Watch Dogs: Legion Review
An ambitious sequel unfortunately falls flat.
Watch Dogs: Legion is the definition of quantity over quality. Watch Dogs: Legion lets you recruit anyone right off the street and add them to your team of DedSec Operatives. You can cultivate a fully custom team of hackers to suit your playstyle. Every citizen of London is entirely unique, each with their own abilities, weapons, and daily schedules. On paper, this is a phenomenal idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, the ability to play as anyone is both Watch Dogs: Legion’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.
Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in a futuristic version of London. A private military contractor called Albion has been placed in charge of the city’s security following a disastrous series of bombings orchestrated by a mysterious entity only known as Zero Day. DedSec, the group of hackers that you play as, has been framed for the attack, and it’s up to you to discover Zero Day’s true identity and rid the streets of Albion for good.
Previous games in the series have tried to show that anyone can stand up to injustice, but you can only do so much with that message when you have a preset protagonist with exceptional skills and abilities. Legion takes things even further by literally letting anyone stand up to justice this time. That homeless guy on the street corner? DedSec operative. That old lady that can hardly run? DedSec operative. You really can recruit anyone, but a system that sprawling has to come with some caveats.
In a game like XCOM, having an endless supply of unique characters works because the characters are nothing more than units. They shoot some aliens on their turn during combat and not much else. Legion takes things a step further and inserts these characters into cutscenes, gives them speaking roles, and places them at the forefront of the story. It doesn’t work. The story suffers from a lack of a central set of protagonists. Character animations and voice acting also feel subpar across the board. Bagley, who is literally an artificial intelligence, feels more human than the members of DedSec. It feels like you’re playing as NPCs.
There were times where someone would speak on comms and I had no idea who they were. You can get a lot of people fairly easily, especially with the free no strings attached recruitments available after saving someone from Albion harassment, and it’s hard to keep track of everyone when nobody has any real personality and you basically only use one or two people who have the best abilities. It feels like the people with the cool abilities are supposed to be the “main protagonists” of your story that you spend most of your time controlling like Aiden or Marcus from the previous games and the rest of your recruits are supposed to be the side characters, but everyone is equally disposable and forgettable.
The game attempts to remedy the whole “no real protagonist” problem with its supporting cast and villains, but each side character is forgettable. The central Zero-Day mystery drags on and on before eventually reaching an immensely unsatisfying conclusion. There are a few moments where the game hints at a potentially more interesting plot, but then the story moves on to the next uninteresting antagonist. It never provides enough time to flesh out its cast of characters. Legion’s story is bad even by Watch Dogs standards. Even Sabine, the main member of DedSec who orchestrates the group’s reassembly following the Zero Day incident and serves as a major driving force in the plot, is wholly unremarkable. There were times when she’d chime in on comms and I thought she was one of my random DedSec recruits I picked up off the street.
While the story may not be anything special, the sheer flexibility of it all is mind-boggling. The DedSec operatives on my team, even my favorites, were not interesting characters that I grew attached to. Still, I never encountered a repeated face, outfit, or voice in roughly 30 hours of play. There’s a vastness to the population of London that I’ve never seen in a game before, and the thought that literally any one of them can become the center of this story and come face to face with Legion’s cast of villains makes me want to replay the game again and again. You won’t find a character on the level of Aiden Pearce or Marcus Holloway walking the streets of London, but there are thousands of mildly interesting everyday people waiting to join the resistance. The novelty of seeing your characters in cutscenes and thinking “that could be anybody” never wears off. Many games have had multiple protagonists before, but Watch Dogs: Legion has endless protagonists.
There is also a lot of simulation going on under the hood. Each NPC has a detailed daily schedule that you can look at and study, and you can use this information to recruit people who have a negative opinion of DedSec. Characters have their own relationships and remember past events. I scanned an Albion guard as a potential recruit only to find that one of my operatives had hospitalized him on a previous mission. I found my operative’s therapist walking around and was able to recruit them easily because of that preexisting relationship. I saw operatives that I had retired going about their daily business. It really is a small world.
Still, in a game where you’re supposed to build a unique team that’s personalized to you, I did not care about anyone. Even when I lost the star of my story, a professional hitman who could perform gun kata takedowns, I didn’t feel anything more than slight frustration. Instead of feeling sad about the death of a character that I had been using for several hours, the most I could muster was a measly “oh well.” You also start to see some a large amount of repetition in character occupations and abilities (there are a lot of gynecologists and construction workers in London). Character models and voices have a lot of variation, but when you see a dozen different people who have similar skill sets, the illusion of a diverse population is broken.
