Watch Dogs: Legion follows the series’ established hack-heavy formula, but the new recruitment system adds a refreshing layer of intrigue underneath your run of the mill missions. All of which still have the fun of outsmarting enemies or finding the right angle to solve a puzzle, download a key/file, or wreak havoc from afar. But the most appealing part of Watch Dogs: Legion is finding and recruiting new people. From potential new weapons to lovable characters with fascinating backgrounds and recruitment missions, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by expanding DedSec.
Set in near-future London, the bombings DedSec was framed for have led to an authoritarian state in which Albion – a private military corporation – has taken over policing while an intelligence community, led by Signal Intelligence Response Service (SIRS), spies on London’s citizens. In an attempt to clear DedSec, you’re tasked with finding out who is responsible for the London bombings. Villains include Nigel Cass, CEO of Albion, and Mary Kelly, leader of an organized crime syndicate in London.
In keeping with the series norms, Watch Dogs: Legion operates in the extremes of tech-gone-too-far and corporations-up-to-no-good. It’s what I expect, but as an exaggeration of where society could head, some storylines are more believable and intriguing than others. An Albion security guard making a janky deal to get medicine felt like a natural extension of the current ways governments fail their people, but an evil CEO shooting someone with a room full of high-powered witnesses felt more cartoonishly evil than cleverly dystopian.
Making every character playable is a narrative risk, but it’s one Watch Dogs: Legion seems to pull off based on what I’ve played so far. Those who felt Marcus Holloway’s cutscene persona didn’t match his mid-mission murders may have a hard time buying into the idea of convincing anyone on the street to join what’s publicly viewed as a terrorist organization — favors aside.
The script differences highlight each character as a unique individual rather than a generic stand-in. From the reserved yet no-nonsense attitude of the old lady I added to my team to my recently recruited Albion guard frantically chatting while she drives through London as if to say “Oh my god; I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.”
And at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with things being a bit video game-y if the ends justify the means, and in Watch Dogs: Legion they seem to do just that. Playing as anyone goes as narratively smoothly as it can, given the gameplay, and the experience of recruiting randos makes for a joyous open-world experience.
Operation After Operation
While there are plenty of new elements to Watch Dogs: Legion, such as ridable cargo drones, the fundamentals are still present. Take over cameras to redirect power, download data, or interact with nearby objects to create distractions or explosions. Distract enemies by sending something to their phones. Or go straight into combat, which leans even more heavily on player choice with enemies only using melee attacks against you until you pull out your gun and decide it’s time for a firefight. This is particularly convenient for those looking to stealth and hack their way through encounters.
My demo dropped me to the midpoint of the game where missions were a routine to-do list of heading from location to location, hacking drones to scope out the area, and then hacking cameras to download access keys or cause mayhem. At this point in the game the ability to cloak enemy bodies was available, allowing for a more aggressive playstyle, with stealth easier to pull off without alerting foes. London’s various buildings, tourist spots, and construction sites made for a fun playground to strategize my way through each gig.
The loop may be familiar, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. As usual, I found that causing destruction without getting my hands dirty was far more amusing than doing stealth takedowns of less than intelligent A.I who have dull walking patterns and are easily lured or distracted. Seeing how many enemies I can kill by stringing hacks to set off carefully timed explosions before I even step foot in a building never ceased to satisfy. If I was spotted, I found it easier to lean on whatever guns I had available than to bother regaining my cover or fighting hand to hand.
Driving in London
Fast travel still exists and some characters even have their own vehicles (often equipped with useful tech), but otherwise there’s good old-fashioned carjacking. A clever, futuristic touch is the option to steal a self-driving car (just look for the icon on the windshield). No driver or passenger punching required!
Driving still feels arcade-y at heart but some vehicles control better than others. The narrower and more roundabout-filled London streets make for a slower, more challenging drive than speeding down San Francisco. Of course, there isn’t much of an immediate penalty for running over lampposts or even pedestrians.
However, upon closer examination you’ll notice that running over someone makes them like you less. Good luck recruiting the person you just hospitalized (still possible! But an awkward icebreaker once they recover). Albion may come after you if they see you commit a crime, but losing them isn’t too difficult as long as you put enough distance between the two of you. Some nice touches include the fact that they can follow you into buildings — your safe house is inaccessible when you’re under pursuit — and if you’re cornered, an electrical device can latch onto your car, rendering it undrivable.
Making Your Team is a Dream
By far, Watch Dogs: Legion’s biggest and most impressive differentiator is the ability to play as anyone. Though getting complete intel on a person (down to their schedule) requires you to upgrade the DeepProfiler by using Tech Points you find hidden in the world. Getting to know them will tip you off to what they’re looking for and unlock their recruitment missions to turn an initial No into a Yes.
The borough uprising system lets you take on missions to empower a borough and give them a more positive outlook on DedSec.
Some recruitments will be mandatory as part of the campaign, such as an Albion guard, but you mostly have free reign. If you just want to get the best of the best, DedSec will mark a few people of interest on your map who have been predetermined as good recruits, such as a Drone Expert and Bee Keeper. But you’re also free to recruit whoever is roaming around London.
The first person who caught my eye was an adorable old lady who was looking for some Darts competition. To recruit her, the first step was to go to the pub and play her in Darts, which is one of the most appealing mini-game side quests I’ve ever had the option to do. Hell yes, I want to play this old lady in Darts to get her to join DeadSec! Winning led to her recruitment mission of investigating how her job replaced the 300 workers who were laid off.
I could see this recruitment loop getting stale over time but, during my brief session, I adored every moment of it because I was doing it for my new recruit and my reward was having her there for the rest of my adventure – despite the fact that the mission itself was nothing special.
Unfortunately, she was arrested shortly after being recruited. Despite previous plans for mandatory permadeath, no one dies in Watch Dogs: Legion unless you opt-in to play with permadeath on. Instead, they just get arrested or hospitalized and locked by a timer. You can go to the police station and potentially get them out early but the easier solution is to just switch to a different operative. Having certain operatives on your team such as Albion guards, police officers, or EMTs will decrease your time in jail or the hospital.
Watch Dogs: Legion Screenshots
A Dynamic and Diverse Group
Each character has their own loadouts, perks, professions, personalities, and backgrounds. Weapons and tools are shared across your team and can be swapped, but there are some gadgets and guns that are locked to certain types of recruits.
Uniform Access allows for certain characters to enter restricted areas more easily. So walking into a construction site as a construction worker means I can more freely walk through the area and it takes longer for enemies to detect my presence. However, they can still realize I don’t belong there so it’s not an instant win.
My assassin had a slew of powerful guns at her disposal but the graffiti artist had a paintball gun and would spray folks in the face after executing a takedown. Even across folks from the same background there’s some level of variation. For instance, one construction worker will have a different set of tools than another.
There were some rough edges in the build I played. When characters are defeated the animation looks a bit goofy, and there are some questionable drivers. But some of these may be cleared up by launch. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Watch Dogs: Legion and grew attached to the different characters, their arsenals, and their sparkling personalities. The lack of a primary main character doesn’t detract from the story. Instead, it incentivizes exploring and immersing myself in a world I otherwise may have ignored in favor of mainlining the story.
Watch Dogs: Legion’s gameplay follows the established formula of hacking devices to accomplish your task at hand with the option to go in guns blazing – though it’s the less enticing route when you have plenty of gadgets at hand and drones overhead.
Janet Garcia is IGN’s associate guides editor. Follow her on Twitter @Gameonysus to see who she recruits next.