Watch Dogs: Legion Review – My name is URL 8

Even with bumbling bureaucracy, a sinister underground, and a city surveillance system ripped straight from the scariest possible episode of Black Mirror, London and its people have always prevailed. After all, if Britain could endure Hitler’s air force using it for target practice and the iron-fisted reign of Margaret Thatcher, then anything else thrown at it would be child’s play…right? Not exactly.

Rocked to its core by a series of explosions that brought several landmarks falling down, falling down and backed by a misinformation campaign, the world’s capital is a nightmare made real when Watch Dogs: Legion kicks off. Hacktivist group DedSec has been falsely accused in the terrorist attacks, private military company Albion has seized power in a legal coup de tat, and jackbooted fascists are flexing a license to kill that they’re more than happy to make use of.

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That’s where you come in, because unlike previous Watch Dogs games, there’s no single protagonist who can save the day. Watch Dogs: Legion is a game that’s firmly about people power, tasking you with assembling the citizenry to draw a line in the sand and say “not one more step” to the thugs who have taken over the city.

It’s a fascinating system, ballsier than taking over the Falklands islands, and when it works it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s also a bit rubbish, as the vast bulk of London’s populace aren’t exactly prepared to bash the fash. The thousands of potential recruits all fall into one of several camps of function. Some can call in vehicles to escape being nicked, others can blend into areas where the prole wouldn’t be allowed to mingle normally and sometimes you come across a pensioner armed with a grenade launcher.

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If you had to compare this to another game, this system would be the equivalent of hunting for a Pikachu in Pokemon and finding nothing but damn Bidoof in the long grass. Recruitment is easy enough as well, as once you’ve scratched a potential new DedSec member’s back they’ll be happy to join your cause and unleash hell upon your command. There’s also a certain joy to playing as compromised characters, adding some challenge to the sandbox and arming a gang of grannies with electrified brass knuckles as they waddle into enemy territory.

In the course of my playthrough, I’ve experienced Watch Dogs Legion as:

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  • A professional cosplayer who can use multiple gadgets
  • A bare knuckle boxing champion who looks like every Afrikaans lady after they hit 40
  • A former mercenary dressed in a glorious golden jacket
  • A banker with a death wish
  • A construction worker who can get instantly pissed on the job
  • A granny who can KO thugs with a slap
  • And so so many more

There are more valuable people to recruit in Watch Dogs: Legion, who’ll regularly pop up on your radar and require you to engage in lengthier side-quests so that you can add their valuable skills to your talent pool. Like robot bees. Yes, robot freakin’ bees. And yet I was still attracted to experiencing the game with blue collar characters, for one very good reason.

Watch Dogs: Legion struggles to strike a decent balance in how it plays. Infiltration is perhaps too easy, with enemies needing to schedule an appointment with their optometrist as you can pick them off one by one and you’ll never raise the alarm bells. On the other hand, escalate a fight from fisticuffs to firearms and hell will erupt around you as the entire military might of Albion sends troopers and gunship drones to smoke you out of your hiding spot with an arsenal that could level Camden Market several times over.

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You’ve got a number of gadgets up your sleeves though, which can be purchased and upgraded, you’re able to hack just about anything with an electronic pulse, and your magic smartphone can distract enemies so that you can perform a takedown. Compared to previous Watch Dogs games, Legion definitely feels like a more stripped down and simpler approach to the sandbox formula of go anywhere and hack everything.

In fact, once you’ve got a few trusty operatives and gadgets equipped, there’s very little motivation to stray away from the established golden path. Every challenge becomes formulaic and finding a solution is usually a case of sending in a spider-drone, hacking a camera, or avoiding security by charting a construction drone to ferry you to the top of a building. Watch Dogs: Legion shows its hand a little too early but at least the rest of the game is Ubisoft firing on all sandbox cylinders.

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There’s two things to take notice of here: One, Watch Dogs: Legion is very very British and two, it’s also gleefully silly. Whereas most Ubisoft sandboxes are serious games for serious people about serious things, Watch Dogs; Legion revels in the chance to cause anarchy in the streets of London. It wants you to get pissed at a corner pub, it delights in challenging you to a random game of kick-up and some of its missions like blowing up propaganda on the London Eye are delightfully mental.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have more somber moments wherein you have to deal with a gruesome underground human trafficking ring being run by a contender for the best villain of the year in the form of Mary Kelley and her gang of ne’er-do-wells, while other elements of police state hooligans and class warfare feel strangely timely in a world where everything is awful lately. Just remember, this is definitely not a political game. No sir, nope.

And as for the final character in Watch Dogs: Legion, ol’ Blighty itself? It’s a location that I both love and loathe. Anyone who has ever spent some time in London knows just how fantastic the city is. From the famous landmarks of Big Ben to the eclectic markets of Camden, the imposing terror of the Tower of London and all those wonderful museums, London is a city with a soul of its own that you could never get tired of.

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It’s also a congested maze of narrow streets and overcrowded walkways, a coffee shop on every corner, and a city center that you can never escape if you venture into it. That makes driving something of a nightmare in Watch Dogs: Legion, but at least it’s an accurate one.

Last Updated: October 28, 2020

Watch Dogs: Legion
Watch Dogs: Legion is a fascinating game, massively ambitious and crawling with technology that isn’t just on the bleeding edge of what’s possible, it’s pure magic to see unfold. All of that may sound impressive but slick software and a bustling metropolis of people power can’t hide the dull gameplay and shallow approach to the sandbox shenanigans of Watch Dogs: Legion. It’s still a fascinating game to experience in short bursts, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how Ubisoft evolves London to make it vox pop as a next-gen headliner.
7.5
Watch Dogs: Legion was reviewed on Xbox One
76 / 100

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