Watch Dogs: Legion review - Too ambitious, or have Ubisoft smashed it?
Watch Dogs: Legion. A revolutionary advancement in character development, or have Ubisoft bitten off more than they can chew? Well, both have credibility from my 20-hour or so playthrough...
Following events that leave the prestigious vigilante group DedSec in tatters, you are tasked with rebuilding the organisation from the ground up in your own image.
Roaming the streets of London, Ubisoft have done an exceptional job of recreating the thriving city in a not-too-distant future whilst still holding true to its roots and paying homage to the historic landmarks scattered around the city.
Ubisoft have opted to forgo the generic main protagonist this time around in favour of a more expanded approach. As advertised you can recruit and play as anyone you see on the streets of London; that is of course if you take the time to scratch their back first. Fortunately for us, all it takes for someone to consider joining our “terrorist”-branded organisation is to run an errand or two for them, and in return we gain their willingness to stick it to the man.
As appealing as this whole ordeal sounds, I can only feel the whole experience falls a bit flat as developers seemed to stretch themselves a touch too far. The lack of depth to any given character makes it hard to form a connection with whomever you are currently patrolling the streets of London with, as your recruits take on the form of tools as a means to an end as opposed to a narratively-driven character you can relate to.
Your recruits will often talk amongst themselves and chime in on each other’s conversations which makes this system feel a bit more dynamic and breathes a bit more life in to an otherwise stale experience.
Potential recruits are all given a set of perks which you can see when stumbling across people on the street. Some may have an “impending doom” perk which, as expected, means they can drop dead at any given time. Maybe you'll come across another with impaired mobility due to being old and decrepit.
However, less morbid characteristics are also encountered such as the porn stars who are addicted to buying clothes; drunken gamblers who will spend your resources to feed their ever growing urges; and many other daft combinations. The entertainment value here was high and as such, I found myself spending a lot of my spare time snooping through the personal lives of civilians with no regards to their entitled privacy.
That’s not to say everyone in the city is a degenerate scumbag; as you would expect, recruiting police officers means your team will spend less time in jail should they be arrested; hospital workers reduce the time they spend injured; or uniformed civilians such as militia or construction workers allow you access to otherwise restricted areas on the fly.
Although clearly implemented with the intent to take advantage of your various band of jolly men (or women) and their respective perks, I more often then not found myself just walking in to an area and choking out an otherwise unsuspecting victim at seemingly no expense to his fellow comrades, who outside of wondering why their friend was down for the count catching some Zzz’s made little attempt to apprehend the person responsible (it was ME!) and bringing them to justice.
I found myself with little to no reason to switch up my tactics and as such found a recruit I enjoyed playing and then never switched him out, unless I was forced to. This could be interpreted as a good or bad thing; the game allows you to play how you want to, but I would have liked to be given more of a reason to take advantage of the systems that Ubisoft quite clearly spent a lot of time developing.
The combat whilst fun, does little to distinguish between your recruits as everyone, regardless of their nature (with the exception of older folk) seemed to have been trained by the likes of Bruce Lee himself. Who would have thought that Steve the accountant could infiltrate a military base with nothing but his mobile phone and fists of destruction? Guess we’ll see him down the pub later basking in his glory.
Abilities this time around are handled via tech points that you'll find scattered throughout the city. Amongst them are Spider Bots and even invisibility, and all of your operators will have access to them, switching each in and out at will, assuming you are not in combat or a restricted area. Despite this, the perks that are available to purchase are somewhat underwhelming and I found myself having no desire to go out of my way to collect points, because the available upgrades were lacking or just outright useless.
Gone are the abilities to manipulate your surroundings as previously seen in the original Watch Dogs and its sequel, such as causing crashes at junctions by hacking traffic lights or causing blackouts to help escape a sticky situation. Aside from a few upgrades to deal with a few infuriating drones that harass you continuously throughout the game, I was given little reason to see the appeal in the other tools that were available.
The main story was simple and easy to digest and by all means I enjoyed my time playing it, but each mission did little to distinguish itself from the last as I hacked in to security cameras, stole data and blew people up from conveniently-placed electrical outlets. There’s still something satisfying about this recycled gameplay loop but for aforementioned reasons, I found myself wanting more than what was being presented.
Outside of the cringe-inducing stereotypical British accents, your playable recruit has very little to say due to the sheer amount of voice acting work that’s required to try and give everyone in London a unique persona, and quite often I found myself talking to someone who was quite clearly the same voice actor. This was yet another example of Ubisoft being a bit too ambitious at the expense of good storytelling.
I can only compare my experience to going to an all you can eat buffet; I would rather have one really good meal and enjoy it as opposed to loads of mediocre ones.
The game lacks impactful cutscenes due to the ever-changing variable of what character you would be playing at any given time, as understandably it wouldn’t make much sense for 74-year-old Dorris to be free-running over cars in an explosive getaway from raiding a military base, however humorous the whole ordeal seems.
Supposed plot twists were identifiable hours before the grand reveal thanks to multiple red flags throughout each encounter, which lead to several 'Scooby Doo' moments where an eventual reveal of the true threat was more of a relief then a surprise. However, I still found each villain compelling and interesting, and found myself satisfied with each chapter's conclusion.
My overall experience with Legion was a mixed bag; whilst I believe Ubisoft’s ambition might have been their undoing to an otherwise fun sequel, I respect their attempt at trying something new and can’t help but think London is the true main character of the game as it’s quite simply stunning.
Credit where credit is due, I think the systems that have been created work really well and bring a lot of variety to the game, but my initial doubts of combining that with a compelling narrative experience were sadly proven to be true, as it offers very few memorable characters and relationships outside of the AI companion who guides you throughout your campaign.