DedSec recruits are nothing more than their weapons and abilities. I never felt compelled to learn anyone’s name. It’s hard to care about someone when their primary personality trait is “AK-47.” There’s also never any real reason to have more than just a few team members. Unique weapons and abilities are usually just a gimmick. The most important abilities are gun ownership, car ownership, and hacking bonuses, but those are completed robbed of any utility when you can just hop into any car without penalty, use powerful non-lethal DedSec weapons, and hack any device with any character. I wish the game would have made most characters worse than they are, which would make sense because they’re just random strangers, most of whom don’t have any experience hacking or shooting. That way, finding a spy or police officer who is able to hack from further distances or bring along an MP5 would be much more exciting. There’s no real reason to look out for a skilled hacker when that random homeless dude you picked up an hour ago can infiltrate a restricted area just as well.
At least the gameplay is fun regardless of who you decide to play as. It’s still typical Watch Dogs fare. You sneak into places where you’re not supposed to be, press some buttons on your magic cell phone, and maybe shoot a guy or two. If you’ve played a Watch Dogs game before, then you know what to expect. The play as anyone system throws a wrench into the mix by limiting your equipment and gear based on your playable character, but you’ll always have access to the essentials. The only thing that matters that characters can miss out on is a gun, but everyone has access to non-lethal DedSec firearms anyway. Certain characters have special abilities like paint bombs or melee weapons, but these aren’t too useful. You still have a lot of freedom when approaching an objective. You can sneak in yourself, hack a drone or spiderbot and get in that way, or just walk in the door with a gun and a mask.
Unfortunately, Legion is plagued with samey missions and repetitive objectives. The majority of missions involve driving to a restricted area and hacking a thing, only to be told to drive to another building to hack yet another thing. If you’re not doing that, you’re hacking a thing and then staying within a certain distance of it while countless enemies flood the room. Watch Dogs 2 had better-designed levels, and it’s a shame to see the series downgraded in this regard. Also, the shooting and driving still feel a little bit off. They’re serviceable, but Legion makes you do way more shooting and driving than the previous two games, so it’s more noticeable this time around. Melee combat has at least been improved somewhat, letting you dodge and guard break in addition to your standard punches, but the system is still fairly basic.
At least the setting is great. London is an absolutely gorgeous city, especially at night. There’s a lot of detail packed into every corner, and Watch Dogs has the added benefit of providing basic profiles to every NPC to make them feel more like people rather than set dressing. There’s a wide range of unique storefronts, shops, and restaurants that help the city feel much more believable. A lot of consideration has been put into the game’s futuristic setting as well. The majority of cars in London are electric and self-driving, and you can see drones flying overhead along the drone highway delivering packages and monitoring the streets. Each borough of the city also has a unique identity, largely due to the types of people you can find and recruit within them. It’s not a massive open-world like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but it’s still quite large. It’s a very condensed and focused urban environment, and there’s a lot to discover if you duck into alleyways or explore restricted areas.
The play as anyone system is a wildly ambitious concept that I cannot wait to see in a sequel. Much like Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system, it’s one of the most innovative mechanics to come out of this generation, even if it could still use some work. It definitely feels like a first iteration – the small pool of weapons and abilities make that very obvious – but everyone feels at least somewhat unique. It takes the profiling and scanning you could do for fun in Watch Dogs 1 and 2 and transforms it into an awesome gameplay mechanic. Still, the story suffers greatly because of this system, and the repetitive missions don’t help either. Watch Dogs: Legion feels like a great proof of concept, and I hope this isn’t the last time we see the play as anyone system. All in all, Watch Dogs: Legion is an okay game propped up by an ambitious idea.
- This article was updated on:October 28th, 2020
Watch Dogs: Legion
- Available On: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Google Stadia
- Published By: Ubisoft
- Developed By: Ubisoft Toronto
- Genre: Third Person Shooter
- US Release Date: October 29, 2020
- Reviewed On: Xbox One X
- Quote: "Watch Dogs: Legion is incredibly ambitious, but the play as anyone system needs a little more work. The story suffers from the lack of a central protagonist, and it's hard to get attached to any of your characters when the character models and animations are stiff and robotic. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in futuristic London."