With the UK currently facing the raging Covid-19 pandemic, increasingly obtrusive lockdown restrictions, and complaints of government oppression, it’s easy to think that things can’t get much worse in Old Blighty. But guess what? Of course they can. Set in a quasi-futuristic, post-Brexit London, Watch Dogs: Legion explores just how bad we could have it, in a hacktion-adventure game that, while a little rough, innovates enough on the formula to feel like a true evolution.
When vigilante hacker group, DedSec, fail to stop a major terrorist attack on London, and end up landed with the blame, the survivors are forced to scatter to the winds. In their absence, ruthless private military company, Albion, move in to occupy the city, in order to “keep the peace”. As it turns out, a heavily-armed private milita with zero accountability doesn’t make things better, and London descends into an Orwellian police state. Time to get the band back together.
Picking an operative from a diverse line-up of average Londoners, each boasting their own backstory and unique set of skills, you’re tasked with rebuilding DedSec from the ground up. Here, the game’s unique selling point of “play as anyone” comes into focus. With the press of a button, you can pull up the profiler for any NPC in the game, check out their skills, and if they fit the bill, recruit them to the team. With over nine million unique characters to choose from, you’ll soon have an army to take on the various nefarious organisations, and claw back London, borough by borough.
Though it proves to be mostly a hindrance to the plot, the promise of playing as anyone is fully realised and endlessly impressive in gameplay.
While the “play as anyone” mechanic is Legion‘s most innovative feature, it’s also the root cause for some of its weakest elements. Without a fixed protagonist to rally behind, it becomes difficult to invest in the narrative, especially when it comes to the antagonists. With the sense of threat already spread thin over five cartoonishly evil baddies, the lack of personal rivalry or motivation only dilutes it further, leaving the story feeling aimless and lacking in momentum. This is a shame, as parts of the narrative introduce some nightmarish Black Mirror-esque scenarios that were begging to be further explored.
Disconnect is also felt heavily in cutscenes, where dialogue has to make room for the vague, generic responses of your operative, in an uncanny facsimile of conversation not dissimilar to Carrie Fisher’s scenes in The Rise of Skywalker. It speaks a lot to the wealth of potential in Legion that its best writing appears not in the main story, but in an in-game radio station. Hosted by real-world podcasters, Andy Zaltzman and Alice Fraser, the easy chemistry and carefully crafted repartee here make for a much more engaging space to inspect the nuances of future London’s oppression.
Though it proves to be mostly a hindrance to the plot, the promise of playing as anyone is fully realised and endlessly impressive in gameplay. London is a sprawling metropolis, separated into distinct districts that are home to a vast swathe of personalities. And any one of them can become your next team member. From the construction worker who can summon a cargo drone to the spy who’s decked out with Bond-like gadgets, to the street magician who can hypnotise enemies, the variety on offer is astounding.
With such a range of class-types, skills and quirky characters to fill your roster, there is great incentive to experiment with different playstyles, and not stick with a favourite for too long. Unfortunately, for all the variety in characters, the same cannot be said for the limited number of interactions and recruitment mission that go along with them. With a team capacity at somewhere around 47 members, you can expect to see a lot of the same content recycled more than a few times. While this does get tedious quickly, and you’ll be able to do some areas blindfolded by the end, it’s still worth putting up with to dig out every weird and wonderful character that London has to offer.
Hacking vehicles to send them veering wildly off in a random direction will never not be hilarious.
Alongside the big flashy new feature, all of the standard Watch Dogs gameplay returns here, and for the most part it’s better than ever. Driving is still a little floaty (and way more stressful now that those civilians you accidentally knock down have names, families and personalities), but new hacks that let you evade pursuing drones or clear the road ahead like Bruce Almighty help to make every car chase interesting. Plus, hacking vehicles to send them veering wildly off in a random direction will never not be hilarious.
On foot, things are equally improved. Though Legion doesn’t boast as robust a skill tree as its predecessor, there’s enough on offer between the character-specific perks and the broader team-wide upgrades for a vast array of playstyles. Slink through levels with the cloak upgrade and a silenced weapon like a high-tech ghost, blaze in like John Wick with Gun Kata, or fly a cargo drone up high and drop a spider-bot to do the work for you. Whatever you choose (and really, the best way to play is just to do all of them), the gameplay is fluid, fast-paced, and a total blast throughout.
It helps that wherever the game takes you, London just feels incredible. Each district is vibrant, distinct and teeming with life. From famous landmarks like Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, to Camden Market and Trafalgar Square, everything is recreated exquisitely, and coated in a futuristic neon sheen. Marring all of this beauty somewhat are the litany of bugs and glitches, with full crashes and assets disappearing being a frequent occurrence. On the audio side, dialogue often doesn’t synch well, and some voices are modulated to a ridiculous degree, shattering the immersion.
Though its headline feature of playing as anyone is quite hit and miss, especially when it comes to the narrative, Legion still represents a massive leap forward in creating a fully fleshed-out, functioning game world. With new hacks and plenty of variety borne from the array of characters, gameplay is primed for experimentation, and the best the series has ever seen. A few narrative wobbles and irritating bugs aside, Watch Dogs: Legion is still a solid and entertaining experience, and one that represents an exciting evolution on a genre that has been oversaturated with sameness in recent years.
Verdict: 3.5/5 Paddles