I’m a big Watch Dogs fan. While everyone was laughing at the original Watch Dogs for being a massive downgrade against its E3 showing, I was hacking my way through Chicago and having a great time in the process.
Watch Dogs 2 refined the best bits of the original and went on to be my Game of the Year for the year that it released, even if the hipster-talk flew over my head. And now we have Watch Dogs Legion, the third entry in the series and a new, near-future London to run around and cause mischief in. But is it an improvement? Does it take the series further, or is it more of the same? Well, it’s definitely more, let’s say that.
Watch Dogs Legion’s new setting couldn’t have come at a better time. The UK is currently being run into the ground by its corrupt and incompetent government. The population is split on the great Brexit debate, and there’s general unrest as citizens fight their team’s corner on Twitter. We don’t really do the whole stand around with machine guns thing in the UK, so calling people gammons or leftys on Twitter is about as combative as it gets.
Watch Dogs Legion’s London is in a similar situation, albeit a touch more extreme. A terrorist hacker group called Zero Day has set off a series of explosions through the capital, killing many people, and then framed the good hacker group, Deadsec, for the crime. Now the streets are patrolled by a private security force called Albion, and Deadsec’s name is less than mud. Things aren’t looking good for the hacker collective, then, and the opening chapter introduces us to the de-facto leader, Sabine, as her team is wiped out during the attacks. She manages to flee far from London before making contact with the last remaining operative: you. Whoever you may be…
The big change this time around is that you can play as anybody. Literally anybody. It might take a bit of effort to play as some characters, but mostly, you can play as just about anybody you can see on London’s bustling streets. This is a game-changer, but it’s not perfect. From a gameplay perspective, it’s fantastic and it blows the game wide open. Characters have their own skills and perks which can be used to make missions easier. For instance, if a mission needs you to get into a police station, you’ll have a much easier time if you switch to cop, rather than throwing on your pig mask and running through the front doors. But, not everybody is willing to join your band of merry hackers. You’ll have to convince them to join you, and some take a little more convincing than others.
You can sway a character’s opinion of Deadsec by doing a good deed for them, and this essentially means that as long as you’re recruiting, you’ve got missions to do. It’s an endless cycle, then, and permadeath makes it even more so.
The problem I had is that if everybody is the main character, nobody is. The story pushes on no matter who you’re playing as. The same lines will be spoken and the same actions will take place. The only difference is who you’re embodying as these moments play out. It made it hard for me to really care about any particular character. Instead, you’re expected to care about the collective that is Deadsec, but without a central figurehead, it was easy for me to become disinterested in the good guy characters. That’s just me though, and after following Aiden’s tragedy in Watch Dogs and watching Marcus and his group of friends rise up for the greater good, it’s hard to imagine how I’ll say a new version of this sentence in the inevitable Watch Dogs 4 review.
So we don’t have a great protagonist to rally behind – though the sassy A.I computer helper, Bagley, is always welcome in my ears – but we do at least have some formidable villains in the form of Zero Day, Albion, and Clan Kelley – the last remaining London gang, headed by the truly evil Mary Kelley. Ubisoft has always had a knack for creating great villains, but they’ve also had a knack for underusing them, and that’s the same here, especially with the head of the Kelley Clan gang. She’s truly repulsive but by far the most realistic antagonist I’ve seen in a long time. I know people who act like she does, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be organ harvesting gangsters either. Alright, we’re getting into spoiler territory here and I don’t want to spoil what is a great story, but you should know that there are some standout moments, as well as characters that give those moments weight. The only real issue is that your characters aren’t the ones delivering, it’s the outside cast.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the building of a team, I did. It’s well done and having a bit more control over your characters and their fates, especially with permadeath enabled, is refreshing. While there’s sure to be a limit where you’ll end up repeating scenarios, I’ve not yet hit it, but I’m not going out of my way to do these character missions. But should you? Yeah, probably.
They do make life a lot easier, as do the numerous equipment upgrades and skills that can be bought with collected currency. That being said, I did manage to brute force my way through a few of the game’s missions, putting the game’s combat to the test.
