Here I am in London, it’s early July 2020 and the world has changed forever. The streets are nearly empty, the country is being ruled by a nationalist party, there’s a noticeable police presence and you can see the fear in people’s eyes as you wander across the bridge to the Houses of Parliament wearing a mask and keeping your head down.
This isn’t some new video game, this is the new reality in a world struggling with the Coronavirus pandemic that has changed everything, even the usually fun and jovial exercise of going hands-on with one of the top AAA titles expected this year: Watch Dogs: Legion.
So imagine my surprise when I remotely connected to a server in Europe to get my sterilised appendages on Watch Dogs: Legion (since flying in an airtight cylinder is currently out of the question), only for Ubisoft’s latest sandbox to open up on the rain-swept houses of Parliament with the City of London looking similar to what I’m used to.
But with a more sinister undertone of Big Brother surveillance cranked up to the extreme.
This is London, more paranoid than ever and with a new status quo born from a false flag event that you play through, which places the unjust blame of a terrorist attack on DeadSec, our friendly (okay so not friendly) hackers from the previous Watch Dogs games.
There’s a story to be told here, but I’m not diving into just yet for one very good reason.
In my few hours of hands-on and unguided gameplay, I was engrossed in the story and really enjoyed the character arcs that were on display. It’s quite a feat for the writers to create these stories in a game where you can play as anyone in Watch Dogs Legion and every single character has their own life story.
So how does the Play as Anyone mechanic work? Put simply, you can walk up to absolutely anyone in the game and attempt to recruit them to your side. If they are open to the idea, then they will ask you to help them in one form or another and if you succeed on this side-quest they will join your team of misfits. You can then freely swap over to them whenever you feel like stepping into the shoes of a new rebel.
It sounds great being able to just play as someone else but let’s be honest, you can do this in a lot of games by simply changing the way your character looks. It doesn’t really make any difference. Except in Watch Dogs: Legion, the differences are more than just cosmetic
Play As Anyone
Not only does every character look and move differently. They all come with their own personas, interactions and skills. Professional talents that range from being a paramedic or barrister (lawyer). These skills aren’t just for immersion reasons either, as getting nicked by the rozzers will result in you spending time behind bars. If you have a barrister on your team, then that jail sentence will be reduced. The same goes for a team member who has been sent to the hospital, if you have a paramedic on your side then they will recover quickly.
It’s a novel approach and one that made me want to drive to Strand to see if I could recruit some barristers to aid in my quest. Other skills I saw were drone specialists, engineers and the like. Several hours into Watch Dogs Legion, and I felt as if I’d barely scratched the surface of this gameplay mechanic.
This Play as Anyone mechanic is also integral to the campaign flow of Watch Dogs Legion, with one of my quests being to recruit a soldier from the authoritarian Albion group that has won the right to protect London from more terrorist attacks by curb-stomping civil liberties. My mission to bolster my ranks with an inside man eventually ran into some minor troubles when I…erm…blew up the truck with the drugs that my potential recruit had requested that I hijack and deliver to him. As such, he decided that he no longer wanted to work with me or DeadSec, and now I was back at square one and needed to find another disenfranchised soldier to recruit so that I could sneak into the Tower of London
So can you really play as anyone? Well, no there are some limits to the mechanic. A fair amount of people you approach kindly tell you to f**k off when you propose overthrowing the government. Apparently it is possible to wear these people down by doing a deep dive into their life but for now I’ll cautiously say you can play as almost anyone, with there being impressive options to recruit thousands of people to your cause.
Freedom of Approach
One of the features of Watch Dogs: Legion , which Ubisoft loves to talk about, is the idea of freedom of approach. Nearly all objectives can be tackled from a multitude of angles depending on how or who you play as.
For example, in one quest I needed to sneak into a construction area to rescue an informative but, thanks to the scourge of health and safety regulations these days, this is easier said than done. There were drones and cameras and guards all over the place, so I had two options: I could swap out to the construction worker I recruited and simply stroll in, or I could go in all guns blazing, hijack a construction drone and rain down death from above.
Obviously I took the latter and it ended as expected, with me dead in the corner. It was fun to try and in the end I completed the mission with a combination of stealth and assassinations. As I said… you have the freedom to choose your approach, whether it be cunning and guile or the standard Hollywood action blockbuster no lives matter approach.
HACK THE PLANET!
As mentioned earlier, my hands-on session occurred through the power of remote work and as such there was a bit of lag. In an open-world game like Watch Dogs: Legion, that lag was barely noticeable though.
The movement, gunplay and stealth aspects all made for a pleasant and easy game to get into, with the difficulty being more around how you formulate your plan of attack for the objectives. Who knows, maybe my gung-ho approach would have worked with less lag.
Obviously the hacking mechanic is central to Watch Dogs: Legion, but it never feels like a gimmick or tacked on. It feels natural and is easy to use and understand in virtually all scenarios.
A common example would be hacking into a CCTV camera and then jumping to the next one to see right into the bowels of a building and plan your approach. You’ll also use hacking to move cars, cause a disturbance or raise anti-terror barriers to get away from police to name but a few ideas. There are also the usual puzzles and mini-games dotted around the immersive world for you to try out, when you want to take a break from saving London.
In the end, my game time ended too soon for my liking. I was never overly excited about previous Watch Dogs games, but after experiencing Watch Dogs Legions it’s now at the top of my must-play list. It has been quite a while since I immersed myself in an open-world game like this and Watch Dogs: Legion is likely to be the one I jump back into upon release.
But as always, rather wait until the full reviews are out before making your decision. For now though, London’s looking like an attractive playground in which to cause some chaos and have a merry ol’ time.
Last Updated: July 12, 2020