We don’t often to get to see the UK in games so when we do it’s always a treat to tread the more familiar streets. Watch Dogs: Legion does this very well with a virtual London to die for (and I often did).
So maybe I don’t know London as well as I should, hailing from much further North, but from what I’ve seen, Ubisoft’s latest game pretty much nails it, though it’s a slightly more advanced near future version of the capital city, which means famous landmarks flanked by massive electronic billboards and drones hovering about all over the place. Given Amazon’s plans for the future, I wouldn’t say it was too far off the mark.
It’s the city that forms the main character of the game, too, seeing as the developers’ new trick involves throwing out the idea of a single playable character or even a team in favour of playing as anyone you want. Literally anyone off the street could be a new DedSec member, which is pretty cool but also limits your emotional attachment to the game. Which is why it’s so important that the city itself holds the key to that character.
The story is an expansion on the themes of Watch Dogs 2 but taken to an extreme. A major shadowy tech company has framed Dedsec for attempting to blow up the houses of parliament in a bid to put their security company in charge of the country and gradually take over. In doing so, they send the remaining members of the UK division of the hacker group underground, forced to recruit new members in order to take the city and the country back in your fight against this all-seeing enemy, who now go by the name Albion. That’s where you, controlling anyone you meet from a granny to a construction worker, come in. It’s perhaps a little on-the-nose for the times we live in but it creates an interesting enough premise to hang the game off, all the same.
Gameplay will be familiar to those who played the previous games, it’s all about the hacking. This time you get some of the better tools from the start, including the very versatile spider-bot which can then be upgraded to attack and even hide your victims (guards, mostly). Hacking is a means to an end, though, and this is where the variety comes in. One mission could see you blowing something up while another could have you entering and exiting a building without being noticed.
The use of NPCs as playable characters really comes into its own when you realise that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, some won’t be noticed as they’re not the usual targets, others will be more traditional types, like soldiers, or have useful tools, such as the construction worker. Each one can be enhanced and upgraded but the really interesting mechanic comes with the Permadeath option, which Ubisoft have enabled by default and really should be kept on to make you care even a little about each of the people you recruit. Putting time and effort into training Mr football thug to be your go-to man in a fight, then see him die and realise that all you have left is Barbara the hairdresser is as near as you’ll get to getting personal with the characters in the same way you would any other game.
Ultimately, though, you’ll eventually find that missions repeat themselves a little too often, as they’ve previously done in Watch Dog games, but the story is (just) strong enough to keep things flowing, making you want to play until you’ve managed to take back control from the evil tech corporation running London. Besides, the only way you can recruit more people to your cause is to complete the missions that are assigned to unlocking their character, which then opens up more possibilities to do more missions to unlock more characters.
At the time of writing, Watch Dogs Legion is a single player game as the online element has yet to be released but there’s still plenty to do. Even outside of the story it’s like a tour of London landmarks like you’ve never seen before. What to visit the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral? You can. Visit the Tower of London (sans ravens)? Yep. You can even climb Tower Bridge if you can avoid the Albion guards. The season pass and online elements promise something a little different to add to the game at a later date but with the whole of London to explore there’s still plenty to keep you occupied, even if you get bored of the story.
Unfortunately, I also came across a fair few bugs while playing, including a few that saw me exit out of the game back to the dashboard on Xbox. Others were less severe and possibly due to the scope of keeping track of all the NPC characters, though most of them happened during the story missions. I’ve also found the NPCs you don’t recruit seem to be a little on the dumb side as far as AI is concerned, especially if you need to follow them for any length of time.
While it does something new and exciting by using NPCs it’s not hard to see that Legion also loses a little character through adding many of them all at once and, in many cases, for a short period of time. It’s still a great experience and the setting is well worth a visit. I often found myself forgetting about the main plot while swanning off to recruit another NPC I liked the look of, only to find they came in useful when I returned to the story.