With the next-gen consoles just about a month or so away, it seems fitting that we are getting a sequel for one of the key franchises that captured our imagination right at the very start of this generation. While the original Watch Dogs faltered slightly (as did the very first Assassin’s Creed), the concept was intriguing enough for a sequel and Watch Dogs 2 set things back on the right path (as did the sequel to Assassin’s Creed) and thankfully, Ubisoft’s latest open-world hacker adventure, Watch Dogs: Legion, is the best pick of the bunch.
DedSec is back, with its brand of hacker/vigilantism attracting some swift retribution from the shadowy group known only as Zero-Day. Believing that civilisation has gone too far down the technological rabbit hole, Zero-Day unleashed a series of coordinated bombings that has thrown London into utter chaos. Worse, they have shifted the blame to DedSec.
In the absence of true leadership, the private military corporation, Albion, has stepped in to keep the peace. Of course, it is all but a cover. Nigel Cass, the leader of the corporation is making a power grab to establish himself as a key cog in the machinery of London. Harsh measures, underhanded methods, and actively working to undermine local law enforcement, Cass needs to be exposed for what he is.
On the flip side, we have the bloodthirsty Clan Kelley. The organised crime syndicate has also made their move amidst the chaos, with the unforgiving Mary Kelley at the helm. Drugs, kidnapping, organ-harvesting – these are just a few highlights of the gang’s latest exploits. Futuristic London is in need of some help, and that is where you come in.
Charged with clearing your name and forming a resistance, there is not one particular hero or heroine to save the day. Instead, Ubisoft has taken a huge risk with Watch Dogs: Legion. The onus is on everyone to do their part, and in this beautiful, gorgeous rendition of London, anyone can be the hero of the story.
There are plenty of colourful characters milling about the city, just waiting for you to recruit to the cause. Simply scan them, find out their profile and abilities, and decide if they are worth the trouble.
A construction worker has access to industrial sites, can call in a cargo drone for transport, and is generally useful in all situations. If you prefer a specialist, find that professional hitman for instant takedowns and firearm proficiency. A personal favourite is a civilian banker who offers nothing of note but loud farts which draw the attention of enemies. Nothing beats the tension of maintaining stealth with such a superstar.
The system works remarkably well, with enough variation in terms of character models, voices, designs, and abilities to create clear distinctions. There will definitely be similar archetypes, but the mix is wonderfully diverse. Ubisoft’s risk-taking has definitely paid off in this aspect, lending both narrative and practical purpose to the system.
Chancing upon elite individuals is always a thrill, and they are also rewards for completing certain missions. You could recruit a spy that packs a silenced pistol along with their awesome ride capable of cloaking and firing off missiles, or a street performer that can evade detection by mimicking a statue. For areas that require special access, get the right people involved and you can stroll right in. It feels almost like Hitman, and the way encounters are designed are made for experimentation and the possibilities are limitless.
Having a big team does not mean your people are expendable though as any member of DedSec who gets taken out is either arrested or injured, which puts them out of the rotation for a short while. This essentially forces you to swap characters more.
However, Watch Dogs: Legion also offers the more challenging permadeath option, which can substantially change up the experience as a whole. The pain of losing the more specialised characters is hard to describe, and it requires you to pay more attention to how you approach things in the most optimal of ways.
That said, these different individuals do not grow in terms of abilities as they are unique characters and what you see is what you will get, and that is not exactly a bad thing. There is something about the building of a movement that just feels right in Watch Dogs: Legion. Would it be better if we could invest in certain characters and raise the stakes? Perhaps, but this system works and it could be refined in future entries.
They do, however, share a selection of persistent gadgets and upgrades that can be switched on the fly. In order to unlock these new toys, you will need to obtain Tech Points. Completing missions will net you a healthy amount, but London is calling. Investigating the city and the different boroughs will educate and reward you as you pick up more than just Tech Points.
The currency known as ETO functions as money in Watch Dogs: Legion, which can be spent on cosmetics. You can also pick up text logs, audio files, and even relics that flesh out the lore. London is also home to many pubs to grab a drink, play some darts, and even areas where you can take part in underground fights and play some footy.
The activities will certainly keep you exploring, and gives you time to appreciate the work put into realising this version of the city. It is recognisable instantly, but with enough differences to create a vision of another world. Drones buzz about in the skies, self-driving cars are a common sight, and there are plenty of screens and signs that just scream the future. Watch Dogs: Legion is a looker, especially when it comes to its world.
Plotwise, the story does take you on a virtual tour of this playground, all while exploring themes of technology, greed, power, and the like. The aforementioned villains are joined by a whole cast of other interesting characters, although they do lack personality when compared to the baddies.
The standout has to be the smartass AI Bagley. A constant companion that provides information, tips, and plenty of dry humour and jibes, it is genuinely fun to hear what it has to say. For all the shenanigans that players will get up to in Watch Dogs: Legion, it would be lessened without the presence of Bagley.
As you play your part in exposing the criminals and evil organisations behind it all, you will find familiar elements of the franchise returning. Secured areas will need breaking into, and hacking is your best friend.
Cameras, electronics, security gates and more are all to be manipulated. You can scout out an area using the many surveillance devices, identify weak spots, deactivate security measures, all without putting yourself in danger. Once you have established your plan, it is time to take advantage of the various abilities of your chosen operative and move in.
Both melee and ranged combat in Watch Dogs: Legion are adequately functional, although stealth is highly recommended. The last thing you want to do is be overwhelmed by security and thugs if you are playing as an old granny. You can distract guards with their phones, set traps, or even jam their weapons – the tools are there just waiting to be used.
The satisfaction of getting in and out without being seen is second to none, and marks you out as a true master of the cyber world. Or, you could just hitch a ride on a cargo drone and skip the more dangerous areas. This world is really your oyster.
There is also plenty of drone action as well, which can get a little tiresome towards the end of the 30-40 hour playthrough. Flying drones is a given, while there are certain logic and platforming puzzles to overcome in certain missions and areas. They are not exactly challenging, but present a positive diversion from the tried-and-tested open-world formula in Watch Dogs: Legion.
Performance-wise, everything usually runs smoothly with the occasional visual glitch or disappearing texture. Crashes can sometimes happen as well, but the game does well in saving your progress from time to time. Patches are to be expected to iron out these issues.
At its current stage, the multiplayer portion of Watch Dogs: Legion remains a mystery. The idea of four-player co-op is intriguing, but that will only arrive in December as a free update. Ubisoft has also included cosmetic microtransactions in-game, but considering the options in London, it is hardly something anyone would consider.
Taking risks with a well-established franchise is a dangerous venture, but Watch Dogs: Legion is a great example of it paying off. Being able to play as anyone and still have everything come together is impressive, and this is a bold new direction that many would hope is the course for the future.
Trading variety for the traditional hero’s arc, Watch Dogs: Legion gives us a detailed, futuristic, open-world playground just waiting to be creatively exploited. While it may be a little rough around the edges, the exceptional gameplay, the solid story, and amazing design have Watch Dogs: Legion deserving of its place as the best we have seen yet.
Watch Dogs: Legion is available on the PSN for S$84.90.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Bold, different, and amazing, Watch Dogs: Legion is an experiment that has gone right in almost every way.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 9/10