitment system often gets in the way of enjoying what’s going on and while it tries hard to develop the story, I often felt disconnected by these random people I picked up off the street. Not to mention there’s no opportunity to develop any sort of player relationship with them because they are shallow, cliche and somewhat boring. Unfortunately, Legion’s ambitious recruitment system often comes and bites itself in the backside. After a while, I couldn’t care less about who I had on my team, what they were trying to say in cinematics and even their perks and skills. I found a guy who wore an Albion uniform which meant in most missions I could just casually walk into a restricted zone, find a computer and hack it.
That is what Legion is about. While there’s a lot of variety to choose from when it comes to recruits, the gameplay is the opposite. In every mission, I hoped for the “wow” factor and it never arrived. Sure, the odd car chase and mid-air fight between a bunch of laser-shooting drones were fun, but these moments are far and few between. Not to mention that London, while being meticulously detailed, is just dull. Perhaps I am comparing Legion to Watch Dogs 2 too harshly.
Watch Dogs Legion picks up right before a mass bombing in London. The once-thriving hacker group DedSec were framed for it resulting in a chain reaction that caused the uprising of the military group Albion who now control the streets. There’s a lot more going on in Legion but the idea of it all is to get DedSec back to its former glory by recruiting hackers with various skills and traits. Along the way, I came into contact with crazy organ-selling old ladies, got caught in the middle of a lunatic scientist who used technology to control people and of course had to uncover who and what is Zero Day.
The recruitment system in Watch Dogs Legion is where the game comes to life. Technically, it means that every person in the city can be recruited to the cause. That old lady picking flowers in the park, yes. That magician trying to make an honest living in the town centre, yes. Even your typical “Green Street Hooligan” can become part of DedSec if you go out and look for them. When I was truly adventurous, I decided to recruit a former Albion guard who I smacked in the face a few times with my baton.
Each citizen has their own unique set of skills and perks. A judge can reduce the time it takes to free up another recruit after he or she gets arrested. Gambling addicts literally gambled my money away and the professional cosplayer gets a discount off clothing purchases. These systems, while never drastically making a difference in the game, added some things to look out for when scouting the city for interesting candidates. It forced me to spy on almost everyone that walked past me in hopes of finding something worth the effort.
And I did. Even in the late game, I was surprised by new people and new roles and how Ubisoft crafted each citizen to provide some sort of advantage, and sometimes disadvantage to the game. Not to mention each of these people featured their own tools and gadgets too. The Protest Leader came equipped with tear gas, a Drone Expert could summon a shock drone that dived on enemies and a Spy could instantly summon a spy car with a cloaking ability and missiles. These all came in handy but at the same time, there were never actually important.
This is something I hoped would be different. In Legion, you can easily get away with just playing the game with a basic roster of recruits. The missions and the lack of variety never challenged me to approach them differently. Most of the time, these missions rely on sneaking into a building or location, finding a server and hacking it. Often, this could be done with a Spiderbot or just using a recruit with a shotgun and killing everyone. I so wanted Legion to test me and test the recruits I worked so hard to hire but it never happened. Sure, there’s an odd mission or two where you need to play as a specific recruit, but again it never changed the way I played the game.
Some recruits also have perks like the ability to summon a cargo drone but these are also scattered around the city and when a mission needed one, I just found a launchpad and called it in. Not to mention, Tech Points are also used to purchase new gadgets and skills and many of them can easily replace the recruit’s list too. One recruit had a turret Spiderbot which is also an item I could unlock using Tech Points found across London. There’s surely been a lot of effort put into the recruitment system, its perks, the various personalities and the way you are meant to play the game them. However, there’s just not enough drive to follow the system and it is a real shame.
I would have totally used the hacker that has a reduced cooldown on arming traps if I needed it or chosen the increased melee damage recruit but traps are cheesable and pumping someone full of lead instead of knocking them out is faster. Not to mention, there are even recruits that have a permadeath risk. Meaning if they die in a mission they could be dead for good. The only problem, there’s no reason to use them and take the risk anyway. It would have been pretty cool to have some sort of godly ability on these characters and in turn a massive risk in using them.
Overlooking the recruiting system, Watch Dogs Legion is still enjoyable. Missions, while lacking the excitement and variety from the second game, made me feel like a badass hacker. Infiltrating a compound had different ways to approach it. I could fly onto the roof using a cargo drone, spawn a Spiderbot to head through the vents or cloak myself and just run from cover to cover. Even if the AI saw me, they never really came close unless they spotted me for a good few seconds. If things went south, I pulled out a gun and started shooting. I hacked a Counter-Terrorist Drone, flew it around and blew people up. These were the best times in Legion when every skill my recruit had and every weapon I arrived with was put to the test.
There are also some great “only in Watch Dogs” missions where I got to fly a micro drone through a server while avoiding wires and heatsinks, help Stormzy the rapper and most of the finale missions linked to the story chapters are great to play through. Don’t get me wrong. Watch Dogs Legion is fun but its foundations are a little wonky.
The sad part is that the recruiting system feeds into the way you consume the game’s narrative too. These recruits did not help me invest in the game’s story at all because facial animations are bad and voice acting is offputting. It’s a mixed bag because the recruit you had with you is the one you have to put up with when the cinematic rolls around. Most of the time, they sound extremely rehearsed and cheesy. I then began to lose interest in the missions and the story because who cares what’s going on when your character is an Indian person with an extremely Indian accent? It is as if Ubisoft took the stereotype dial and cranked it right up. A massive step back compared to the excellent roster of characters in Watch Dogs 2.
London makes for a somewhat decent place to get your hacking on. There were some iconic locations I visited during my playthrough and I did some crazy things in them too. Once I cleared an area I could take on a Borough mission. These were mostly all enjoyable and centred around landmarks and making a statement. Unfortunately, London also starts to blend together after a while. Once you’ve seen a dozen alleys, you’ve seen them all. The game visuals are also rough at times. Distant objects are rough around the edges, the people of London are your typical “I am going to just randomly glitch into a wall” sort of NPC and the performance, that is a whole other story. Playing on the PS4 Pro, the system can’t keep up. Car chases would stutter with a drop in frame rate during the worst times. It ruined the fast moments in the game for sure.
Watch Dogs Legion is not a bad game I just believe it was too ambitious for its time. The recruiting system could have been something great but instead its shallow and delivered cliche characters with no real purpose. Unfortunately, this does not help the gameplay and story at all. There’s a lot of fun to be had here but if you start expecting more from it, you are going to be let down.
This Watch Dogs Legion review was based on a code sent to us by Ubisoft.
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 29 October 2020 | Price: R1,280