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Watch Dogs has been a rather unique franchise for Ubisoft. Its cinematic debut during E3 in 2012 was met with overwhelming celebration, until the game failed to meet the lofty expectations the trailer put forth (though in my opinion it was still a thoroughly enjoyable game). The title, set in Chicago, presented a rather drab environment and subtle lead character in Aidan Pearce. The sequel, which aimed to lighten the tone while injecting fresh characters, moved to San Francisco. While it was very well regarded critically, it released during a crowded holiday season in 2016, and failed to meet sales expectations for Ubisoft. After nearly three years, Ubisoft then debuted Legion at E3 2019 only to later significantly delay the game as part of their IP re-evaluation. It’s safe to say then, that the Watch Dogs IP has had an interesting journey. Thankfully, with Legion it seems it may have finally found its destination.
Legion takes place in a near-future London where, due to escalating crime and civil unrest, the leaders of England have handed over security detail to a corporation named Albion. After a shocking prologue that introduces you to a secret threat named Zero Day, you select your first recruit and head off to an old DedSec location in the city. Albion’s presence can be immediately felt around London which they now rule with an iron fist. Albion security can be found on nearly every corner, and they’ve taken control of nearly all of the iconic landmarks including Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, and The Tower of London. It’s also immediately clear that some citizens are choosing to fight back, with protests and a wealth of anti-establishment paraphernalia spread throughout the city.
There is perhaps no setting more appropriate for Legion than near-future London, and it’s become one of my favorite game environments in recent memory. Ubisoft Toronto has gone to great lengths to recreate London and it shows. Not only are the majority of the landmarks present as I mentioned, but streets are modeled directly from their real-life counterparts and give off the almost unmistakable charm. Navigating through the city is an absolute joy, particularly if you’re familiar with London and its melting pot of cultures, accents, and people. From traveling down the streets of Camden, to visiting Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, it always puts a smile on face and brings back fond memories. Of course, as Legion is set in the near-future, you’ll notice technology-driven changes throughout. Vehicles are almost all electric and have distinct “engine” sounds. Holograms and digital billboards light up the streets and buildings. And drones occupy the sky both to deliver packages, and to keep an active eye on citizens. Of course it wouldn’t be London without pubs scattered throughout the city, so feel free to stop in for a pint or a game of 301 (a darts game for the uninitiated) if you so choose. Meanwhile the Tube (the London Underground) stations are also real-life locations and treated as your fast travel hubs. Given the Watch Dogs theme with technology, this futuristic London integrates well with the gameplay, and feels more believable than the past entries in Chicago and San Francisco. I also want to particularly call out the art team at Ubisoft Toronto for the detail and care with which they’ve added art work throughout the game. It’s truly remarkable.
As you likely know by now, the core theme of Legion is to build a resistance to fight back against the oppressive Albion, and to essentially “take back London”. To do so, you’ll recruit anyone from the city willing to help and in-turn, rebuild DedSec. This feature has been touted heavily by Ubisoft and much speculation has been spread as to its depth. While I wouldn’t call it revolutionary, it absolutely adds a unique aspect to the game, and one that I’ve grown to appreciate greatly. Just like in prior Watch Dogs games, you can highlight anyone in the city and see a short profile on them. However in Legion this is expanded further by showing a set of skills and potential team benefits should you recruit them to join DedSec. The variety here is vast, and gives players a large amount of freedom in how they want to approach interactions. Want to build a team of 007s who focus on stealth, have silenced pistols, and even drive a custom sports car that shoots missiles? Go for it. Prefer a team of soccer, excuse me football, hooligans who are going to knock everyone out in a few punches? Have fun. And yes, if you want to infiltrate a secure Albion building with a nanny carrying a massive LMG, you can do that too. Put simply, it’s great fun experimenting with different characters and there’s far more examples than I can fit into this review.
Perhaps more impressive though, is how each recruit seems to have a distinct personality. I’ve now experimented with 20+ recruits (you can have up to 45) and each has a unique accent, mannerisms, quips, etc. It’s quite an appropriate microcosm of London itself. Not only can you choose a wealth of personas to play as, but you’ll see and hear the same throughout the city as well including the hilarious slang the British are known for. Some of the conversations that take place around you are comical, and I’ve heard everything from the frequent “bloody hell!” to people being called gits, plans going tits up, and my character yelling “GET IN!” when he accomplishes something of importance. These details may be lost on some but if you’re British or merely familiar with British culture, it’s truly charming.
