Watch Dogs: Legion Review

Richard Walker

In capturing the soul-crushing, steel-grey skied city of London, Watch Dogs: Legion is unrivalled. In developer Ubisoft Toronto's game, it's a setting that's not only dotted with instantly recognisable landmarks (and I’d know, having lived there for the best part of a decade), but engenders the same sort of atmosphere, albeit without gridlocked traffic and the general uneasy sense of roiling stress. Unlike the sunny cityscape of San Francisco from Watch Dogs 2, Legion's London is a rainy, dystopian nightmare – a police state dominated by a militarised force armed with drones that keep the population in check. And it's all good fun. To a point.


At the centre of this hellish future-shock is... well, whoever you initially choose from a selection of random characters – Legion isn't about a single protagonist, but, rather, an entire network of them, each with their own unique identity, specialities, and traits. One might be a professional painter, packing paint grenades and a paintball gun, while another might be a James Bond-esque spy, with their own knock-off Aston Martin DB5, silenced pistol, and a watch that temporarily jams the weapons of enemies. There are numerous other, more esoteric choices, like an eSports pro, actor, football hooligan, anarchist, royal guard, or a beekeeper who can send out swarms of little nano-bees. Incidentally, many of these have woeful approximations of a British accent; outrageous fackin' mockney chatter that would make Guy Ritchie blush.

Your job, as a recruit to the DedSec cause, is to simply – as one member of your hacktivist team puts it - “unfuck London”, which essentially involves recruiting a team of hackers to inspire the city to rise up against jackbooted oppressors, Albion. And you really can recruit and play as anyone, which, unfortunately, does mean the game lacks a single, fleshed-out protagonist to hang its story on, leaving the villains to do the heavy lifting, narratively speaking. Other than Albion overlord Nigel Cass, there's Clan Kelley's Cruella de Vil tribute act and twisted matriarch, Mary, with her human trafficking racket; loopy Boca tech CEO and Tilda Swinton lookalike Skye Larsen; and, at the top of the food chain, sits shady organisation Zero-Day.

Guiding your chosen operative (you can switch between who you're playing as at any time) through this viper's nest of villainy is sarcastic, wise-cracking stolen Blume AI, Bagley, always on hand to interject with a witty one-liner or the ability to help you reconstruct an event using AR. Like Aiden Pearce or Marcus Holloway before them, your DedSec operative can hack all and sundry, be it locked doors, CCTV cameras, or drones; and, as in the previous games, there are facilities to infiltrate and networks to restore via more of those little Pipe Mania-like puzzles. That, really, is one of Watch Dogs: Legion’s primary issues – beyond its new 'play as anyone' premise, there's little here that's genuinely fresh.

Watch Dogs' core gameplay loops remain remarkably solid and gratifying, although it's difficult to shake the feeling that you've seen and done it all before. Legion's remit of enabling you to play as whoever you happen to see walking down the street is certainly ambitious, and the various different characteristics each possesses keeps things interesting. That said, you're unlikely to play as a flatulent bartender for too long, before switching back to someone useful, like a spy or drone operator. Those farts will also give you away when you're attempting a covert mission – it's funny, sure, but ultimately, what's the point?

In all probability, you'll end up gravitating towards three or four different operatives, leaving the rest as faces in a menu resigned to stay there. Playing with permadeath enabled raises the stakes immeasurably, as you can lose operatives forever if they die (yep, that's permadeath in a nutshell), but, then again, having valuable operatives kidnapped, put in hospital, or imprisoned is already enough of an imposition. Still, you can tailor your team to be unique, ensuring a varied skill-set across the board with a stringent enough recruitment policy, but again, you'll likely only cycle between a few throughout the course of the story, perhaps diverging to chuck bees around or shoot people in the face with paint, if only for a laugh.


As you put your hacking prowess to use across London, you can prompt an uprising in each of the game's eight boroughs, although you never really get the sense that your actions have much of an impact, beyond removing Albion's propaganda from certain landmarks. Invariably, objectives to inspire London to join the resistance involve exposing Albion's misdeeds, taking incriminating photos of evidence, sabotaging a key server somewhere, or throwing up DedSec messages in place of Albion propaganda. While there's no disputing the level of variety in the characters and abilities you can exploit, Legion's fairly narrow range of mission objectives are unfortunately somewhat limited. Few are particularly memorable, too – they all kind of overlap in your brain, burnt onto your retinas in a scramble of phosphorescent neon.

Much like real-world London, existing within Watch Dogs: Legion's rendition of the city engenders a similar level of sensory overload – at times, it can be something of a relief to turn it off and take a breather. At its best when you're engaged in a more contained story mission, infiltrating a house or facility using a skittering spiderbot, hijacking cameras and drones, setting traps, and using your personal gadgets to get one over on your enemies, Watch Dogs: Legion occasionally displays proper flashes of brilliance. The soundtrack is great, London proves an enormously detailed, instantly recognisable and immersive place, and its cautionary tale can be undeniably engaging at certain junctures. Yet, once the credits have rolled on the game's story, you'll find few reasons to return to it, despite having an army of oddballs to choose from; the whole thing doesn't hang together quite as well as you'd hope.

 

Some great tunes on the radio (The Libertines, Bloc Party, football anthem Three Lions etc.), but inconsistent voice performances. London's bustling atmosphere is spot on, though.

Legion's condensed London is superlative – the best rendition of the UK capital since The Getaway or Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Character models are decent enough, but the lip syncing can look a bit off, at times.

Watch Dogs: Legion provides a solid experience that plays well enough (loose vehicle handling aside), but it doesn't really do anything that the previous Watch Dogs games hasn't already done.

Infiltrating places and messing with enemies using your suite of hacking abilities and gadgets is good fun, but it can get rather repetitive. And beyond the concept of being able to 'play as anyone', there's little here that's genuinely new.

Legion's trophy list has an excellent spread, as well as a diverse selection of tasks to carry out. It also encourages you to dabble with the specific skills and attributes of certain characters, which is a nice touch.

Ubisoft Toronto has done a fine job in bringing a broken, near-future London to grim life in Watch Dogs: Legion, and playing as anyone you like has a certain appeal, but ultimately, it doesn't quite work as well as one might have hoped.

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