I am London born and I am London bred; except for a few years when I escaped in my early 20’s, London has been my life. It’s in my heart, my soul, and even though it has a ton of problems and will cost £9 for a pint, I love it. Thankfully, the problems that do exist are absolutely nowhere near those that are found in the slightly future London of Watch Dogs: Legion. You see, it is here where the big smoke is on the brink, but it’s also here where all the famous landmarks stand proud, as a huge open world unfolds for you to drive, run or sneak around. Yep, Watch Dogs: Legion is here as the first big game to attempt to straddle the generational divide. Has it been worth the wait?
Let me put this out there before I begin – I loved the San Fran world of Watch Dogs 2 and prior to that hugely enjoyed the Chicago-based shenanigans in the original game. In fact, I’m a fan of the franchise as a whole, finding that the games provide worlds which combine the fun, with landscapes that don’t ever take themselves too seriously.
In Legion we find ourselves slap bang in the middle of a dystopian alternative London; holograms, electric cars, and plenty of drones are regular occurrences in the city landscape. This is a world where the Met Police force has had to be disbanded after a mysterious terrorist bombing and now a privatised security force is in charge of everything – Albion. But it is this Albion who have big plans to control the city. And you need to stop them.
Kicking things off is a neatly paced prologue – something that has almost been ripped straight out of the latest Bond film – as you work through the bowels of the Houses of Parliament. Here you learn that there is a rebellion dead set against the fascist regime of Albion, causing fear on the streets of London. DedSec is the group of hacker rebels that you will be recruiting for, seeing you taking part in missions for the group. And part of the big change with Watch Dogs: Legion is that very quickly you begin to understand that you won’t just be found playing as one hero, but anyone you like if you can manage to recruit them. But we will get to that piece of gameplay in a moment.
The story, mission structures, dialogues, and the overall writing found in Legion are all great. The world Ubisoft have created is one that is socially complex but, like the previous games, doesn’t ever take itself too seriously. Think of it as a film and you’d come away from the rolling credits asking a million questions. How do all these recruits off the street know how to hack so well? How is everyone such an amazing shot and fighting expert? It’s all assumed of course, and you completely buy into it. What’s really great though is getting the chance to listen in on multiple pieces of dialogue from radio chatter, strangers that you find on the street, or those that you find yourself taking part in side missions for. It’s a massive world and allows for a very fantastically successful piece of world-building by the development team.
The gameplay pretty much consists of the normal stuff that Watch Dogs has allowed before it, and if you’ve ever played previous games you will find muscle memory kicking in right away. You can walk, run, jump, and climb like in any normal open-world third-person game and there’s a host of combat as well, all in the form of shoot and cover gameplay spread across a range of lethal and non-lethal weapons, including pistols, shotguns, and rifles that deal a bolt of electricity to the combatants. There are also plenty of opportunities to work stealthily, sneaking from pillar to post as you move through the world.
Of course though, this is Watch Dogs and that means that hacking comes to the fore – and it is this which is the most enjoyable part of the game for me. With a simple click, you can hack into almost anything that has an electrical pulse. Cameras can be hacked so you can view the layouts of buildings and switching between them instantly, gaining a variety of different viewpoints through the cameras, is easy. There are also a number of drones flying around and as you level up through a perk system you will also gain the ability to hijack and control these – opening the world up some more. They can be used to scout an area from the sky, or, as you discover more advanced ones, attack enemies with guns. You can even use a drone to physically hack networks or to open doorways, whilst cargo drones are big enough for you to ride, allowing access to hard to reach rooftops. But they aren’t your only friend – the spiderbot is something you can employ on ground level to creep around ducts, to crawl through tight spaces and to hack servers or download important information.
The beauty of Watch Dogs Legion is that you can tackle the environment and the majority of the missions in any way you want. You can go in all guns blazing, taking out enemies one by one if you are happy to put up with the aggro and abundance of reinforcements that brings. But you can just as easily stay outside, hacking through an area using cameras, drones, and spiders, or you may find yourself attempting to roll through basements in a stealthy manner in order to nail targets. The beauty of the game is that the multitude of options available always ensures that Legion is fresh and interesting throughout.
The other way to play things though is to blend into the environment. It is here where the real game-changing aspects come to the fore.
A lot has been said about the ability in Watch Dogs: Legion to choose anyone you like, and play as them. It is a system that works well and it’s glorious to be able to change up the hero in the story. It works by allowing you the chance to go recruiting anyone off the street; anyone who has possible recruitment possibilities when you scan them with your phone. These may be special people that DedSec let you know may be worth recruiting, characters with unique professions like that of a spy or hospital surgeon. To recruit them you just need to action a task for them – stuff like hacking an organisation or rescuing them from some thugs – in order to see them become part of the team. It is wholly possible to collect a bunch of operatives for DedSec to choose from. Do you need someone who can get you into a hospital without raising suspicion? Or maybe an Albion guard who will enable access to the belly of the beast? It’s a great system that is cleverly implemented yet it will mean that at times you will find yourself loving certain characters and hating others. I found I had a tendency to always rely on favorites – one of those was a surgeon who stunned her opponents by zapping them in the head with a pair of hospital defibrillators.
For this to really work, you do have the choice at the start of the game to turn on permadeath options, and this is something I would highly recommend. It ups the stakes massively and you find that throughout Legion you will do your utmost to ensure certain people survive. In fact, I’ll admit that I found myself in a couple of sticky situations, deep in trouble, when the only way out was to switch off my console. Fail to, and my beloved surgeon would have been lost forever.
Visually we find Watch Dogs: Legion constructing a crunched version of London; one that has moments of complete accuracy in the details of the streets while also being able to create new buildings, Tube stations, and bits of geography. All the major icons are there – Big Ben, the Tower of London, and The Shard – and I’ve found it a delight to wander around the city with its future upgrades, brilliant lighting, and active world. It’s good-looking too, yet it’s a shame that the interiors are limited in comparison to the open-world sections. For instance, you will stand outside a shop in order to get access to new cosmetic gear and the only places you can go in (outside of the missions) are pubs, taking in a swift half and a game of arrows if you feel the need.
The soundtrack is exciting and dramatic throughout, all to great effect. When you find yourself traveling around in cars there are some superb radio shows to listen in on, ranging from chat shows to an excellent range of music; pretty much everything from dance to classical to the classic Three Lions. The voice-over is excellent as well, with some great characters coming into play.
Honestly, my first moments with Watch Dogs: Legion on Xbox One didn’t quite wow me and I was left expecting it to do more; maybe it was all a bit too familiar to the last couple of games, or maybe I was expecting something else. But the more you find yourself wandering this version of London, the more you will love it. It’s a vibrant and exciting open world full of a wealth of missions, side missions, and recruiting to do, complemented by some decent visuals and brilliant audio work. As the hours have progressed I’ve become ever more excited for the opportunities that it throws up, so much so that now I’m already well invested in upcoming DLC and the promise of multiplayer elements. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner so I love London Town, but Watch Dogs: Legion has helped confirm that.