If there’s been one positive thing to come out of Melbourne’s strict lockdown, it’s the fact that I now have the ability to preview games from the comfort of my own home. Sure, I could do it before, but it was mostly smaller titles, not AAA-scale titles where leaks and spoilers could hurt both player and game. Last week, thanks to Ubisoft and the power of Parsec, I was able to go hands-on with Watch Dogs Legion for four hours, experiencing a large portion of the game ahead of its October 29 release.
Watch Dogs Legion is set in a near-future London and sees private military company Albion called in to try and restore order to the streets of London after a series of explosives are set off around the city causing chaos and unrest. DedSec is blamed for the event after a rival hacker group known as Zero-Day frames them, and now it’s up to DedSec’s operatives to rise up and take back the city, as well as found out who exactly set them up.
Albion has brought a surveillance state approach to controlling the city, with drones littering the skyline in the hope of catching you in an act that goes against the rules; Albion officers patrol the streets and are not afraid to arrest or even attack citizens in broad daylight, whether justified or not. Players are given the choice of taking a stand against such acts and rescuing your fellow citizen, but doing so will draw attention to yourself and put a target on your back. If the situation sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probably because you’re cooped up in your house in Melbourne, where current COVID restrictions are extremely strict. As hard as Murdoch’s rags want to convince you that Melburnians are suffering from an oppressive regime, the truth is the opposite. Anyway, I digress.
My playthrough started a couple of hours into the game’s campaign and sees my character reconvening at DedSec headquarters and listening to the group’s London leader Sabine wax lyrical about the importance of DedSec’s revival. The mission I’m bestowed takes me to a nearby construction site to find clues linked to the Zero Day explosions. Using a drone initially I was able to gain a rough idea of the area’s layout, as well as locate the item of interest I needed to check out. The downside was that I needed to physically interact with the item, and I was able to infiltrate the heavily-guarded area without raising the alarm using my non-lethal loadout to glean some more intel about the bombings via AR reconstruction, thanks to DedSec’s AI friend Bagley, which is essentially DedSec’s joke-cracking version of Google Assistant or Alexa, providing information on targets, citizens and objectives.
One of Legion’s biggest drawcards is the player’s ability to recruit anyone in the world to DedSec and play as them. It means that the player choice is endless, and frankly it is super impressive that Ubisoft has managed to pull off a mechanic like this and make it work. Every individual will have their own unique traits that they bring to DedSec, and in the case of my first recruit Kate Ekanayake, the old duck could take less damage and boost faction damage, but it came at a cost to her mobility, whereas another one of my recruitment targets had their own unique weapon, but was prone to spontaneous death. It means that players can tailor their version of DedSec to suit their playstyle.
Something for Kate
The process of recruiting someone is simple enough, simply talk with them on the street to see how you can win them over. Usually it’ll require doing some sort of favour for them, like investigating an Albion cover-up or destroying pharmaceutical research after it has fallen into the wrong hands. Not everyone is a fan of DedSec though, in fact some see them as nothing more than a terrorist group, so you’ll have to work extra hard to twist their arm and convince them to join the fold. These targets will require a more thorough investigation to see how you can get them on board with the DedSec cause.
Recruiting Kate Ekanayke required me to infiltrate an Albion site and download some files, which I totally butchered, forcing me to duke it out with an Albion Riot Drone and a handful of Albion cronies. After evading capture and death, I managed to sneak into the required room and complete the objective. Returning to Kate with the goods proved to her that I was the real deal, which was enough to sway her into joining the DedSec resistance.
After recruiting Kate I had to call her up for duty and see how the old girl performed. As Kate I identified another recruit, Henry Williams, who informed me that one of his friends was a no show at a recent meetup. The task was simple: locate and rescue the friend, and in doing so earn his service. Not once did in my four hours did I encounter a recruit requiring the same or even similar favour, which highlights how much work has gone into making recruitment missions feel unique and personal.
Players also have access to a host of specialised recruits (such as a beekeeper – which I sadly didn’t get time to test out), who will offer players very unique skills isolated to that recruit. These recruits will unlock once a section of the map has been freed from oppression, and Bagley will often suggest citizens who have traits or perks that could come in handy.
Missions can be completed a number of different ways and your loadout will reflect that. Want to go in and inflict pain but not rack up a body count? Then a non-lethal loadout would be ideal, on the contrary, if you want to, as Drowning Pool once sang, “let the bodies hit the floor,” then a more lethal loadout is what you’re going to need. Just important as weaponry are your gadgets, and one of Legion’s newest gadgets that will come in handy is the Spiderbot, which will allow players to explore areas with a bit more secrecy, as well as access areas that a human wouldn’t be able to, as well as takedown enemies should you feel the need. Upgrades and all that jazz will be available, however I didn’t explore this aspect much during my session.
While Legion has expanded DedSec’s reach, a majority of the game plays the same. London is laden with hackable items, such as cameras, roadblocks, cryptocurrency ATMs, and more, and players will be able to cause as much chaos as they choose. In fact, for a large portion of my hands-on I was simply running amok in London, whether it was carjacking a double-decker bus, or simply using my hacker tools to be a nuisance to Albion officers, or running them over with reversing cars, I was happy exploring and taking all of London in. And if you get tired of trying to save the day or recruit members, you can always head to the pub for some good old-fashioned English fun: a few frothies and a game or two of darts. Even better, you’ll get to really experience some British culture, I mean any culture that uses the term “getting arseholed” for getting drunk is going to win me over if they already haven’t.
Despite going hands-on for four hours, I didn’t delve into the story too much, preferring to save that for the game’s release. However in saying that, I did notice that while there is a story to be told here, I am not sure Legion will be as narrative-driven from a character perspective given the missions can be completed with any DedSec member of your choosing, instead of pre-defined characters like in previous Watch Dogs games.
Big Red in action
I’ve always enjoyed the Watch Dogs games, especially Watch Dogs 2, which I’d consider one of my favourite games this generation, and from my brief time with Legion, it’s shaping up to be another enjoyable entry in the series. While it still feels very much like Watch Dogs, the ability to recruit and play as anyone definitely gives it new appeal, and I’m excited to lead the revolution with my eclectic mix of hackers later this month.
Watch Dogs Legion will launch on October 29 on PS4, Xbox One and PC, November 10 on Xbox Series X, and November 24 on PS5.