It’s difficult not to feel excited by Watch Dogs Legion’s ambition. Removing a central protagonist from the game, Legion sets you loose on the streets of London and lets you build your own revolution of Dedsec agents and puts you in control of anyone you want. Every character you see walking the streets, patrolling restricted areas and even shooting at you can be recruited with varying degrees of difficulty. Legion promises an experience that will give each of these characters a story to tell, but just how high does the ceiling of this simulation go?
An hour-long hands-on demo with Legion was certainly not enough to give a definitive answer to this question, but it managed to give a small idea. Using your smartphone, you can mark characters that you might want to recruit on your map, letting you take a glance at their daily routines. You’ll see where they work, where they hang out afterwards and any detours they take from their routines, letting you intercept them wherever and whenever you want. Before you can recruit an agent though, you need to make them sympathetic to the Dedsec cause. Depending on their affinity to your hacking group when they’re marked, this process can vary in length. You’ll need to complete side activities not directly related to your mark in question to slowly sway them, eventually letting you unlock a character specific objective that will recruit them to your ranks.
Creative Director Clint Hocking explained in a briefing before the demo that he and his team have worked hard to ensure that these recruitment missions feel both distinct and specific to the character in question. Given that this applies to every character in the world, it’s hard to imagine a similar template not being applied across the board with small contextual changes to make them feel unique. It just doesn’t seem possible that every passerby will have an interesting story to tell within the greater scheme of the story, which makes me worry how long the illusion of this approach will hold up after hours and hours of play.
The recruitment mission in question here was the same as the gameplay shown off during Ubisoft’s conference. I took control of an elderly lady attempting to infiltrate a Blume compound and erase some blackmail material for the recruit in question. Playing as a Hacker (one of three classes you can assign to recruits once they join you) I used my spider drone to scope out the entrance before using traditional Watch Dogs camera hopping to move inside the compound remotely and fire off alarms and distractions. Making my way inside as quietly as I could, I dispatched some guards with a close-range stun gun (Legion lets you choose between a variety of lethal and non-lethal weapons) before reaching the server with the material and hacking it away into the void.
This sequence felt distinctly Watch Dogs and reminded me immediately of what I loved about the second game in the series. The ease of use of your gadgets and the depth of how you can combine them makes it satisfying to solve objectives without taking a direct approach. Legion does feel tighter when it comes to combat though, making melee encounters feel weightier and its third-person shooting more viable in a punch. Those are two approaches that certainly favour the Enforcer class, with perks pertaining to open combat over hacking and stealth. The Infiltrator, on the other hand, feels like a good intersection between the two. Featuring abilities to help you hide in plain sight but not enough to hack your way to success, the Infiltrator enjoys getting their hands dirty but from the shadows.
It’s a peculiar choice to let you choose what class new recruits take to, rather than letting their individual traits decide that and forcing you to make educated decisions on who to pursue. Right now, new recruits only stand out according to their small personal traits that can make slight passive changes to melee damage, ability cooldowns and the time spent in the slammer if you’re arrested (an alternative to fighting on and having your character die for good). It already made my Dedsec agents in this demo blend together in a way that made them almost indistinguishable from one another. And since they’re all the main players in this story, that’s slightly concerning.
That isn’t to say I walked away from Watch Dogs Legion feeling disappointed. It was certainly one of the most interesting games at E3 this year and slipping back into the refined Watch Dogs gameplay felt great. It’s just a case of waiting to see how far Ubisoft can push this ambitious new system for NPC simulation and making them stand out when you take control of them. Because right now it seems like the magic of it doesn’t have the depth to make it seem novel for too long.
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Last Updated: June 19, 2019