Watch Dogs Legion places a greater focus on hand-to-hand combat, as well as using melee weapons – some of which are inspired. Like the paramedic pulling out his chest paddles to deliver a finishing blow to a stunned enemy – fantastic.
The gunplay is still good, mind you, but not every character comes equipped with a ready-for-war arsenal. In fact, none of them do. If a character has a firearm, it’s just the one, plus the standard non-lethal pistol that all operatives carry with them. Considering Deadsec is trying to convince the people of London that it’s not actually a terrorist organisation, it makes narrative sense for the group to be as passive as possible, only pulling out the big guns when there’s no other choice. Mostly, though, you can get through the game with a combination of stealthy takedowns, quick brawls, and smart use of drone technology.
Just like in Watch Dogs 2, some missions can be done remotely by hacking the drones that fill London’s uncharacteristically clean sky (the rush hour smog is cleared thanks to electric cars) or pulling out your own drone, bought via the upgrades menu or as part of an operative’s default loadout. I really enjoyed this aspect of the game. The option is always there for a stealthy approach, and it’s actually a viable option, but it takes more brainpower. Dimwits like me can go blasting through the game, but if you play it smart you can be in and out without anyone ever knowing you were there. It’s not perfect by any means, and sometimes I struggled to figure out which camera would be the best to hack for my needs at that moment, and it often led to me jumping back and forth between a dozen security cameras before finding the right one.
The hand to hand combat is actually really good and has been refined over the previous games. It’s a little similar to earlier Assassin’s Creed games, with blocking, dodging, block breaking, and attacking all being mapped the face buttons.
In fact, Assassin’s Creed is what Watch Dogs Legion feels a lot like. The game is set in London, like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and the map is divided into boroughs that must be reclaimed by doing side activities, again, just like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. That’s not a bad thing – I really like the Assassin’s Creed games, and if you do, too, then Watch Dogs Legion is familiar, even if it feels like a strange, dangerous new world. You can’t fly across the skies of London on a drone in Syndicate, after all.
Graphically, Watch Dogs Legion looks the part, at least on PS4 Pro. London has been reimagined as a futuristic metropolis with imposing neon signs reminding the citizens who is in charge, who they should hate, and what they should think. Characters walk around and go about their daily lives, complete with their own schedules to keep to. The city’s tight streets are reasonably well-populated with traffic, though you won’t run into any of the famous London congestion, thankfully.
There are some quirks to the game’s presentation, though, namely in the lip-syncing of characters. This is something I picked up on when I got an early look at the game at E3 2019, and unfortunately, it’s still really off. I’m kind of used to this as I watch a lot of dubbed movies and TV shows (it’s a great way to learn a language) so it wasn’t as bad as it seems, but you may find it more distracting than I did. My solution? Play the game in a different language. Your solution? Get used to it, I’m afraid.
Oddly, no cars seem to actually have anybody in them. They drive around the city in auto-driving mode, but I’ve yet to hijack a car and throw some poor sod onto the ground to do so. I get that some cars may be on their way to their owners, but all of them? It’s a small, weird quirk of the game, but one that needlessly took me out of the experience every time I jumped in a car.
Driving has been greatly improved upon with this release and cars feel more responsive – and they need to be if you’re going to be buzzing through the many alleys and one-way roads, as well as over famous landmarks, like Tower Bridge. They aren’t your only method of travel, mind you, as big delivery drones can be hacked and you can fly them across the city. It’s slower, sure, but it looks bloody cool.
And that’s Watch Dogs Legion in a nutshell: cool. It’s a cool game. It’s not breaking much new ground when it comes to gameplay, most of which we’ve seen before, but this time it’s all a bit more refined. And that’s cool by me.
Watch Dogs Legion PS4, PS5 Review
Watch Dogs Legion is a fantastic continuation of the franchise. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel with its gameplay, even if it does flip tradition by ditching a main character to follow. The new systems in place work really well and hacking around London is as good as it ever was in previous games. Where next?
We’ll be back at a later date to look at Watch Dogs Legion on PS5, so make sure you follow our socials to keep up to date!
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.