|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia|
|Dev: Ubisoft Toronto|
|Release: October 29, 2020|
|Players: Single Player, Multi-player|
|Screen Resolution: 1080p-4K||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of alcohol|
by Jonathan Gronli
The third game in any series is always going to be difficult to do. There is previous material to build off on. If the world is being built further, how have the dynamics changed? Will previously established characters play any part in the newest installment? How will they play a part? How’s the setting going to change? The point is that there is just so much to consider, all of which can easily backfire. Watch Dogs Legion meets this challenge and, while there’s still some stability work and more features coming, they’ve surpassed my expectations.
Before I really dive in, I wanted to acknowledge is that Ubisoft should absolutely steer into the skid and acknowledge that they made a blatantly political game. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just acknowledging a lot of the issues confronting us in the modern world and taking a critical look at it. No art is apolitical. There’s a reason why I’m bringing this up though. It’s the fact that Watch Dogs Legion has taken an inherently political and critical approach since it started getting promoted. That said, it’s time to dive into the game.
The story is a simple one based on a terrifying premise. What if an encompassing system, like the way ctOS has been built up in the previous Watch Dogs game, plays a part in a city with a fairly longstanding surveillance state culture? And what if that system falls under the control of a corrupt private military company preaching national security and strength? That is the terrifying world that the core game starts off with, though the prologue shows how the circumstances for the core game’s world was created (a terrorist attack framing the hacktivist group DedSec). Months later, the one remaining member of DedSec London remotely profiles and recruits the first new member in DedSec London since the fall. From that first recruit, you’re building a resistance force to try to free London from a vastly better funded and armed enemy, because – aside from Zero-Day – you’re working against a private military company that’s not all that different from Blackwater.
One of the things that Ubisoft Toronto should be applauded for the worldbuilding. This is covered in quite a few different ways. The first is just the fact that the city feels populated and alive. Aside from environmental events, like being able to save random people from Albion, people are constantly going through the city as well as protest tent cities and vigil memorials for those killed, disappeared, or deported by Albion. There are tons of things to hack and each borough has a variety of missions that you can pick up, all of which can get you into different types of trouble. Aside from that, there are tons of texts discover and podcasts to discover and listen to. All of these helps build the paranoid, fearful, and angry undercurrent of the London environment. Aside from that, there are other things that I hadn’t even considered before. Since London still has phoneboxes, what happens when the system goes digital and increasingly more people have at least a smart phone on them, if not also a tablet and other tech that can be used for communication. The red phoneboxes are shifted into being hotspots for a public highspeed wireless Internet network. It’s a nice touch that allows for a mixture of nostalgia and futurism. Aside from the details, even just on the Xbox One S, Watch Dogs Legion is beautiful and it’s only going to get better if you plan to upgrade to the next gen systems. I can’t wait to see how things improve on the Series X.
The work on character building is amazing too. It’s the deepest view of characters that we’ve gotten in the series so far. Then again, it makes sense that they would build up a more in-depth life for the characters in Watch Dogs Legion. It’s all because of the fact that as you get further in the game, you unlock the ability to recruit progressively more people. Previous games, you might only get a detail or two. Now, you’ve got age, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, income, and then, depending on the character, other details including immigration status, whether they’re seeing a therapist, if there are any debts that need to be worried about, and what weapons and skills they’ve got available to them. Some of these things tie into the recruitment mechanic that helps you build your cell. Recruitment is simple as there are a couple of ways of doing it.
One way to recruit people is completing story missions that put the boroughs into a defiant state. Each one gives you access to a skilled operative that will join due to their sympathies to the DedSec cause. Each defiant borough also makes more of the public more willing to at least talk to you if they have something that you can do for them. In that regard, there is some similarity to the way that the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate spins out (where there are missions specific to liberating/creating defiance in a borough as well as benefits related to those missions being successfully completed). That man-on-the-street recruitment is where the bulk of recruiting happens. You find a person that you’re interested in recruiting (that’s also available for recruiting) and you talk to them. They’ll ask for help with a problem – the most common I’ve recently run into is infiltrating a Clan Kelley base to erase records of the recruits debts (whether medical, gambling, etc.) – and you do it. Successful completion of the mission gets them to join the cause. You’ll want to pay attention to who and how you recruit though because, aside from different equipment, there are certain benefits for recruiting widely. If you’re recruiting fighters, you can take part in the underground fistfights. Doing well will ultimately open some brawlers that you can help out and recruit. You’ll just want to watch who your recruit to build the best team dynamic for you.
Since you can recruit essentially anyone, there is something that needs to be acknowledged. It’s when characters get taken out of commission. There are two different settings. If you have permadeath turned on, it’s simple. Your cell members die, they’re dead. They’re not returning. If your cell is wiped out, it’s a game over. That makes perfect sense. If you didn’t opt for permadeath, death is more along the lines of arrest or injury. Arrest makes a character unavailable for about 30 minutes. Injury takes them out of commission for about an hour. So, even without permadeath, there is still a consequence for sloppy play or bad choices. The recruitment mechanic and how death is handled was something that I was a bit worried about, but it was very thoughtfully put together. Since there is an online component coming in December, I can’t wait to see how the recruitment mechanic is handled in a multiplayer sense.
The controls are generally intuitive, though the hacking puzzle mechanics did take some getting used to, since it’s one of the biggest changes in the game from previous installments. Most of the hacking puzzles I came across have something of an AR slant as the puzzle is incorporated into the environment. Mechanically, it still works the same as the more virtual hacking puzzles, but it’s implemented in a way that requires some exploration and situational awareness as the circuits and junction points show up in an AR overlay in the environment. It’s a pretty nice touch.
So, what’s the bottom line? Yes, I did run into some crashes, but they seem to have been fixed. If not, there is a patch coming on October 30 fixing the issues. After that patch comes in, this is a clear buy. It’s got a great story with a fun and inventive design. The “recruit anyone” mechanic is well designed and well implemented as are the ideas of what happens when characters are taken out of commission, regardless of whether you’re using the permadeath mode or not. The world is gorgeous, continually inviting you to dive back in and see what/who you can find. Even though Watch Dogs Legion already gives you an impressive amount to do as well as a lot of options on how to do it, it’s still going to be growing. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next and how It is going to affect what’s already in place. I’m also looking forward to the multiplayer component, which I’m more than willing to write about when it comes out. So, come on. Join the resistance.