Watch Dogs: Legion is one of Ubisoft’s biggest releases of 2020. It arrives right at the end of the current generation and will be available on the new consoles. That means it can push the limit of the current hardware, with the developers having years of knowledge and expertise. The latest entry in the series has made several changes though. There’s a switch in setting from the US to London along with some gameplay innovations. But while these factors are positive additions, Watch Dogs: Legion can’t quite reach the heights Ubisoft wants it to.
Many of Ubisoft’s more recent games have followed a similar theme. The stories often revolve around a protagonist attempting to overthrow a tyrannical government. In many instances, this will also include rallying the local population and leading a resistance group.
Watch Dogs: Legion pretty much follows this script and contains many of the same ideas. Set in a fictionalized late 2020s London, the city has been overtaken by technology. The advent of artificial intelligence means drones, driverless cars, and cryptocurrencies have risen in popularity. A deadly corporation also controls the city, keeping the citizens in their place with force.
The way that Watch Dogs: Legion differs from other Ubisoft sandbox games is in the protagonist. The game allows players to pick almost every single NPC in London. While this stops you from being able to experience a fully focused narrative, it does have some advantages. The most important of them is that it allows the player to experience the true diversity of London. With such a wide range of characters, it makes it feel like a true resistance rising up.
Where the story falls down is when it tries to take itself seriously. The villains are a prime example of this, as they are so over-the-top that nothing they do makes sense. Their actions add no drama and this means the story never feels that compelling. It is almost as if the enemies are evil for the sake of it, without any motivations. That’s a major problem for a game that wants to tell a proper story. This failure does take away from the overall experience, as the narrative doesn’t have the impact it should.
The ability to play as any character also plays a major role in the gameplay. Anyone can be recruited via a special mission that acts as a favor, persuading them to join the cause. It’s important to keep a full stock of recruits as well. Otherwise, you might be stuck and be unable to carry on progress with your team. The different types of characters that you can recruit all have unique abilities and skills. Some can blend in and avoid the police by just carrying out their normal job. Others have access to unique attacks. There’s a beekeeper who can shoot bees or a tech expert who can shock enemies.
Watch Dogs: Legion also takes a unique approach to permanent deaths. Fail certain objectives or perform badly and it’s certainly possible for playable characters to die. Once they are gone, you have to recruit other characters to replace them, losing all the upgrades in the process. It adds some genuine jeopardy to proceedings and changes how you approach each scenario. While this option can be turned off, keeping it on creates a far more interesting experience.
Outside of those elements, the gameplay in Watch Dogs: Legions is the kind you would expect from a Ubisoft title. In fact, the basic mechanics are identical to what appeared in Watch Dogs 2. This essentially makes the title feel like a cross between Grand Theft Auto and a hacking simulator. Players have to use their equipment to access DeadSec’s various networks, taking control of everything from drones to cameras. It all works well even if it can feel slightly dated, even with the new features.
There’s a great selection of music on the radio that accompanies the gameplay. This is mainly made up of indie and rock bands from the UK as well as a few pop hits. People from other parts of the world might not be familiar with some of the songs, but they all fit in well with the setting. The developers have also done a great job of capturing the atmosphere of London. The bustling and diverse city is recreated in a truly authentic way. You genuinely get the feeling that this is a living and breathing world.
That’s slightly diminished due to the inconsistent voice acting. Some characters sound great but others have zero emotion in their delivery. That’s the only real downside in what is usually a great sounding game.
Luckily, the same can’t be said of the visuals, which look superb. London isn’t a bright or vibrant city in terms of color but is brought to life with incredible realism. There’s a great amount of detail in every aspect of the environment. But that’s not always true for the character models, which sometimes have some graphical issues.
Ubisoft has been stuck using the same basic sandbox blueprint for some time now to much derision from players. That’s why the company has taken such efforts to update and improve series such as Assassin’s Creed.
The measures they have taken with Watch Dogs: Legion are largely successful. The ability to recruit any NPC and permanent deaths create a more compelling experience. However, the game is let down by its largely forgettable narrative and a failure to innovate the gameplay even further. But it does lay good groundwork for future releases and shows different settings can work.