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Review: Watch Dogs:Legion Is Familiarly Ubisoft with a Sprinkle of New Ideas

Screenshot: Watch Dogs: Legion

DedSec is back, and the team is bigger than ever. The largest selling point for Watch Dogs: Legion, the latest entry in publisher Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series, has players swapping playable characters. It happens so often that it is easy to forget which character you are playing as. Similarly, you could be forgiven for forgetting what game you’re playing, as there are several gameplay elements more in line with the earlier Assassin’s Creed games, in particular the boroughs and your ability to take them over.

Players who are already acquainted with the Watch Dogs franchise will find the gameplay very familiar: the emphasis is appropriately on hacking your way through networks, hopping from camera to camera and device to device to achieve your goals, ranging from simple scouting and stealing to rescuing hostages, gathering evidence or destroying something or someone dangerous. The main difference here from Watch Dogs 2 is the proliferation of many types of drones deployed throughout London, and newer tools to add to your digital arsenal. The ability to recruit and play as virtually any character you see throughout London is an incredible accomplishment, and adds plenty of diversity and representation, but if you’re spending most of your time hacking networks you’ll hardly notice which character you are using. Still, that is hardly the only way to play. Like hacking itself, you can take an elegant approach or brute force your way in, or anything in-between. In these cases, the diversity of characters and their special abilities can come in handy, and this really is the highlight of Watch Dogs Legion.

Screenshot: Watch Dogs: Legion

There is something quite satisfying about sending a swarm of bees to attack someone, or throwing a paint bomb and witnessing an explosion of color that blinds your enemies and causes chaos. Some of these abilities are tied directly to the profession of your recruit; who else would have weaponized bees but a beekeeper? Other abilities are more randomly distributed, such as the ability to summon specific drone types. Bagly, your mission guide and generally friendly AI, will periodically point out potential recruits with specialized skill sets, including Spy, Professional Hitman, and Animator. The Animator I recruited has a variety of non-lethal weapons and take-down tactics that are creative. Just as there are potential recruits that are highly specialized there are also swaths of people who are incredibly ordinary with no special weapons, no hidden abilities, and sometimes even having faults that can hinder gameplay–try being stealthy with flatulence. That’s really an option.

The story is set in a near future, post-Brexit London. The political commentary here is definitely at the forefront. London is in a police state, illegal aliens are rounded up and often tortured, citizens are randomly checked for ID and everyone is under constant surveillance in every inch of the city. Tonally, the narrative of this game is closer to the original, set in Chicago, than the sequel, Watch Dogs 2. That is to say it is overall darker in tone, tackling issues of human rights, trafficking, and even the question of what humanity fundamentally is. Personally, I find these themes depressing and prefer the narrative tone of the previous entry, but the side missions here don’t tend to delve as deeply into that emotional well as the main story does so I find myself exploring those much more often.

Screenshot: Watch Dogs: Legion

Where Watch Dogs: Legion excels is the creativity it allows players in play style, diversity of playable characters, and simply offering fans of the franchise more of the world to play in. Where it falters is how, no matter what character you control, others speak to you as if you are the hero rather than a hero.  Similarly, the occasional invisible park bench or bus stop can be amusing, if a little distracting. Those are subtle issues, and may take some time for players to even notice. Less subtle is the frequency of loading screens. Changing operatives? Getting a mission briefing? Fast Travel? Leaving/Entering HQ? Any one of those greets you with a loading screen and some missions may have you see as many as five before completion. While it’s possible that playing on a newer system such as Xbox One X or PlayStation 5 may speed up load times to a point where you hardly notice the delay, playing on a standard PlayStation 4 as I have for this review, having a mandatory 10 to 20 second break is enough to take you out of the action and disrupt any sense of flow to the experience.

Screenshot: Watch Dogs: Legion

Overall, I’ve enjoyed it. I still go back and play Watch Dogs 2 periodically, because of how much I enjoyed that game, but I’m not certain that once I’ve done everything that I care to do in Legion’s London that I will want to revisit it. Perhaps when the multiplayer features are added next month I may start it up again, but for now it seems likely that I’ll be satisfied with a single playthrough.

 

Watch Dogs: Legion is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and Xbox.

 

 

 

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