Good but fails in certain areas….
When Grand Theft Auto 3 came out in 2001 it created a phenomena that changed the way we see sandbox games. Over the next few years every game company was trying their hand at what would be known as a ‘Grand Theft Auto clone,’ with games such as ‘True Crime: Streets of LA’, ‘Saints Row’, and ‘Mafia.’ There was, however, one game in particular which stood out for one major reason – ‘The Getaway‘ had all the typical GTA (Grand Theft Auto) tropes but was set in London, a largely overlooked place in the world of sandbox games. Since then, very few games have explored London – mostly due to Britain’s relatively uneventful lifestyle and culture and the fact that you can’t set a game in a world where very little happens. So, when Ubisoft announced that Watch Dogs: Legion was going to be set in London, I was excited but also sceptical. It’s great to finally see a video game portray a city I’m well acquainted with but also worried because of the aforementioned issues with London’s simplistic lifestyle. Watch Dogs itself is also a series that has failed to take off into the same leagues of GTA, despite being a similar game. Perhaps this time, in a different setting and learning from the mistakes of the past we were going to get something different and exciting.
Watch Dogs: Legion takes place in London sometime in the late 2020s where we are given control of a Dedsec operative who infiltrates the Houses of Parliament. Once inside he finds that a rogue group called Zero Day have rigged the place to blow, along with over various locations in London. Although he is successful in defusing the Parliament bombs, he is ambushed by the leader of Zero Day (via drones) who trigger the bombs in other locations creating mass panic in London. Over the next few months private military corporation group called ‘Albion’ is brought in to help bring some security to the city, however the reality is that London becomes a police state with constant surveillance stripping the people of their personal liberties and restricting their rights. People who question Albion or their methods put themselves at risk of being deported, or straight up disappearing without a trace.
This is where our game begins, and immediately introduces us to one of Watch Dogs main mechanics. Unlike the last two games (or most other games) there is no central character – only whoever you can recruit in the street. You start out with a generic Londoner, and as the game progresses you meet other people who you can recruit to the cause. The idea is that you can recruit literally anyone you can find – construction workers, desk jockeys, boxers or just random NPCs on the street. While this sounds pretty fun in theory, it actually strips the game of what makes these types of games so much fun. None of the NPCs are important, have any interesting backstory or are worth any investment into making them your main guy. Games often give you a mixture of heavy character development so it won’t allow much customisation (Such as GTA V, or Witcher 3), whilst other games give you full customisation of your central character but less character development. Watch Dogs Legion gives us neither. Instead of playing as a major character, or as 3-4 central characters, you play as a bunch of various backgrounds characters. All of them will have some vague level of characterisation but this is just to keep the story going, and none of them you will actually care for. Different NPCs will have different skills and abilities, some will be better at fighting, whilst others will have access to different equipment such as drones or advanced weaponry. The idea is to create a team of operatives who will have each have their own abilities to suit any situation. The reality is you’ll play as one character you enjoy the look and skills of, and only use the other guys when they’re required, which begs the question – why make this a main mechanic when Ubisoft could’ve just given us 3-4 central characters with a more precise story, proper characterisation and less faffing around with generic NPCs? I understand they wanted to do something different, but the lack of a main playable character makes the entire game feel very hollow and underwhelming.
One thing the the NPCs do have down is their representation of London, with some very strong accents and attitudes from the NPCs, and Watch Dogs has done a pretty good job at recreating a digital version of London. As I said before, it’s rare to see a game based in London and it’s fun to drive around and see how much they got right, and how accurate their rendition is. Obviously it’s not going to be perfect and it’s a much more condensed down version on London, but what it got right is pretty good. Landmarks are well modelled and driving place to place does have a very ‘British’ feel with the same road signs, phone boxes and architecture. Where it fails is the ‘fun’ feeling of the city an how much you want to explore. Games like this bank on letting you explore and mess around in your spare time and Legion doesn’t make me want to do that. The city feels very limited and locked in, and you’re well aware you’re playing in a video game. The edges of the city just taller buildings that keep you locked in the city, which makes sense, but also feels like dated game design to stop you leaving the city. Assassins Creed Syndicate, Ubisofts older game set in Victorian London feels more like a living breathing city compared to Legion.
The gameplay itself is much like the Legions London that you play in. It works, it’s decently fun, but overall feels a bit clunky and stiff. Watch Dogs main mechanic is you can hack various electronic equipment to complete the objective. You can set traps, distract guards, control equipment, take control of drones and various other hack-esque controls. On one occasion I had to ride hack a drone, sit on top of it, then fly on top of a building to steal some cargo. Some of the missions require you to be a bit more logical, by hacking a camera to see another hackable node or using a drone to scout the area beforehand. This is where the ‘recruit anyone’ mechanic comes in, as some people will be better suited for some missions compared to others. However most of the missions lack any depth or challenge, that’s not to say they’re bad, it’s just that most of them are straight to point, very simple type missions, and when you combine this with the bland NPCs you play as, it adds up to a pretty unremarkable experience. Shooting and combat exist and flows pretty well, but once again it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Wall based cover mechanics or the standard fight / dodge / guard break that we’ve done many times in other games. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t excite me. I would say the same for driving but driving is bad in Legion. vehicles do not handle well at all, they feel floaty with very little control and most of the time it’s better to use the tube to fast travel. Collision damage is also non existent with very little impact or damage to the vehicles or walls you hit. It’s sad that GTA IV came out over 12 years ago and Ubisoft are still playing catch up with environmental damage.
Watch Dogs: Legions is a decent game that had some interesting mechanics, nonconventional ideas and takes place in a pretty good rendition of modern London. Allowing you to recruit any NPC is a novel concept, but is mostly flawed and loses any sense of story or development. That being said I can’t say I didn’t enjoy my time with the hacking and walking around London in this game. The shooting and fighting are pretty basic, but are a bit of fun when combined with how diverse the hacking is. Is this a game for everyone? No way, and I couldn’t recommend this simply on the basis that you enjoyed other open world games such as GTA or Red Dead. But that’s not to say Watch Dogs is bad, it’s a fun game with some interesting mechanics taking place in a part of the world that is usually forgotten in other games, and there is some fun to be had when you get into it, especially if you’re a Londoner or know the area, it’s fun to mess around in a familiar place.