I’ve read some criticisms of the game for lacking a main protagonist and in my opinion, that’s a little short-sighted. As you’re able to recruit essentially anyone in the city, and can use them as little or as long as you’d like, you get to choose your protagonist. For instance, I have a Professional Hitman named Evan Su who I’ve used frequently. I’ve come to identify with him as my “main” character as I adore his play style, the way he responds to people, his accent, and his skillset. He is “my” James Bond.
As you attempt to uncover the secrets behind Zero Day and take down Albion, you’ll also be introduced to a few other despotic regimes overflowing with greed and corruption. The game presents players with more mature topics than I was expecting and I found it to be a pleasant surprise. Meanwhile, the structure with which Ubisoft tackles the storyline and progression is a rather fresh approach from their prior titles. Ubisoft has faced criticisms in the past of game “bloat”; with endless, and often pointless, side missions overwhelming the player. In Legion, your core focus is challenging the corporations threatening London, and building the resistance. Side missions are few and far between, and when presented, tie-in to the main story arcs. While there are additional items scattered throughout the city for players to accomplish and interact with, they are in no way required for progression, nor do they impact your team. I truly like the more streamlined approach the development team took here, and think it’s a good compromise for players like myself who want to experience every little detail, and others who want to purely focus on the key story elements.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the political aspects of Legion. While its a purely fictional setting, Ubisoft Toronto is clearly making a few statements. The themes center around fascism and autocracy which are represented by Albion (and the other criminal enterprises masquerading as legitimate companies), and what London has become under their authoritarian rule. Keeping the citizens fearing crime, immigrants, and in-short, each other, has granted Albion total control. Naturally this has resulted in a limiting of citizens’ freedoms and rights, and horrific crimes being committed against some under the guise of “national safety”. As I was exploring the other day, one of the drones rang out “Protests are dangerous and have the potential to turn violent!“. So how does society counter this? By having people from all walks of life come together to fight back in unison of course. Therein lies DedSec and the resistance. While I obviously can’t speak for anyone else, it’s up to the player how much they read into this and how much, if at all, it impacts their experience. Personally, I enjoyed it and felt as though I was on the right side of a fictional history.
Watch Dogs veterans will feel right at home while they lead the resistance. Gameplay is a familiar mix of hacking cameras, overcoming security detail, accessing servers, and sneaking into locations you aren’t meant to be in. Thanks to the variety in team members and some new gadgets, you have many ways in which you tackle the various objectives. I believe this is one of the strongest points of the game and I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different playstyles. One of my favorites, bar none, is using my hitman to play like John Wick; with Legion even having several different animations for up-close executions and pin point headshots. However, overall mission variety I found to be lacking at times. After about the 50th time I’d used a spiderbot to hack a doorway so I could then download some private information, I was wishing the developers got a little more creative with the objectives. That said, the accompanying interactions with DedSec, your team members, and your partner A.I. Bagley you have during missions, are well implemented. Bagley in particular is a great addition, and often lightens the mood with stereotypical English sarcasm.
For this review, I was provided an Xbox code and thus have been playing on the Xbox One X. Performance is generally positive and while we are all anxious for the next-gen versions, the game is still very pretty at times particularly if you’re playing with the HDR calibrated. And fortunately, Legion has a photo mode with color filters, stickers, and more that make capturing some of your favorite aspects of London a breeze. I have experienced a few game crashes and bugs along my journey though. Several times I had to restart a mission because something got hung up and I couldn’t complete my objective. It can be frustrating, but fortunately the game saves your mission progress as you go, so jumping back in is rather painless. Next week, I’ll update this review with some comparisons to the Xbox Series X version that Ubisoft is releasing on November 10th.
Watch Dogs Legion is one of my favorite games of the year. Its digital replication of London is incredible, and provides players with a beautiful, and memorable, sandbox. Its story is purposeful and tackles topics that many games refuse to. And while building the resistance is not the necessarily the revolution it was touted to be, it’s still a very impressive mechanic that presents players with a wealth of personal choice. While Watch Dogs 1 and 2 were very good games, they felt like a collection of good ideas that never fully melded. With Legion, it feels as though the third time was the charm. The combination of near-future London, building a unique resistance, and tackling authoritarian rule results in a highly enjoyable experience, and one that, even after 50+ hours, I’m still enjoying. GET IN!